“JOSEPH THE DREAMER OF DREAMS”: JUDE FAWLEY’S CONSTRUCTION OF MASCULINITY IN THOMAS HARDY’S JUDE THE OBSCURE

in Configuring Masculinity in Theory and Literary Practice
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Jude the Obscure is not only Thomas Hardy’s last but probably also his bleakest novel. Even the epigram on the frontispiece – “The letter killeth [but the spirit giveth life]” – can be read as having negative forebodings; it can, however, also be interpreted as a commentary on the “nature” of language and on the absolute necessity of understanding its founding mechanisms such as absence, difference and deferral if one is to lead a happy and meaningful life and if one endeavors to claim the freedom and the responsibility to construct one’s gender identity. This essay thus centers on the extent to which Hardy’s protagonist Jude Fawley, a man who desperately clings to the illusion of a transcendental signified, is able to understand and put into practice Hardy’s epigram when constructing his masculinity. Therefore, the focus of inquiry will be the hitherto largely neglected discursive construction of an ill-fated male gender identity in a discursive universe where “nobook-body did come, because nobody does” and where taking words literally has lethal consequences.

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