Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Tim Cresswell explains in his book Place: A Short Introduction (2004) that “Place is how we make the world meaningful and the way we experience the world. Place, at a basic level, is space invested with meaning in the context of power” (19). In fiction, place influences how we experience a constructed narrative. In the nineteenth-century British novel, place becomes a part of the narrative, and the narrative, in turn, informs England’s geographical heritage making.
This exhibition explores how three nineteenth-century British authors—Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Thomas Hardy—use the natural geography of Southern England in various ways to affect characterization, plot, and theme. The Cobb at Lyme Regis in Austen’s Persuasion (1818), the River Thames in Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend (1865), and Stonehenge in Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) are natural landscapes built upon by human experiences: the Thames has locks and boats, the Cobb its steep constructed steps, and Stonehenge its carefully arranged ancient monoliths. These landscapes are representative of an English heritage that is tied to place as part of its identity: its urban and rural geographies, its cultural and religious heritage, and its economic history. The nineteenth century saw the final stages of the Industrial Revolution in England, which disrupted the country’s social and economic systems. England experienced a mass migration out of the countryside and into industrial urban centers such as London. However, literary critic Raymond Williams argues in The Country and the City that a sense of rural heritage never left the English zeitgeist. It appears in the writings of Austen, Dickens, and Hardy, although the idealized and beloved countryside of pre-industrial England essentially disappeared long before any of these authors were writing.
These three novels that span the long nineteenth century preserve and redefine real locations in England and have inspired literary tourism where visitors can reenact Louisa Musgrove’s fall from the steps of the Cobb, walk along the banks of the Thames that Lizzie and Gaffer Hexam dredged for corpses, and stand on the Great Plain of Stonehenge while listening to the dramatic climax of Tess through an audio guide. Fiction thus perpetuates what can now be thought of as the myth of the idealized English countryside. That myth becomes for the modern reader a reality in Persuasion, Our Mutual Friend, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Likewise, the Cobb, the Thames, and Stonehenge become places engrained in English culture and heritage for perpetuity.
Shapiro, Jessica, "“Influence of Locality” in Dickens, Austen, and Hardy: Placing Nineteenth-Century British Literature" (2018). English Honors Theses. 1.