This essay considers the significance of rumor in the work of Thomas Hardy, anchoring its claims in a reading of Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891). I argue that rumor conditions the narrative movement of this novel through its linked operations in social space and bodily sensation. First, I examine the relationship between the movements of characters and their attendant social reputations, tracking the way in which hearsay and opinion intersect narrative spaces in the novel. I then move to the level of internal, bodily registration—to the physiology and sensation of rumor—and investigate its wide-ranging visual and aural manifestations. I emphasize here how bodily awareness provides rumor with a domain where it can forge the verifiability it constitutively lacks in the realm of social knowledge. Finally, I turn to attacks on character and name, invoking comparisons with Hardy's poetry and suggesting that even external indexes of social presentation come to be felt within the contours of bodily sensation, further expanding the scope and narrative pressure of hearsay. I conclude by outlining the wider interest of rumor as a category for thinking about the representation of moral psychology in novels and for evaluating the varieties of evidence at work in novels and criticism.
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Daniel Williams; Rumor, Reputation, and Sensation in Tess of the D'urbervilles. Novel 1 May 2013; 46 (1): 93–115. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2019128
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