The production of abstract value—not limited to the transformation of labor under the exigencies of capitalism but extending to modes of signification undermined by abstract equivalence—plays an unprecedented yet overlooked role in the major novels of Thomas Hardy: unprecedented because the realist novel has been previously theorized in terms of an expressive self-production thwarted by social alienation or the usurpation of individual agency; overlooked because Hardy criticism has focused on work as a protected category of meaning creation and social continuity. Abstract value is, however, an empty quantification of labor’s duration and the enforcement of its equivalence; it is not an extension of self into world. Across his novelistic career Hardy revises the tragic weight given in his early fiction to binding material attachments, so the later novels are, by contrast, tragedies of abstract equivalence and separation. In the face of a regime of capitalist abstraction and its relentless downward mobility, Hardy upholds not the continuity or intimacy of work but the less certain affiliations of precarious and uprooted surplus populations.

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