In Hardy’s novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, the theme of Patriarchal Victorian morality is explored through the different characters. In light of Lucetta’s character, the extent to which it can be agreed that Hardy reveals his dissatisfaction with patriarchal Victorian morality will be discussed. Hardy uses Lucetta’s emotions to reveal his dissatisfaction with patriarchal Victorian morality. Lucetta is indeed an emotionally volatile character, who is lonely and in a way, desperate.
In Henchard’s reminisces about Lucetta, it is learnt that they were involved in a highly scandalous affair which was “off course, ruin to her”. This is structurally important as first, the reader learns Henchard’s perspective, yet, she is then publically humiliated, which further captures her vulnerable character. The reader is encouraged to see Lucetta in a moral light. Additionally, we see her sympathising with Susan, as Lucetta does visit her grave.
Hardy writes “The personage was in mourning like herself, was about her age and size, and might have been her wraith or double… and the imagery created through words such as “mourning” is important, as we see that Lucetta identifies the tragic circumstances of the life of a Victorian woman, therefore, Hardy is bringing into question Victorian Patriarchal morality. Hardy further brings into question Victorian patriarchal morality, by Lucetta’s opprobrium in Jersey, and evoking to the reader how she has changed through that experience. Through Elizabeth’s eyes, the reader sees that Lucetta has a public persona of sophistication which is false.
For example, upon first seeing Lucetta, Elizabeth “allowed herself the pleasure of feeling fascinated”, the omniscient narrator further commenting that “The stumpy and practical walk of honest homeliness which mostly prevailed there, the two styles of dress whereabouts… equally avouched that this figure was no Caster bridge’s woman’s… ” which highlights Lucetta’s false public persona of sophistication, a result, of yet again, Victorian patriarchal morality. Hardy, however, portrays the harsh reality of Victorian patriarchal morality through the fact that she has manipulated and concealed the truth.
In one of the early letters she writes to Henchard, Lucetta writes “I thus look upon the whole as a misfortune of mine, and not a fault of yours. So that, Michael, I must ask you to overlook those letters with which I pestered you day after day in the heat of my feelings. ” This clearly evokes that her reputation is in ruins, and her response to this shows that she has learnt the values, and knows that if she breaks them, there will be social repercussions, therefore, she only asks for the letters to protect herself from further public humiliation.
Hardy further emphasises his dissatisfaction with Victorian patriarchal morality through Lucetta’s tragic destruction by the skimmity ride. According to critics, this idea is indeed rather collusive with Marxist theories, as the Casterbridge proletariat become “avenged in folk-ritual”, planning the skimmity ride, which triggers an epileptic fit in Lucetta. Furthermore, feminists would argue that her manner of death by “falling to the floor in epileptic seizures” could be reductive in itself, portraying that women were viewed as emotionally weak.
This also creates a contrast to Elizabeth-Jane, as she is a stronger, stoic, and an emotionally stronger character when compared to Lucetta. Therefore, Hardy is bringing into question Victorian morality through Lucetta’s suffering. Hardy further encourages the reader to echo his cynical view on Victorian patriarchal morality by employing an effective use of setting. Lucetta’s place, “High-Street Hall” is rich in symbolism, effective in conveying Hardy’s dissatisfaction with Victorian patriarchal morality.
For example, Hardy writes “It was not altogether aristocratic, still less consequential, yet the old-fashioned stranger instinctively said “blood built it and wealth enjoys it”. The latter part of Hardy’s comment, suggests the oppression of poor people, which is rather collusive, yet again, of Marxist theories. Furthermore, the house is clearly allegorical of Lucetta herself. Its location “so near the centre of town” suggests that Lucetta is thrown into the heart of the novel, by this point.
Hardy’s intricate description of High-Street Hall further highlights the intrigue that Lucetta brings to the novel. Hardy starts of his description of the Hall by writing “The Hall, with its grey facade and parapet was the only residence of its sort so near the centre of town,” and the facade is not only capturing Hardy’s own clear interest in intricate architecture, but it also clearly symbolic of Lucetta, and her mysterious and sophisticated character.
The intrigue of the ever-looming shadow of her past is further shown through words such as “stranger”, which accentuates the mysterious nature of her past with Henchard. Therefore, through symbolising Lucetta’s suffering through the house, Hardy is revealing how she has indeed suffered because of patriarchal Victorian morality However, feminists argue that Hardy fails to overcome the ideology of Victorian patriarchal morality. His description of Victorian women, like Elizabeth and Lucetta is very aesthetic-oriented.
For example, he describes Lucetta’s appearance as an “artistic perfection” focusing highly on her looks. This shows how Victorian women (especially middle class) were expected to look perfect. Feminists would argue that Hardy’s aesthetically-oriented narrative of women is degrading in itself; therefore, he remains collusive with the ideology of Victorian patriarchal morality, making the statement agreeable. Overall, this statement can be agreed to a great extent.
Lucetta’s character brings light to the fact that Casterbridge is after all, a society of twisted morality. The skimmity ride is the ultimate shameful act which destroys Lucetta, showing that the ever-looming shadow of her past she is not really accepted in Casterbridge, and she does suffer opprobrium. Therefore, Hardy is revealing his dissatisfaction with Victorian Patriarchal morality. The statement is further agreeable, because through the aesthetically oriented description Hardy does ultimately fail to overcome the ideology of Victorian patriarchal morality.