An Epistolary Thomas Hardy: Proximity and Distance
Date: 13 May 2019
University of Exeter
PhD in English
This thesis presents an archive-based socio-historical and literary-critical study of the poet and novelist Thomas Hardy who is encountered through epistolary conversations. It situates letter exchange within a broader framework of collaborative writing practices and offers a focus on correspondence as a key aspect of life-writing. As ...
This thesis presents an archive-based socio-historical and literary-critical study of the poet and novelist Thomas Hardy who is encountered through epistolary conversations. It situates letter exchange within a broader framework of collaborative writing practices and offers a focus on correspondence as a key aspect of life-writing. As a leading literary figure of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Hardy was a desirable correspondent for fellow writers, critics, artists and other cultural figures – as well as for his readers, who existed in their thousands across the globe. While there have been studies of Hardy as letter writer, as well as analysis of postal communication in his texts, this is the fullest exploration of letters he received. The thesis takes a multi-faceted approach, engaging with a multiplicity of letters at Dorset County Museum as it seeks to open up the archive to a wider audience. Underpinned by the concepts of distance and proximity, the chapters respectively address homosocial bonds between male writers, intimacy in friendships between the sexes, and a repositioning in relation to the modernist movement, concluding by asking what the correspondence of a canonical writer can reveal about the wider concept of author as celebrity. Through the lens of epistolary dialogue, the thesis explores relationships between Hardy and the people who wrote to him, both familiar and unknown. It examines the intimacy of friendships, as well as the connections sought by readers who found they could write directly to a famous author – an indirect result of the postal reform of the 1840s – and challenges the idea that ‘meet-the-author’ practices were a relatively new phenomenon. The study provides both a close analysis of Hardy’s networks and a conceptual study of the nature of literary reputations, legacies and archives. It is accompanied by a digitisation project which allows wider consideration of the implications of the digital future of archives, and the pedagogical investments of the research can be seen in the appendices on teaching practice.
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