Chapter three examines Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895). Both novels embrace the nineteenth-century notion of protagonists at odds with their society. Rather than affirm the subversive value of Tess’s and Jude’s social maladjustment, Hardy examines the narrow limits of their awareness of themselves and others. The words and gestures with which they express themselves are much simpler and smaller than the abstractions through which they try to understand themselves. Judith Butler’s notions of performativity help show that Tess and Jude do not even have a responsive “other” to affirm or deny their acts of rebellion. These narrative choices highlight a dimension of social rebellion that critical theory does not usually take into account. It stems from what Hardy depicts as the inalienable contingency of contexts in which an individual’s social maladjustment might become visible and pertinent to others.
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