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The Plucked Harp String: Desire, Courtship Ritual and the Debate Concerning Speech Theory

  • Mark Asquith

Abstract

In the last chapter I sought to demonstrate how Hardy employs a web of musically delineated natural sounds to connect the activities of his puppets to the wider universal process. In no other aspect of their lives is this process more apparent than in the desire felt between the sexes. In Hardy’s work falling in love is described continually by means of metaphors drawn from biology, metaphysics and mesmerism that emphasise the element of compulsion: Jude experiences ‘a momentary flash of intelligence, a dumb announcement of affinity’ between himself and the ‘complete and substantial female animal’ Arabella Donn;1 Felice Charmond describes how she was ‘seized by a hand in velvet’ and driven into the arms of the handsome Fitzpiers, while his explanation of desire focuses upon the suitably electro-biological analogy of a Leyden-jar filled with electric current searching for a conductor through which to discharge his ‘emotive fluid’.2 The metaphor is mesmeric: the body is transformed into a ‘galvanic battery’ ready to conduct its ‘magnetic fluid’ under the influence of the mesmerist. Such power was not to be considered artificially induced, but, as the mesmerist Spencer Hall concluded, nothing more than the exercise of ‘natural law’.3 This, however, does not make it any less painful, the milkmaids in Tess of the D’Urbervilles being particularly acute victims of the ‘oppressiveness of an emotion thrust on them by cruel Nature’s law’.

Keywords

Musical Performance Wide Process Speech Theory Emotional Power Voice Tone 
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Notes

  1. 11.
    Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), p. 159. Quoted from Crary, Suspensions of Perception, p. 57.Google Scholar
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    Irwin, Reading Hardy’s Landscapes (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 27.
    Haweis, ‘Music: Its Origins and Influence’, Quarterly Review, 131 (July, 1871), 145–176 (p. 156).Google Scholar
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    Sully, My Life and Friends: A Psychologist’s Memories (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1918), p. 136. See Wellesley, III, p. 550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Hartmann, Philosophy of the Unconscious, 3 vols, translated by W. C. Coupland (London: Kegan Paul, 1893), I, p. 27. Quoted in Hughes, ‘Ecstatic Sound’, p. 210.Google Scholar
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    Alexander Bain, The Senses and the Intellect (London: John W. Parker, 1855), p. 311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    G. H. Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind, First Series, 2 vols, I, ‘The Foundation of a Creed’ (London: Trubner, 1874), p. 254. Quoted by da Sousa Correa, who provides an excellent discussion of its implications for the work of George Eliot (George Eliot, Music and Victorian Culture, p. 162).Google Scholar
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    Spencer, ‘Progress: Its Law and Cause’, Westminster Review, 67 o.s., 11 n.s. (April, 1857), 445–485 (p. 446). Lamarck’s theory is set out in Historie Naturelle des animaux sans vertebras (1816), which states that organisms have a God-given faculty that allows them to produce organs by means of slow incremental change in response to their environment, ‘acquired characteristics’ that are then passed on to offspring. Despite the advocacy of this theory in Robert Chambers’ The Vestiges of Creation (1844), Lamarck’s ideas failed to gain currency amongst the majority of biologists or the general public, since they seemed to rely on a fanciful principle by which a creature could simply grow, say, a longer neck in response to a desire to eat leaves on a taller tree, a sleight of hand that Darwin’s theory of natural selection avoided.Google Scholar

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© Mark Asquith 2005

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  • Mark Asquith

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