On Suffering and Sympathy: Jude the Obscure, Evolution and Ethics

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7 Citations (Scopus)


This article links Thomas Hardy’s exploration of sympathy in Jude the Obscure to contemporary scientific debates over moral evolution. Tracing the relationship between pessimism, progressivism, and determinism in Hardy’s understanding of sympathy, it also considers Hardy’s conception of the author as enlarger of “social sympathies”--a position, I argue, that was shaped by Leslie Stephen’s advocacy of novel writing as moral art. Considering Hardy’s engagement with writings by Charles Darwin, T. H. Huxley, Herbert Spencer, and others, I explore the novel’s participation in a debate about the evolutionary significance of sympathy and its implications for Hardy’s understanding of moral agency. Hardy, I suggest, offered a stronger defence of morality based on biological determinism than Darwin, but this determinism was linked to an unexpected evolutionary optimism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)665-687
Number of pages23
JournalVictorian Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Bibliographical note

single authored article

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science


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