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

From the journal Victorian Studies:

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

 

Caroline Sumpter

 

Abstract 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.

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