Pamela Jekel begins her study of Thomas Hardy's heroines with a clear statement of her thesis that "the heroines of the novels become more completely Hardy's voice as he discovers his own art," and a study of these women is particularly valuable because "each of Hardy's heroines help to define that essence of femininity . . . through which Hardy most often sees and judges the world." Jekel claims that this has never been observed by critics because they have failed to see Hardy's heroines "as a collective group of individual contributors to the authorial voice, and none have examined, from novel to novel, the different faces and particular states of self-realization which each heroine experiences, the better to hear Hardy himself." This is what Jekel promises to do in her study. Unfortunately, this is a book that is better in promise than in fulfillment.
In each of her chapters, Jekel analyzes Hardy's heroines, struggling to squeeze them into her thesis that it is in the heroine of the novel that we most truly hear "Hardy's voice." It becomes progressively clear that Jekel offers no radical illumination of the novelist's art but a rather reductive survey of Hardy's central female characters. In fact, the promise of clarification of authorial voice through character becomes, the reader discovers, a confusion of author, character, and text. For example, the assertion that "for the most part, Tess's views are close to Hardy's own" is a slight oversimplification, but the comment that "Tess also comes to know Hardy's sense of sexual guilt, but she fights against it as Sue Bridehead cannot" suggests that the author is himself merely a character in his own fiction. This strange view of the author's relationship to his characters is again reflected in the discussion of Sue Bridehead; as Jekel notes, "Hardy does not always approve of Sue, nor does he always understand her."
Jekel seems to regard Hardy's unconscious as more responsible for the text than his conscious narrative strategy. The dangers of this pop psychology are apparent in her analysis of the famous letter under Angel Clare's door in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Rather than seeing the misplaced letter as a typical irony perpetuated by the "President of the Immortals"—a reading consonant with the novel as a whole and with Hardy's pessimistic philosophy—Jekel concludes that the author's text blurs "the very human behavior he unconsciously understands. . . ." According to Jekel, it is not Fate that is to blame but Tess herself as "Hardy, in a marvelous pre-Freudian Freudian slip, causes her in the interests of her sexual and emotional needs to put the letter under the rug. That the mistake is subconscious rather than accidental is stressed by Hardy's admission that she was used to Angel's doorway, having climbed up his ladder to wake him each morning."
In her concluding chapter, Jekel asserts that we now understand how "Hardy repeatedly shapes his plots and portrayals of character to reveal his identification [End Page 346] with women and his consciousness of their disadvantage in society," but, alas, what this reader understands most is how Pamela Jekel distorts Hardy's plots and portrayals of character.