Abstract

Thomas Hardy’s Wessex novels move in circles: characters retrace their steps, and history repeats itself. The limited geography registers and reflects both movements. At the same time, the novels repeatedly figure choice as binary—limited to two seemingly equivalent alternatives. This essay argues that these apparently disparate features of Hardy’s plots are, in fact, structurally linked. Circular movement and binary choice echo through contemporary cultural artifacts, ranging from popular board games to mathematical and biological theories. Drawing on developments in the mathematical study of probability—the drunkard’s walk and the Markov chain—this essay claims that Hardy’s binary choices generate his characters’ roundabout geographic trajectories, transforming Victorian models for human motion and choice into a formal principle for the novel.

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