Economic and Social Relationships in the Wessex Novels

  • Merryn Williams


The last chapter attempted to describe the structure and develop-ment of rural society in nineteenth-century Dorset, as the material out of which Hardy’s novels were written. This chapter will explore in more detail the relationship between this material and the novels themselves. Its main purpose is to outline the various types of farming and related economic activity in Hardy’s novels, and the economic and social relationships between the main characters. The main thing to remember is that, although several of the novels show work on the land as a shaping back-ground factor, Hardy only occasionally presents the relationship between labourers and farmers directly. His real preoccupation is with the ‘interesting and better-informed class’ which he describes in some detail in Tess — the independent, intermediate class to which all his major characters tend to belong. His own family-his father was a stonemason-had belonged to this group. It was more responsive to the pressures of education and in-dustrialism than the ordinary labourers, and more likely to have an indigenous culture. It was also more mobile socially in both directions.


Major Character Indigenous Culture Rural Society Intermediate Class Ordinary Labourer 
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© Merryn Williams 1972

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  • Merryn Williams

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