The Unmanning of the Mayor of Casterbridge

  • Elaine Showalter


To the feminist critic, Hardy presents an irrestible paradox. He is one of the few Victorian male novelists who wrote in what may be called a female tradition; at the beginning of his career, Hardy was greeted with the same uncertainty that had been engendered by the pseudonymous publication of Jane Eyre and Adam Bede: was the author man or woman? Far from the Madding crowd, serialised in the Cornhill in 1874, was widely attributed to George Eliot, and Leslie Stephen wrote reassuringly to Hardy about the comparisons: ‘As for the supposed affinity to George Eliot, it consists, I think, simply in this that you have both treated rustics of the farming class in a humorous manner — Mrs. Poyser would be home I think, in Weatherbury — but you need not be afraid of such criticisms. You are original and can stand on your own legs.’1


Critical Approach Feminist Critic Female Tradition Conjugal Love Collect Letter 


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  1. 1.
    Letter of February 1874, given in Richard Little Purdy, Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study (London: Oxford University Press, 1954) p. 338.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Havelock Ellis, ‘Thomas Hardy’s Novels’, Westminster Review, lxiii n.s. (1883) 334.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Florence Emily Hardy, The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 1892–1928 (London and New York: Macmillan, 1930) p. 5.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Mary Jacobus, ‘Sue the Obscure’, EIC, xxv (1975) 304–28; and ‘Tess’s Purity’, EIC, xxvi (1976) 318–38.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Robert Gittings, The Older Hardy (London: Heinemann; Boston: Little, Brown, 1978) pp. 77–81.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Edmund Gosse, ‘Thomas Hardy’, The Speaker, 11 (1890) 295. Gosse attributed this unpopularity to Hardy’s unconventional conception of feminine character.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Letter of 31 December 1891, in The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, Vol. I: 1840–1892, ed. Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978) 250.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Letter to Hardy of 19 January 1892, in Evan Charteris, The Life and Letters of Sir Edmund Gosse (London: Heinemann, 1931) pp. 225 – 6.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977) p. 185.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    A. O. J. Cockshut, Man and Woman: A Study of Love and the Novel 1740–1940 (London: Collins, 1977; New York: Oxford University Press, 1978) pp. 128 – 9.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    See Christine Winfield, ‘Factual Sources of Two Episodes in The Mayor of Casterbridge’, NCF, xxv (1970), 224–31.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Irving Howe, Thomas Hardy (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968; New York: Macmillan, 1967) p. 84.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    Charles K. Hofling, ‘Thomas Hardy and the Mayor of Casterbridge’, Compre¬hensive Psychiatry, ix (1968) 431.Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    J. Hillis Miller, Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire (London: Oxford University Press; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970) pp. 147, 148.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    Dale Kramer, Thomas Hardy: The Forms of Tragedy (London: Macmillan; Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1975) pp. 86–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 20.
    Frederick R. Karl has suggested that Henchard’s domination of the novel is equivalent to the ‘all-powerful Heathcliff’ in Wuthering Heights; ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge: A New Fiction Defined’, MFS, vi (1960) 211.Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    Virginia Woolf, ‘The Novels of Thomas Hardy’, The Common Reader, Second Series (London: The Hogarth Press, 1932) p. 253.Google Scholar

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© Elaine Showalter 1979

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  • Elaine Showalter

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