Shanta Dutta, Ph.D

            Dept of English,
          Jadavpur University,
             Kolkata 700032,
Balaka Apartment
Flat No. D-8, 2nd floor,
182, Jessore Road,
Kolkata - 700 074
Telephone:(00-9133)  2529-9525



Scholarly Sample:

'Sue's Obscure Sisters', ©: The Thomas Hardy Journal, edited by Simon Curtis, Vol. XII, May 1996, 60-71

Shanta Dutta
will relay
News from India
on Hardy-related topics

* Reviewed by Rosemarie Morgan in The Thomas Hardy Journal, May 2001, and on TTHA's *Reviews* page on Members' Research Resources

1993-1996: Commonwealth Academic Staff Scholarship held at Leicester University, UK.
1986-1993: Lecturer in English, Rabindra Bharati University.
1993-1999: Senior Lecturer in English, Rabindra Bharati University.
1999:Reader in the Dept of English at Jadavpur University, Calcutta.

2007: Professor, Jadavpur University. 

Ambivalence in Hardy: A Study of his Attitude to Women* (London:Macmillan/ Palgrave,
2000; New York: St Martin's Press, Palgrave, 2000).
2007: Re-issued: Anthem Press (New York, London & New Delhi, 2007).
"Hardy and his Mayor: A Gendering of Critical Response,"THJ, , May 2003, 33-40
"Tree Obsession in Hardy and O. Henry," Days to
Recollect: Essays in Honour of Robert Schweik, edited by Rosemarie Morgan, (The Hardy Association Press, 2000) 73-80.
''Hardy's Use of Animals in his "Novels of Character and Environment," Essays and Studies, Vol. XV, Journal of the Dept of English (Jadavpur University, Calcutta), 54-63.
"Thomas Hardy and the Deceased Wife's Sister Marriage Bill", THJ, edited by Simon Curtis, May 1995, 61-4.
"Hardy's 'General Preface': An Unwarranted Textual Revision?", THJ, Vol. XII no. 3, edited by Simon Curtis, Oct 1996, 81-82.
"The 'Loving-kindness' of Hardy's Revising Hand," THJ, edited by Simon Curtis, Oct 1996, 79-80
"A Possible Shakespearean Allusion in Two on a Tower," THJ, edited by Simon Curtis, May 1997, 78-9.
Two entries on ‘George Egerton’ and ‘Eliza Lynn Linton’, in the book Oxford Reader's Companion to Hardy ed. Norman Page (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
‘ ''Murther and Treason”: A Case for the Possible Influence of Macbeth on Jude the Obscure’, in the Journal of the Department of English, University of Calcutta, 2006-7, ‘Professor Kajal Sengupta Memorial Volume’. Reprinted in: The Hardy Society Journal (Dorchester, UK), Vol. 6: No. 1, Spring 2010.


A hundred years is often taken to be a safe litmus test in evaluating the worth of any work of literature. Judged by this yardstick, Hardy's works have worn well and his continuing popularity is attested to by the steady stream of critical studies on Hardy and also by the proliferation of cheap reprints of his works. The passing years have treated Hardy kindly but this is not the case with some of his fellow-novelists whose impact on contemporary audiences was even more sensational but whose works gather dust on library shelves today.

One such work is Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm, published in 1883, and often hailed as the Bible of contemporary militant feminists. Immensely popular, the book ran into three editions in its first year of publication (and fifteen editions in Schreiner's lifetime) and among its successive generations of admirers were Eleanor Marx, Edith Lees (the wife of Havelock Ellis), Lady Constance Lytton, Vera Brittain and Virginia Woolf. The novel's heroine, the fiercely independent Lyndall, is often regarded as the first example of that much-feared and much-jeered literary phenomenon -- the "New Woman". The Story of an African Farm may well be considered the progenitor of the novels of the "Anti-Marriage League" as it strikes, very forcefully indeed, the first death blow at the institution of marriage. Lyndall's frustation at the limited opportunities available to women, her bitterness at blatant gender discrimination, her refusal to commit herself to the iron contract of marriage, all find echoes in most of of the other "New Women" of the 1880s and the 1890s -- not least in Hardy's Sue Bridehead. Indeed it is hard to understand the moral indignation and the storm of protest roused by Jude the Obscure (1895) in view of the fact that the reading public had already been exposed to the same radical material more than a decade earlier.

Lyndall's disillusionment begins quite early. Driven by an insatiable hunger for knowledge, Lyndall leaves her stagnant farm life and enters a boarding school through her own sheer determination. But her experience at the boarding school, instead of opening up wider vistas of knowledge before her, only reveals how hopelessly confined is a woman's lot. As Lyndall bitterly sums up to her cousin Em:

. . .I have discovered that of all cursed places under the sun, where the hungriest soul can hardly pick up a few grains of knowledge, a girls' boarding-school is the worst. They are called finishing schools, and the name tells accurately what they are. They finish everything but imbecility and weakness, and that they cultivate. They are nicely adapted machines for experimenting on the question, "Into how little space a human soul can be crushed?" I have seen some souls so compressed that they would have fitted into a small thimble, and found room to move there -- wide room. A woman who has been for many years at one of those places carries the mark of the beast on her till she dies . . 1

Lyndall's sense of being "cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd", of being denied the free space in which to develop her being, is echoed powerfully by Sue who is ultimately forced to run away from the rigour of the teachers' Training-School. When Jude first visits Sue at the School, "[a]ll her bounding manner was gone; her curves of motion had become subdued lines" and "she had altogether the air of a woman clipped and pruned by severe discipline" (my italics).2 With "all the bitterness of a young person to whom restraint was new" (152), Sue confesses to Jude how they are "kept on very short allowances in the College". That Lyndall and Sue are merely reflecting the experience of many young girls of the time is confirmed by a letter that Hardy's sister, Kate, wrote to Emma Hardy in which she looks back on her Salisbury training college experience and bitterly declares: " . . .I don't mind if Tom publishes how badly we were used." 3

Lyndall's sense that "to be born a woman [is] to be born branded" (154) is powerfully echoed by the narrator in Jude the Obscure in a passage describing the young girls lying asleep in their cubicles:

. . . .every face bearing the legend "The Weaker" upon it, as the penalty of the sex wherein they were moulded, which by no possible exertion of their willing hearts and abilities could be made strong while the inexorable laws of nature remain what they are (160-1).

This biological determinisn is something that Lyndall is forced to recognise at a very tender age. In words that will surely find an echo in the consciousness of many a young girl even today, she bitterly tells Waldo:

They begin to shape us to our cursed end . . .when we are tiny things in shoes and socks. We sit with our little feet drawn up under us in the window, and look out at the boys in their happy play. We want to go. Then a loving hand is laid on us: "Little one, you cannot go," they say: "your little face will burn, and your nice white dress be spoiled". We feel it must be for our good, it is so lovingly said; but we cannot understand; and we kneel still with one little cheek wistfully pressed against the pane. Afterwards we go and thread blue beads, and make a string for our neck; and we go and stand before the glass. We see the complexion we were not to spoil, and the white frock, and we look into our own great eyes. Then the curse begins to act on us. . . We fit our spheres as a Chinese woman's foot fits her shoe, exactly . . . The parts we are not to use have been quite atrophied, and have even dropped off . . .We wear the bandages, but our limbs have not grown to them; we know that we are compressed, and chafe against them (155).

Of course there are rebels who refuse to submit to this gender-conditioning and Sue can "do things that only boys do, as a rule. I've seen her hit in and steer down the long slide on yonder pond, with her little curls blowing, one of a file of twenty . . .All boys except herself; and then they'd cheer her . . " (133-4). Sue's spirit of defiance would sometimes lead her to walk "into the pond with her shoes and stockings off, and her petticoats pulled above her knees", saucily crying out: "Move on, aunty! This is no sight for modest eyes!" (132). But such youthful rebellion is crushed out of both Sue and Lyndall, by precisely the same emotional process.

Both Sue and Lyndall begin by rejecting marriage. As Lyndall declares to her timid cousin Em, "I am not in so great a hurry to put my neck beneath any man's foot" (150). But it is not just a case of being emotionally unprepared; it is a more radical questioning of the very nature of institutionalised marriage. When her anonymous lover tries to persuade her to marry him, Lyndall unequivocally replies: "I cannot marry you . . .because I cannot be tied; but if you wish, you may take me away with you, and take care of me; then when we do not love any more we can say goodbye" (206; my italics). Sue too feels "how hopelessly vulgar an institution legal marriage is (285), and that "it is destructive to a passion whose essence is its gratuitousness" (286). According to Sue, marriage is a "sordid contract, based on material convenience in householding, rating, and taxing, and the inheritance of land and money by the children . . ."(227); it is a "dreadful contract to feel in a particular way in a matter whose essence its voluntariness!" (230). Sue is afraid "lest an iron contract should extinguish [Jude's] tenderness" (273) for her and hers for him and, to the "New Woman", a loveless marriage was no better than prostitution. When Sue pleads with Phillotson to give her her freedom from a distasteful union, she does not shrink from telling her husband: "For a man and woman to live on intimate terms when one feels as I do is adultery, in any circumstances, however legal" (239). Later, when Sue decides to return to Phillotson and re-marry him, after she has been chastened by the tragic deaths of her children, Jude implores her to reconsider her decision: "Error -- perversity! . . Do you care for him? You know you don't! It will be a fanatic prostitution -- God forgive me, yes -- that's what it will be!" (368).

This equation of a loveless marriage with prostitution must have been startling to a society which idealised the sanctity of home and hearth, and insisted on keeping the "good" and the "bad" women socially segregated. But such an equation was common in the "New Woman" novels and, as early as 1883, Lyndall had scornfully declared:

With good looks and youth marriage is easy to attain. There are men enough; but a woman who has sold herself, even for a ring and a new name, need hold her skirt aside for no creature in the street. They both earn their bread in one way. Marriage for love is the beautifullest external symbol of the union of souls; marriage without it is the uncleanliest traffic that defiles the world " (156).

Lyndall vehemently rejects the "separate spheres" theory, and she draws from an example of nature her ideal of sex equality. Watching the ostriches on the farm, she notices the cock sitting brooding on the eggs and she tells Waldo: "I like these birds . . .they share each other's work, and are companions. Do you take an interest in the position of women, Waldo? (153). Although this is rather a clumsy way of introducing the long dialogue (monologue, really) on the "Woman Question", there can be no doubt about Schreiner's radicalism and her sincerity. Her narrative art in this episode may lack sophistication but her feminist perceptions are strikingly modern and still relevant. To be equal with men, to be their comrades and to share in their intellectual labours is a dream with Sue too. Sue mixes with men --- like the young Oxford undergraduate -- "almost as one of their own sex" (167). She goes on walking tours and reading tours with the Oxford undergraduate, "like two men almost" (168). With a "curious unconsciousness of gender" (169), she even lives with him for fifteen months till she realises that such an ideal "sexless" comradeship is not really what interests him. Being an "epicure in emotions (191), Sue's "curiosity to hunt up a new sensation" (191) leads her into such experiments as living together with the Oxford undergraduate (and later Jude). Lyndall, too, when trying to analyse her motive for loving and living together with her unnamed lover, candidly confesses: " . . .I like to experience, I like to try" (206).

But "experience", for both Lyndall and Sue, is dearly bought. Both these non-conformists are finally broken by the weight of personal tragedy in the shape of the death(s) of their children. Although defiant to the end, in refusing to marry her lover, the death of her three-hour old infant really crushes all rebellion out of Lyndall and she almost wills her own death. Despite being very ill herself, Lyndall goes out one drizzly day and sits for a long time beside the grave of her infant. When she come back, she takes to her bed and gradually wastes away, dying lingeringly and painfully of what sems to be a psychosomatic illness. Although this wilful death reminds us more of Jude's suicidal trip, on a wet day, to Marygreen (to see Sue for the last time), Lyndall's visit to the grave of her infant is echoed in Sue's visit to the cemetery and her pleading with Jude and the man filling in the newly-dug grave to allow her one last look at her dead babies.The triple hanging completely unhinges Sue and although she does not die, she abjectly re-surrenders herself to Phillotson and lives what can at best be described as a living death. The anonymous critic (to whom Hardy refers in his 1912 Preface to Jude the Obscure) who regretted that the portrait of "the woman of the feminist movement" was "left to be drawn by a man", and not "by one of her own sex, who would never have allowed her to break down at the end" (30), was probably unaware of numerous such "feminist novels of failed rebellion", written by women, which feature a "collapse from within", a "breakdown into convention." 4

However, in the absence of any reference to Olive Schreiner in the seven volumes of Hardy's Collected Letters (edited by Purdy and Millgate) and also in Hardy's notebooks of literary extracts (edited in two volumes by Lennart Björk), it is difficult to argue a case for conscious literary influence. Schreiner's book -- First Edition, with Hardy's autograph on the title -- does, however, feature in a descriptive catalogue of books from the Hardy's Max Gate Library which were sold off in May 1938 (see Toucan Press "Monographs", No.52, 1969), but this does not constitute a conclusive proof of whether Hardy had read the book or not. If Hardy had read The Story of an African Farm, he would at least have been consoled (in relation to the charge that Jude the Obscure ends far too bleakly, especially with the gratuitous cruelty of the children's deaths), by Schreiner's comment, put into the mouth of the precocious Lyndall: "It is a terrible, hateful ending" and the worst is, it is true. I have noticed . . .that it is only the made-up stories that end nicely; the true ones all end so" (14). Perhaps unknown to each other, both writers shared a world-view that is somewhat similar. Schreiner's feeling that "[t]here is no order; all things are driven about by blind chance" (114) might well be an apt commentary on many of Hardy's novels where blind chance so dominates the lives of the characters. Also, Schreiner's remark: "If you will take the trouble to scratch the surface anywhere, you will see under the skin a sentient being writhing in impotent anguish" (114), although made in the context of (racial) oppression, has a universality which is finely distilled in Hardy's awareness of "the tragedy that always underlies Comedy if you only scratch it deeply enough." 5

A better case for direct (mutual?) influence can be argued with regard to another female firebrand -- "George Egerton" --(pseudonym of Mary Chavelita Clairmonte). When her Keynotes, a collection of short stories, was first published in 1893 they created quite a sensation -- enough to prompt Hardy to write to Florence Henniker in January 1894: "I have found out no more about Mrs. Clairmont [sic], but if I go to stay with the Jeunes, . . .I may possibly hear something of her, though I am not greatly curious" 6. Another (self-congratulatory) reference to Egerton comes in a letter Hardy wrote in March 1894 to Emma Hardy: "The Speaker to-day quotes one of the candid sentences from 'Life's Little I,' [sic] & adds -- (apropos of women's novels, like Keynotes, etc) 'so that the old hands know a thing or two as well as the young 'uns.' " 7.

But it was only in November 1895 that the two authors directly corresponded. Some unknown friend had given George Egerton a copy of Jude the Obscure and she enjoyed the book so much that she was prompted to impulsively write to Hardy to thank him for the genuine pleasure provided by the novel, especially in the portrait of Sue:

Sue is a marvellously true psychological study of a temperament less rare than the ordinary male observer supposes. I am not sure that she is not the most intuitively drawn of all your wonderful women. I love her, because she lives -- and I say again, thank you, for her. 8

At a time when Jude the Obscure was being vilified on all sides -- and a bishop even reportedly burnt the book for its immorality -- such praise from a fellow-artist, and a woman, must have been quite gratifying. Hardy, as usual, was very generous in his response:

My reading of your "Keynotes" came about somewhat as yours did of "Jude". A friend had it presented to her, & after reading it with deep interest she sent it on to me with a request that I would tell her what I thought of it. I need hardly say what my reply was: & how much I felt the verisimilitude of the stories, & how you seemed to make us breathe the atmosphere of the scenes.

I have been intending for years to draw Sue, & it is extraordinary that a type of woman, comparatively common & getting commoner, should have escaped fiction so long. 9

George Egerton's letter had a very interesting postcript in which she laconically stated that "the arrival of a little son" had delayed the posting of her letter. To this, Hardy's response ( the last line of Hardy's letter quoted above) is very revealing: "I congratulate you on the little boy. My children, alas, are all in octavo". Hardy's life-long regret at his own childlessness -- which may have contributed, not insignificantly, to his pessimism -- is here transparently expressed to a stranger. 10

The "friend" who had lent the copy of Keynotes to Hardy was Florence Henniker and this copy, with Hardy's annotations and marginal emphases, is preserved in the "Richard Little Purdy Collection" of the Beinecke Library, Yale University. In view of the disclaimer -- "The notes in the margin are mostly not mine" -- signed by "F.Henniker", it is perhaps safe to assume that most of the marginal comments are by Hardy (the handwriting certainly resembles that of Hardy's surviving MSS). Hardy was so taken up by the first story in the collection, "A Cross Line", that he not only wrote marginal comments on pp.22-23, but he also quoted a substantial portion of these two pages in his "Literary Notes" notebook under the heading 'The key to woman's seeming contradictions'. There are as many as five consecutive extracts, dated 3 January 1894, from Keynotes in this literary scrapbook of Hardy's, 11, and that, at this point, he was interested in speculations on women's nature is attested by the fact that the immediately following entry, headed 'Treachery of Women', is a summary of an article in the Spectator (13 January 1894) on this topic.

In "A Cross Line", which reads like an Ur-Lady Chatterly's Lover, George Egerton very boldly plumbs the depths of woman's sensual nature:

The why a refined, physically fragile woman will mate with a brute, a mere male animal with primitive passions -- and love him -- . . . They have all overlooked the eternal wildness, the untamed primitive savage temperament that lurks in the mildest, best woman.

This passage bears marginal emphasis, with a comment which appears to be in Hardy's hand: "This if fairly stated is decidedly the ugly side of woman's nature." 12 Relating to Hardy's fiction, one immediately thinks of Arabella whom Hardy calls "a complete and substantial female animal -- no more, no less" (62).

Some of Egerton's male characters are theoretically quite well versed in the ways of "the female animal" (3, 63), and the narrator of "A Little Grey Glove" (the only story in the collection that is written from the man's point of view) "pursue[s] the Eternal Feminine in a spirit of purely scientific investigation" (93). But when confronted with a particularly maddening specimen of "the female species" (93), most of Egerton's men are bewildered by her inscrutability. To the average male perception (personified, for example, in the nameless husbands in "A Cross Line" and "An Empty Frame"), women are "enigmas" (21), "as impenetrable as a sphinx" (25), with an "elusive spirit in her that he divines but cannot seize . . . " (29). The "devilry" in her makes her a "witch" -- a word that Egerton's characters/narrators use almost compulsively e.g. in "A Cross Line" (23), "A Little Grey Glove" (102), "An Empty Frame" (118), "Under Northern Sky" (114). When she is not a "witch", she is a "gipsy", "A Cross Line" (3, 14, 26) and in "Under Northern Sky" (145, 146, 151).

The nameless wife in "An Empty Frame" thus soothingly reassures her unnamed husband : "There, it's all right, boy! Don't mind me, I have a bit of a complex nature; you couldn't understand me if you tried to; you'd better not try!" (123). Similarly, the male narrator of "A Little Grey Glove" finds that although he devotes himself to everything "in petticoats", "the more I saw of her, the less I understood her " (94). Against this sentence there is an interesting marginal comment by Hardy: "a woman's view of herself: not man's". We must remember that when Hardy first read and annotated Keynotes he was working on the final draft of Jude the Obscure and, despite his disclaimer, the male perception of Sue is just such a baffled awareness of opacity. Sue is a "riddle" to Jude (154) and her conduct is "one lovely conundrum to him" (156). To Phillotson too, she is "puzzling and unstateable" (240), and the state of her heart remains forever a "mystery" (255) -- to Phillotson, to Jude, to the (male) narrator, and even perhaps to Sue herself.

A characteristic that the "quivering" and "nervous" Egerton heroines share with Hardy's Sue is their love of being loved. As the female protagonist of "A Cross Line" confesses to her husband -- "It isn't the love, you know, it's the being loved" (16). When Jude accuses Sue of being a "flirt", Sue is equally candid in admitting that "[s]ome women's love of being loved is unsatiable" (222). Later, trying to justify her marriage to Phillotson, she explains it as "a woman's love of being loved [which] gets the better of her conscience" (256; Hardy's italics). Before she ultimately leaves Jude to remarry Phillotson, she quite gratuitously reveals to Jude that her love for him "began in the selfish and cruel wish to make your heart ache for me without letting mine ache for you" (361).

Sue's uncontrollable and involuntary physical shrinking from Phillotson is also anticipated by some of Egerton's women characters. The wife in "Under Northern Sky" betrays her revulsion when her grossly sensual husband demands a kiss from her, and the housekeeper Belinda (in "The Spell of the White Elf") laments: "If one could only have a child, ma'am, without a husband or the disgrace; ugh, the disgusting men!" (80). What this half-educated woman says is echoed by the more articulate Sue in one of her series of notes to Phillotson, begging for release from their marriage:

I implore you to be merciful! I would not ask if I were not almost compelled by what I can't bear! No poor woman has ever wished more than I that Eve had not fallen, so that (as the primitive Christians believed) some harmless mode of vegetation might have peopled Paradise" (241).

Indeed, this physical disgust seems to be shared by quite a few women, as the female "writer" who features in "The Spell of the White Elf" tell us:

It seems congenital with some women to have deeply rooted in their innermost nature a smouldering enmity, ay, sometimes a physical disgust to men, it is a kind of kin-feeling to the race dislike of white men to black. Perhaps it explains why woman, where her own feelings are not concerned, will always make common cause with woman against him" (80-81).

Against the last sentence of the above extract is another marginal comment, presumably by Hardy: "No they will not". Despite this categorical denial of women's potential for transcending their internecine rivalries, Hardy had himself given a powerful illustration of female solidarity in The Woodlanders (1887) where Grace Melbury and Felice Charmond part with a kiss in the woods, despite the latter's devastating disclosure. That "wife" and "mistress" can meet on the common ground of womanly sympathy (it is quite unnecessary to read lesbian implications into this scene) is illustrated by Egerton too. In "A Cross Line", enlightened by her personal experience, "the mistress, who is a wife, puts her arms round the tall maid, who has never had more than a moral claim to the name, and kisses her in a quick way" (35). Here, social barriers are swept aside by the realisation of a common female identity and a common female experience -- (illegitimate) pregnancy. Again, in "Under Northern Sky", the generous wife sympathetically allows the "cow-girl" to kiss her dying husband good-bye, although it appears to be the common gossip that the cow-girl had once been her husband's mistress.

In their treatment of female relationships it is quite obvious that the "old hand" knew "a thing or two" as well as the "young 'un". Indeed, correspondences between Egerton's stories and Hardy's prose fiction are numerous enough to suggest a two-way imbibing of literary influence. For instance, the "writer" in Egerton's story "The Spell of the White Elf" relates how the child she adopts (the "elf" of the title) bears a striking resemblance to her:

Well, the elf was born, and now comes the singular part of it. It was a wretched, frail little being with a startling likeness to me. It was as if the evil the mother had wished me had worked on the child, and the constant thought of me stamped my features on its little face (81).

One is instantly reminded of Hardy's short story "An Imaginative Woman" where Mrs Marchmill's innocent obsession with the (unseen) poet, Robert Trewe, leads to her son being born with a face that bears so striking a resemblance to the poet's photograph that the unimaginative Mr Marchmill (the child's legal and biological father) is misled into rejecting his own son. 13

In "Now Spring has Come" Egerton's female protagonist is so moved by a book that she impulsively arranges to meet the unknown author who has so stirred her deepest feelings. However, such soul-sympathy with an unknown artist brings only pain and disillusionment in its wake, and we recall Jude's similar impulsive journey to meet the composer of a hymn that has strangely affected him only to discover that the writer of the divinely beautiful song is a prosaic and grossly materialistic man. In "A Little Grey Glove", the male narrator of the story falls in love when his ear is pierced by the hook of the lady's fishing line, very much in the same comic and deflating fashion as when Arabella's love missile (the pig's pizzle) hits Jude's ear.

Some correspondences can of course be accounted for by the fact that both writers were drawing from a common stock of ideas current at that time. For instance, Egerton's description of a hawk swooping down and capturing a little brown bird is an image of Darwinian struggle for existence that Hardy had earlier exploited, dramatically and proleptically, in the description of the chase of the duck by the duck-hawk, in the opening chapter of The Hand of Ethelberta (1876). The same Darwinism is again apparent in Egerton's description of nature where the trees "fight for life in wild confusion" ("A Cross Line", 2). This passage is a pale echo of Hardy's more famous and oft-quoted description of nature where the leaf is deformed, the fungi choke the trees, and the ivy strangles to death the promising sapling (The Woodlanders, Ch. 7).

One image common to Schreiner, Egerton and Hardy is that of the captive/caged bird which represents woman's sense of entrapment within the narrow role assigned to her by patriarchal society. A suggestion of claustrophobia, a passionate yearning for liberty, a frustrated chafing against the oppressive rigidity of the iron bars, all coalesce to create a powerful emotive symbol. Schreiner, through Lyndall, tauntingly questions:

If the bird does like its cage, and does like its sugar and will not leave it, why keep the door so very carefully shut? Why not open it, only a little? Do they know there is many a bird will not break its wings against the bars, but would fly if the doors were open (159; author's italics).

Egerton too uses this almost archetypal image to anticipate the liberation of the oppressed wife in "Under Northern Sky". Prophesying the death of the sensual husband, the old gypsy woman consoles the wife by holding out the hope that, after the rising of seven suns and seven moons, the cage will open and the bird will be free. Hardy too had used such a proleptic image in the opening scenes of The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) where the swallow flying out of the furmity woman's tent signifies Susan's release from Michael Henchard (through the "wife-sale"). Later, in Jude the Obscure, when Jude and Sue decide to leave Aldbrickham and all their household furniture (including Sue's pet birds) is sold off, Sue goes to the poulterer's shop and seeing her pet pigeons in a hamper she impulsively unfastens the cover and allows them to fly away. Tragically enough, although Sue frees her pet birds, she herself ultimately remains (wilfully?) self-trapped in the cage of conventional morality.

Lyndall, Sue and the Egerton heroines are all birds of a feather and one of the reasons why Sue has eclipsed her fictional sisters may lie in her creator's greater literary stature and wide-ranging output. Although Schreiner's is perhaps the most powerful female voice in the years separating Mary Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir, and although her polemical Woman and Labour (1911) became a Bible to Suffragists, she did not really produce another great novel to match African Farm. Egerton followed up Keynotes with Discords (1894), but the often nameless heroines of her short stories remain vignettes, tell-tale snapshots which are arresting but incomplete. Sue, on the other hand, is a fully drawn sketch, the culmination of a long line of fascinating Hardy women and the mystique of her enigmatic personality is so finely conveyed that she obscures not only her fictional ancestresses but also (very nearly) the nominal hero in the novel in which she appears.


1. Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 151-152. Subsequent references to this work are to this 1992 "World Classics" paperback edition, and page numbers are parenthetically incorporated into the text.

2. Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure, New Wessex Edition (London: Macmillan, 1975), 151-2. Subsequent page references, parenthetically included in the text, are to this 1975 (hardback) New Wessex Edition.

3. Letter from Kate Hardy to Emma Hardy, dated 1882, now in the "Thomas Hardy Memorial" collection at the Dorset County Museum, Dorchester. I am grateful to the Curator of DCM, Mr Richard de Peyer, for granting me access to this letter. Michael Millgate also quotes this line from Kate's letter in his Thomas Hardy: A Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982, rev.ed., 1992), 351.

4. Penny Boumelha, Thomas Hardy and Women: Sexual Ideology and Narrative Form (Sussex: Harvester Press; New Jersey: Barnes & Noble, 1982), 80-1.

5. Letter of 8 August 1926, from Thomas Hardy to J.B. Priestley. See Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate eds, The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy: 1926-1927. Vol. 7 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 38.

6. Purdy and Millgate eds, The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy: 1893-1901, Vol.2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), 47.

7.Ibid., 52.

8. Letter dated 22 November 1895, from George Egerton to Thomas Hardy, now in the Dorset County Museum. Again, I would like to thank the Curator, Mr Richard de Peyer, for allowing me access to this letter. This extract from Egerton's letter is also quoted by Janet B.Wright in "Hardy and his Contemporaries: The Literary Context of Jude the Obscure", Inscape, 14 (1980), 145.

9. Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, Vol. 2, 99. For similar comments on Sue, see Hardy's letter (20 Nov, 1895) to his friend Edmund Gosse in Collected Letters, Vol. 2, 99.

10. A similar regret touchingly surfaces in Hardy's disguised autobiography where he writes: "We hear that Jane, our late servant, is soon to have a baby. Yet never a sign of one is there for us". See The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, ed., Michael Millgate, (London: Macmillan, 1984), 119.

11. Lennart Björk, ed., The Literary Notebooks of Thomas Hardy, Vol. 2 (London: Macmillan, 1985), 60-1.

12. George Egerton, Keynotes (London: Elkin Mathews & John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1893), 22. I am grateful to Mr William Hemmig, of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University for sending me a copyflo of Hardy's annotated copy of Keynotes. I would also like to thank Mr Vincent Giroud, Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at the Beinecke Library, for granting me formal permission to quote Hardy's marginal comments in this copy of Keynotes. Subsequent page references to the stories in Keynotes are parenthetically incorporated into the text.

13. "An Imaginative Woman", dated 1893, was published in April 1894. But the story may have been originally composed quite earlier because Hardy's note for December 1893 states: "Found and touched up a short story called "An Imaginative Woman". See The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, ed., Michael Millgate, 276.


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