Metropolitan Dissent in Thomas Hardy's Fiction: Class, Gender, Empire

  • Rena Jackson

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis departs from a critical tradition in Hardy studies that has so far tended to interpret empire in the fiction in terms of the colonisation of Wessex. Instead, my project focuses on the entanglement of Wessex with overseas imperial spaces, arguing for multiple, varied and, more importantly, deeply uneven forms of contact with the empire in the fiction. It explores the particular linkages in Hardy's texts between empire and the tripartite class structure (upper, middle and lower) that, as Hardy critic Roger Ebbatson has argued, became 'progressively stabilised' in Britain following the industrial and agricultural revolutions. I identify a shift in Hardy's fiction from elite- to labour-focused conceptions of empire. Whereas in the early fiction (1871-1882), India and Africa are more prominent imperial destinations for overseas movement, in later works (1883-1897), the settler regions of empire, including Canada, New Zealand, Brazil and Australia, become principal areas of relocation for Wessex emigrants and exiles. A cultural materialist approach is employed to explore this shift. To that end, I avoid reading the presence of empire in Hardy's fiction through allegorical strategies that create congruence or equivalence between gender, class and colonial oppressions. Each of the core chapters pivots around the imperial aspirations, interests, predicaments and perils of a different representative class. I demonstrate that each of the classes can be identified with a different imperial frontier in Hardy's fiction. In addition, correlations are drawn between the presence of a given frontier and Hardy's own specific location within the tripartite class structure. Chapter Two, the first of the project's core chapters, considers how the relocation of the lower middle classes to India, including ambitions to achieve social mobility and prosperity, connects with Hardy's own drive in the early fiction to secure an independent income. Chapter Three makes links between upper-class adventure, big-game hunting and the pursuit of imperial celebrity in the African interior and Hardy's own efforts to introduce 'fashionable' spaces into the middle fiction. Chapter Four argues for indissoluble ties between the plights of rural working-class emigration to, and often return from, the settler regions of the empire and the author's growing antipathy for 'the business of social advancement', relocation to his native Dorchester and consequent full immersion in local histories. Despite the changing emphasis on social class and imperial frontier during each of the three core phases (early, middle and late) in Hardy's prose years and an evident preoccupation with both elite and labour frontiers across those phases, the thesis maintains that the kind of critique that emerges throughout is working-class in orientation. In other words, all works ultimately challenge, through a range of formal devices, the exploitation of empire in order to oppress or deracinate class and gender. Out of these two principal points of dissent emerge other vital working-class critiques that ultimately humanise and affirm native colonial cultures and practices. The project strives to engage and influence two strands of criticism. It aims to contest notions of global 'interconnectedness' across Wessex and the empire in Hardy studies. It also challenges foundational ideas within postcolonial studies arguing that regional and class antagonisms were harmonised into a 'national imperial identity' during Britain's era of High Imperialism.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMichael Sanders (Supervisor) & Robert Spencer (Supervisor)


  • South America
  • cultural materialism
  • settler colonialism
  • emigration
  • migration
  • Africa
  • India
  • dissent
  • Thomas Hardy
  • social class
  • imperialism
  • empire
  • gender

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