Koehler’s book takes an expansive look at communication through letters, telegrams and the Penny Post in Thomas Hardy’s works; her writing is engaging, her analysis is compelling, and this volume is as enthralling as one of Hardy’s own. This tour de force takes into account historic nuances of the postal system as it evolved throughout the Victorian era, as well as a vast body of research on ‘epistolarity’ and letters’ formal and functional characteristics. Although grounded in a focus on details of form and history, Koehler never veers from her primary aim: careful analysis of Hardy’s texts. In examining a range of novels both well known and obscure – from The Mayor of Casterbridge to The Hand of Ethelberta – she explores topics of privacy, gender, control and the sexual double standard; the sense of self and a humanist conception of identity; romantic dynamics and discourse; narrative resolution; and the shift from oral tradition to written culture. One of Koehler’s most captivating chapters is that on failed letters – letters that are lost, mis-delivered, read by the wrong person or at the wrong moment – and social and sexual injustices in Jude the Obscure, The Woodlanders and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Even for a topic as frequently discussed as Tess’s seduction/rape, Koehler manages to add new layers of understanding and meaning. In addition to the in-depth and illuminating look at Hardy’s novels and their exploration of written messages and their relation to social and cultural norms, Koehler also explores Hardy’s poems and short stories, arguing that Hardy’s interest in letters did not end when he stopped writing novels. This work reads well as a whole, though the chapters are largely self-contained and could be equally usefully read in extracts for a particular course. The book would be of significant interest not only to Hardy scholars but also to enthusiasts of the post, of letter writing, and of the Victorian cultural imagination in general. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press for the Court of the University of St Andrews. All rights reserved. The University of St Andrews is a charity registered in Scotland: No. SC013532.
Forum for Modern Language Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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