Satirizing the Reader in Thomas Hardy’s "The Hand of Ethelberta"




Carelse, Michael

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Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) is well known today for the trenchant social critique of novels such as Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1894–95), which scandalized their initial readers by subverting Victorian sexual double standards and class hierarchies. These novels have become so well known for the political nature of their subversiveness, however, that they have overshadowed a contrasting type of social criticism in Hardy’s fiction that has gone largely unstudied: Hardy’s satire of Victorian reading practices and literary institutions. To bring further attention to this more lighthearted side of Hardy’s social criticism, this research project analyzes the novel in which that lightheartedness is most apparent: Hardy’s little-studied comedic novel The Hand of Ethelberta (1875–76), which I argue is valuable not for the trenchant social critique we have come to associate with Hardy but rather for its coy satire of its own readers. In doing so, I aim to uncover the comedic side of Hardy that often goes unacknowledged in Hardy scholarship, as well as bring attention to The Hand of Ethelberta not as Hardy’s least representative novel, as critics have traditionally considered it, but as the novel in which Hardy’s recurring interest in satirizing the reader finds its fullest expression.



English literature, fiction, Victorian studies, Thomas Hardy, The Hand of Ethelberta, genre, comedy of manners, satire