Moral Implications of Madness: Female Sexuality and Violence in Sir Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor and Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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Liebman, Hana, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Arata, Stephen, English, University of Virginia

This thesis explores the multiple affinities and key differences between Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), which Hardy commended as “an almost perfect specimen of form.” The two novels rely upon legends and omens to emphasize an inevitable destiny and advance the story toward a tragic conclusion. Either in a Gothic or a pastoral manner, both authors draw on the pagan to illustrate the rural landscape and transform it into an active force that shapes the characters’ identities and development. Most importantly, both works involve a climax in which an innocent young woman is condemned by her lover for lack of virtuous firmness. Devastated by his rejection, she commits an act of extreme violence that, considered unnatural to her gender and tender personality, is categorized as madness. Despite such striking similarities, however, The Bride of Lammermoor and Tess of the d’Urbervilles deliver remarkably divergent views regarding female sexuality and violence. Though indulging in several descriptions of feminine beauty, Scott deprives it of eroticism by painting an angelic, even childish portrait of his heroine. Hardy, on the other hand, reveals his appreciation for female sexuality in his sensual descriptions of the feminine form and the fertile landscape in which it flourishes. While Scott’s fears of female rebellion and violence lead him to contain it through an indisputable attribution of madness, Hardy vindicates his heroine’s fierce assertion of will and desire, an act of desperation rather than insanity. Scott tacitly acknowledges the failure of patriarchal society to protect the women who depend upon it for security and honor; Hardy condemns it. In a profoundly radical gesture, Hardy denounces the injustice of his professedly Christian society and argues for an alternative moral code, based on the natural world, in which female sexuality and virtue coexist.

MA (Master of Arts)
Walter Scott, Thomas Hardy, Purity, Sexuality, Violence, Madness
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