Let's talk about sex (or not): the fallen woman's linguistic dilemma and the double standard in Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles and The mayor of Casterbridge

UNCW Author/Contributor (non-UNCW co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Kat Bodrie (Creator)
The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW )
Web Site: http://library.uncw.edu/
Barbara Waxman

Abstract: Combining literature and linguistics, this thesis examines Tess Durbeyfield from Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Lucetta from Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge in terms of their potential linguistic decisions and expectations in telling or not telling their husbands about their sexual pasts. On one hand, Lucetta exemplifies a conventional fallen woman who is aware of the double standard; she decides to conceal her sexual past from her husband Donald Farfrae, for fear that he will reject her if he knows. This decision, however, is wrested from her control when the townspeople find out about her past and hold a skimmington ride to publicly mock her. Tess, on the other hand, is unconventional in her linguistic framework. Because she bases her linguistic decision on the moral value of honesty over dishonesty and because she is ignorant that her husband Angel subscribes to the double standard, Tess thinks that if she is honest with him about her sexual past, then he will accept her. A combination of her strong belief in this basic moral system of honesty over dishonesty and of Angel’s own confession leads her to make her sexual confession to him, which trumps her mother’s previous warning to her not to tell Angel about her past. Angel’s confession to Tess and her confession to Angel are analyzed in terms of their speech act components: the locutionary act, or the words the speaker uses; the illocutionary act, which includes the intention and the expected result the speaker has for his speech act; and the perlocutionary act, or the response that the listener has to the speaker’s word. This speech act analysis reveals the inherent gender imbalance in the confession scheme between a husband and a wife because men were allowed to have sex outside of marriage, and Angel uses this to his advantage: he forgives himself but does not forgive Tess for the same act. Both women’s linguistic decisions eventually lead to their deaths, which Hardy probably included in order to satisfy Victorian readers’ moral outrage at the fallen woman.

Additional Information

A Thesis Submitted to the University of North Carolina Wilmington in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
Language: English
Date: 2009
Hardy Thomas 1840-1928--Criticism and interpretation, Hardy Thomas 1840-1928 Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy Thomas 1840-1928 Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hardy, Thomas, 1840-1928. Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hardy, Thomas, 1840-1928 -- Criticism and interpretation
Hardy, Thomas, 1840-1928. Mayor of Casterbridge

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