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By considering the extent to which individuals and their actions are determined and limited by the rules and conventions of Victorian society, discuss the views conveyed to the reader by Hardy and Fowles.

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Introduction

'Jude the Obscure' by Thomas Hardy and 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' by John Fowles: By considering the extent to which individuals and their actions are determined and limited by the rules and conventions of Victorian society, discuss the views conveyed to the reader by Hardy and Fowles. John Fowles and Thomas Hardy both write on very similar subjects; their stories circulate around very strong, rebellious women who are fighting the social conformities set down by their male oppressors. These male writers use their novels to convey their social and political views by placing their characters in situations in which they usually have two courses of action; that is, either to conform or rebel. The outcomes of these choices work to highlight the opinions of the writers, and the hardship of characters in both novels communicates the overwhelming pressures of society. However, the two writers were writing in completely different time periods, and this gives the messages of each novelist very different meanings. Hardy was writing in the mid 1800s, when his views would have been considered outrageous. Writing about events occurring around him would have put his reputation at great risk, and his views were seen as blasphemy. The first of his kind, Hardy took a great risk in releasing this work to the public, however, in doing so, he was able to draw attention to the very controversial subject of women's rights, a subject, that was, in his time, taboo. Fowles, on the other hand, took no such risk. Writing in the post-feminist 1960s, he was able to look in retrospect to many years of women's liberation, and know that he was conforming to popular opinion. Although he shares views very similar to Hardy, and possibly was influenced by them, there is nothing ground breaking about them, and he only works to reinforce the words of Hardy. However, both writers do make very valid comments on the involvement of society and its conventions in the lives of individuals, and constantly asks the ...read more.

Middle

He was probably able to reach a far greater audience using this method. Fowles uses his novel in much the same way, but instead of hiding his views behind a story, he actively removes the narrator and poses arguments straight. This method allows the reader to actually consider the opinions of the author, rather than just accepting the subliminal suggestions of Hardy. However, comparing the two like this suggests that Fowles has been far more open with his audience, and awards him some form of 'courage', and this is not the case. Looking at the social context of the novels shows that Hardy had no other way to deliver his arguments than in this way. As his novel progresses it frequently takes on the form of a piece of persuasive writing, and many of the arguments posed are structured in almost essay form. Ironically, it was social constraints that he was fighting against which forced him to write in this oblique way. Although Hardy and Fowles do have differing styles, their messages are almost exactly the same. They have both written moralistic stories which communicate their views by showing how the pressures of society have caused the degradation of key characters, and although the character's failure is inevitable, the reader knows that they 'should' succeed. If this destruction did not occur, the fundamental evil of society would not have so clearly been illustrated. It is the hope of success that is the main driving force of each novel, and the reader is compelled to have faith in the naive dreams of the characters. The novelists do pose very desirable visions of the future where people can live as they like and where their choices are not governed by the overbearing opinions of others, a future not too dissimilar from our own present. The problem with these visions is that they invariably conflict with the social systems in place, and so they are fundamentally doomed. ...read more.

Conclusion

Perhaps it is the oppression that the female characters of the novels have suffered which has caused them to rebel to such extremes. Although Jude and Charles feel the need to defy some of the social rules set down, Sarah and Sue have become completely disenchanted with what society has to offer them, and so they are prepared to lose all contact with that way of life, even if that means suffering persecution for their choices. However, what leads to the tragic end of Sue is the fact that by the latter stages of the novel, she no longer has any anyone to share the problems of her life with. Jude becomes enveloped in his idea of attaining a scholarship (if not for himself, then for his son) and so she is forced to face the burdens of society alone. It turns out that although she is becoming a 'new woman', she is not yet fully self-reliant, her spirit is crushed by the fact that she believes that she has committed a sin. Her conscience forces her to return to her safe but unhappy life with Phillotson. This ending is so frustrating because the reader knows how close she and Jude were in succeeding in their goal of freedom, Sue, however, is a representation of thousands of women who strived for the same goals. Her failure is symbolic of theirs. Without the hardships endured by all characters across the two novels, the authors would not have been able to fully illustrate the crushing effects of society, and so we are shown that suffering is fundamentally part of an independent life. However, With Sarah, Fowles is able to show how someone with motivation can thrive given the right circumstances. By finding like-minded people, in the form of her commune, she is able to construct her own form of society with its own rules, orders and constraints. Within this microcosm she can thrive in an environment away from that which does not understand her; in a sense, within her own world she is 'free'. ...read more.

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