'The letter killeth': The obscurity of language and communication in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure 2016
Date of Award
Open Access Thesis
Master of Arts (MA)
While the epistolary novel is a genre closely associated with 18th century England, 19th century Victorian literature also incorporates letter writing as a significant form of communication. Written messages convey what can often not be said out loud, as it is easier to hide behind a pen and paper, write in solitude, and be absent when the letter is read by the recipient. Impulsive and emotional thoughts and feelings can be written down immediately and then later edited, which makes writing an unstable form of communication. Is the author conveying true feelings or concealing true feelings? Layering multiple modes of language within a novel, such as letters, notes, and verbal communication creates problematic communication in relationships. A written statement will either contradict or reinforce what is verbally stated, but the validity of the written word is also questionable. This essay will analyze the obscurity1 of language in Thomas Hardy’s novel, Jude the Obscure, and the ways in which written communication and intertextuality both define and complicate relationships between characters, as well as a character’s relationship to the world through religion, education, and marriage. More specifically, I will examine communications by letter writing for moments of contradiction, degrees of formality, and the ways in which characters such as Jude Fawley, Sue Bridehead, Arabella Donn, and Richard Phillotson use letter writing to convey the truth, tell a lie, or confess what cannot be said out loud. Furthermore, this paper will study the insertions of intertextuality within Jude and how such epigraphs function to illuminate the ways in which Jude and Sue are attempting to negotiate their role within Victorian society. 1 The term obscure will be used in this text to define what is ambiguous or uncertain, and also the notion of concealment. Obscurity of language in the text functions to mask characters’ true feelings if they are not perceived to be socially acceptable. 3 The first part of this essay will pursue letters and notes as communication devices between characters and the ways in which written communication can obfuscate the meaning of language and the message being conveyed. But first, it is important to discuss one significant epigraph that connects letters to intertextuality and Jude’s relationship to the written word: ‘the letter killeth’ quoted by Jude (Hardy 338). ‘The letter killeth’ references the letter of Christian law, and more specifically Christian marriage law. However, Hardy uses the idea of the ‘letter’ to ‘kill’ in multiple ways throughout the novel.
Corning, Victoria T., "'The letter killeth': The obscurity of language and communication in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure 2016" (2016). Master's Theses. 9.
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