Hardy's heroines: A reversal of roles

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Ronald B. Newman - Committee Chair


Throughout literary history, particular roles have been assigned to heroes and heroines, representing as well the male and female roles in society. Male aggressiveness and female submissiveness have generally been rewarded. Such stereotypical views continued through the years until the late nineteenth century when Thomas Hardy began to write novels that show a new kind of heroine. This heroine goes beyond the "new woman" of the late Victorian period; she exhibits inner strength, free will, intelligence, even nobility of spirit. Her interests go far beyond the drawing room accomplishments of the typical Victorian woman.Hardy's treatment of men, on the other hand, is not as complimentary. He shows his male characters to be weak, both morally and physically. Very few show any interest in athletics, and those that do--such as Sergeant Troy--have little moral strength. The men in Hardy's novels have more of the attributes seen in heroines of the past.Not only does Hardy portray strong, independent women, but he uses their characters to bring attention to the inequities of the Victorian moral code. In particular, he was concerned with women's dependence on marriage for their livelihood and with society's judgmental attitudes concerning standards of virtue.In all of his novels, Hardy creates as a central character women of outstanding qualities. Correspondingly, in each novel he portrays men who are morally weak or inferior. The consistency with which Hardy presents men and women in these roles makes a clear point. Hardy not only shows the reading public a new way to view women, but he effectively reverses the role of the hero and heroine, setting a new paradigm for literature and for life.This dissertation discusses Bathsheba Everdene, Eustacia Vye, Elizabeth-Jane Henchard, Tess Durbeyfield, and Sue Bridehead, the leading women of Hardy's five major novels, and shows how each deserves the title of hero rather than that of heroine. The evaluation is based upon a set of criteria previously ascribed to the male hero, but now assigned to a new character--the woman hero, who brings to the role the additional qualities attributed traditionally to women: caring, tenderness, and a sense of humanity.


Literature, English

Link to Full Text


Link to Full Text