Profitable reading of newspapers: Thomas Hardy and mass media culture
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date26/11/2022
This thesis examines the ways in which the development and repercussions of the evolving nineteenth-century newspaper and periodical press, and the mass media culture it generated, can be found exemplified in the works and life of Thomas Hardy. Born in 1840, publishing his first novel in 1871, and continuing to write until shortly before his death in 1928, Hardy's life and career spanned a critical period in the development of the press. The repeal of the 'taxes on knowledge' during his youth in the 1850s and early 1860s, along with technological and social advances, had facilitated the unprecedented growth of the industry. This was accompanied by revolutions in the format, content, and techniques of journalism, which in turn radically altered and conditioned the reading habits, outlook, culture, and experiences of an ever-expanding community of readers. Situating Hardy's work within this context (and with a primary focus on newspapers), this thesis considers how he engaged variously with the mass media culture of his era, and how he came to trace the cultural consequences of its evolution within his fictional world. Chapter One focuses on the centrality of newspaper research to Hardy's evocation of history in The Trumpet-Major, and investigates the ways in which that novel reveals the newspaper to be both medium of communication, and mediator of historical experience. The following two chapters consider the ways in which Hardy's reading in back-issues of the Dorset County Chronicle came to crystallize his creative project. Chapter Two discusses how his research within this paper enabled Hardy to uncover and explore the intersections and tensions between the competing frameworks of traditional and newspaper narrative. Chapter Three focuses in more detail on how and why Hardy came to weave newspaper narratives into the fabric of his plots. Moving away from Hardy's creative uses of specific newspapers, Chapter Four demonstrates that Hardy's fiction both articulates and critiques wider changes to notions of community, publicity, and privacy brought about by the growth of the mass media during the nineteenth century. Chapter Five concentrates more specifically on how Hardy came to interrogate and expose the discourses of the late nineteenth-century New Journalistic press. And finally, Chapter Six investigates Hardy's personal experiences of being written about in the papers, working to contextualize his career and fame within the mass media culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As his engagements with the press frequently highlight, this was a culture in which Hardy was both deeply embedded, and yet towards which he expressed an increasing distrust. Taken together, the chapters of this thesis seek to demonstrate how Hardy's work not only evoked, but called into question the narratives, frameworks, discourses, and ethics of the burgeoning mass media culture within, and for which, he wrote.