<i>The Rise of the State as a Sympathetic Liberal Subject in Hardy's</i> The Woodlanders

Zarena Aslami

in The Dream Life of Citizens

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780823241996
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823242030 | DOI:
The Rise of the State as a Sympathetic Liberal Subject in Hardy's The Woodlanders

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This chapter argues that Thomas Hardy's novel of rural life, The Woodlanders, locates the effects of late Victorian state fantasy in the hinterlands of the nation, denaturalizing a process that was becoming everyday in the metropolitan spaces of England. Here characters dream of a new law that will release them from the bonds of marriage and even erase the past. Hardy attends pointedly to the vagaries of love and pity among characters and on the part of readers for characters. In light of historical shifts in the political imaginary of the 1880s and 1890s, we can read such moments as meditations on the relations between a benevolent, sympathetic state and its subjects. Ultimately, while The Woodlanders seems to foster sympathy for how rural folk get caught up in state fantasy, it ultimately indicts this social feeling and, by extension, the emergent modern welfare state, which was appropriating it. Through the flows of feeling and projections that it describes and induces, The Woodlanders exposes how the practice of sympathy is founded on distance, deferral, and moral judgment, thus complicating attempts to receive or mobilize it on either an individual or governmental scale.

Keywords: Thomas Hardy; The Woodlanders; State; Political fantasy; Liberalism; Sympathy; Highways; Marriage and divorce; Rural

Chapter.  10710 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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