Rollins, Mark Jameson
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Examining a less familiar way that ideology affects narrative practice as the British novel moves from a realist to a modernist aesthetic, this study describes how Thomas Hardy's reading of work informs the way he structures the work of reading. Hardy's familiarity with the labor theories John Ruskin espouses in The Stones of Venice (1851-3) and elsewhere, combined with his own experience as an architect's assistant and Gothic draughtsman, enhanced his appreciation for the inventive and expressive types of work performed by the rural tradesmen of his class of origin. These labor values not only influence Hardy's fictional representations of work, they also inform both his conception of "The Profitable Reading of Fiction" (1888) and the narrative strategies he employs to ensure that his readers attain it. The strategies Hardy uses to increase his readers' interpretive agency transgress the normative narrational practices of the period. Authors of nineteenth-century realist fiction perform much of their readers' interpretive labor for them through their omniscient presentation of characters and events and their explanatory narratorial commentary. By contrast, Hardy selectively employs deliberately unassured, unreliable, and inconsistent narration to increase, rather than limit, the interpretive possibilities available to his readers. By doing so, Hardy not only enables readers to realize the imaginative pleasure and intellectual profit derived from active participation in the production of meaning, he also helps to reduce the narrator's control of meaning in the Victorian realist novel and to move the rhetoric of fiction toward the radical ambiguity of modernism.