Thomas Hardy and Empire: Colonisers and the Colonised in the Works of Thomas Hardy

Bownas, Jane Lesley (2010). Thomas Hardy and Empire: Colonisers and the Colonised in the Works of Thomas Hardy. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000ed43

Abstract

In this study I examine the works of Thomas Hardy with the aim of 'identifying empire's fingerprints' in his writings. The extent to which British domestic culture was influenced by empire is a matter of considerable debate amongst social and cultural theorists, and I join this debate by analysing an author not usually recognised as being an 'imperial' writer, despite the fact that he was writing during a period of major imperial expansion.

The expansion of British imperial power after the Napoleonic Wars was closely associated with the growth of powerful national institutions within Britain, and I suggest that a direct relationship exists between processes occurring in rural England, as described by Hardy, and processes occurring in the colonies of the empire in the latter half of the nineteenth century. I examine the many references to the Roman Empire and the Napoleonic Wars in Hardy's writing and suggest that these works reveal much about his own attitudes towards empire and historical progress. The binary opposition between ideas of the primitive and civilised was a central tenet of colonialism in the nineteenth century, and in his work Hardy questions this opposition and demonstrates the effect of outsiders on so-called 'primitive' communities. I examine the debate surrounding the use of gender as an articulated category with race and class when considering the oppressions of imperialism, and show how, by exposing the power structures operating within Britain, Hardy produces a critique of all forms of ideological oppression.

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