Thomas Hardy's pure English

Gregory Tate*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

This article examines Thomas Hardy's conflicting responses to late-Victorian debates about grammatical prescriptivism and linguistic purism. While Hardy claimed that “purism, whether in grammar or vocabulary, almost always means ignorance,” he also frequently expressed his interest in the (perhaps unrealizable) ideal of a “pure English” founded on fixed and unequivocal grammatical rules. Focusing on Tess of the d'Urbervilles, a novel subtitled “A Pure Woman,” I argue that this ambivalence informed the grammar of Hardy's prose style in his fiction. In this novel, Hardy employs the ambiguous modality of the English language, the imprecise grammatical distinction between the indicative statement of facts and the subjunctive elaboration of conceptions and hypotheses, both to sustain and to interrogate the binary of the real and the ideal that underpins his simultaneous critique and defense of the notion of “purity.” This use of modality highlights an analogy between Hardy's views on moral and linguistic purity: in each case, he rejects narrow estimations of purity, while nonetheless championing an ideal—of “pure English” and the “pure woman”—that transcends the limited perspectives of conventional purisms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-547
JournalVictorian Literature and Culture
Volume50
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2022

Keywords

  • Thomas Hardy
  • Victorian novel
  • Historical linguistics
  • English grammar

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