Thomas Hardy's Sympathy towards the "Fallen Woman": A Literary Approach to "The Withered Arm"

Latorre Ocaña, Patricia
Escudero Alías, Maite (dir.)

Universidad de Zaragoza, FFYL, 2017
Filología Inglesa y Alemana department, Filología Inglesa area

Graduado en Estudios Ingleses

Abstract: ABSTRACT: The main purpose of the present essay is to analyse “The Withered Arm”, a short story written by Thomas Hardy in 1888. More specifically, I intend to explore a comparison in depth between the two sides of the Victorian dichotomy based on female archetypes. These two different parts can be reflected in the characters of Rhoda, who fits the stereotype of the “fallen woman”, and Gertrude, a woman embodying middle-class Victorian women as beautiful, innocent and devoted to their husbands and family. By drawing a comparison between these opposite binary terms, the analysis will reveal that Hardy’s sympathy towards the figure of the “fallen woman” becomes more convincing as he provides a unique portrayal of Rhoda, the outcast figure who manages to survive at the very end. In his attempt to do so, Hardy uses hybrid genres, such as the fantastic and some Gothic hints, which increase the suspense and tension within the plot. Not coincidentally, Hardy’s mastery of such hybrid elements provides this short story with an extraordinary taint, which is both unique in Hardy’s writings and a thoughtful technique in order to avoid criticism from Victorian society. Hardy’s defence and sympathy towards Rhoda attests to his honest commitment to fighting for women’s rights, regardless of their social class and marital status. My essay, then, concludes that such a task is carried out more convincingly by Hardy in the writing of “The Withered Arm”.

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