Erin M. Lanza '18, Gettysburg College
Student Research Paper
Date of Creation
In this paper, I examine Hardy’s treatment of female sexuality as mediated by art in two short stories: “The Fiddler of the Reels” and “An Imaginative Woman.” Given Hardy’s role as an artist, his noted compassion for women, and his interest in Victorian attitudes toward sexuality, my analysis of these topics in his short stories is particularly relevant. Hardy’s investment in class issues is also pertinent, as I consider how Hardy uses his heroines’ relationships with art to underline the distinct disadvantages of lower-class women. While Ella, the middle-class heroine of “An Imaginative Woman,” uses poetry to channel stagnant sensual energies as a relatively empowered subject, music objectifies and overpowers the lower-class Car’line of “The Fiddler of the Reels.” In my analysis, I compare Ella and Car’line’s interactions with art, noting art’s potential to serve as an emotional outlet, a source of pleasure, or an overwhelming and dangerous force. I argue that middle-class women possess a clear advantage: their access to Victorian discourses that acknowledge female sexuality and their encouragement to engage the creative arts as active agents afford them a level of power. Ella thus uses art as a tool to express her desires and to obtain a degree of sexual satisfaction. On the contrary, the rural, working-class Car’line is completely vulnerable to Wat’s fiddle, and its power ultimately causes her emotional and physical deterioration. In my comparison of female sexuality and artistic expression in “The Fiddler of the Reels” and “An Imaginative Woman," I elucidate Hardy’s efforts to reveal the distinct disadvantages of lower-class women in Victorian society.
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Lanza, Erin, "An Exploration of Female Sexuality, Class Status, and Art in Hardy’s Short Stories" (2018). Student Publications. 613.