Thomas Hardy and Edmund Burke: A Study in Gothic Sublimity

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Donald Rexford Stamper

Advisor Department



Thomas Hardy's fiction has often been characterized as having a "gothic" quality. From the Gothic tradition Hardy borrows the standard trappings--isolated settings, an atmosphere of terror, mediated or framed narratives, stock characters, and the apparent intrusion of the supernatural into everyday reality. But this "gothicness" is often tempered through use of the sublime. A powerful, unseen force is always lurking in the corners of Hardy's fiction--a force variously termed by Hardy as "some indistinct, colossal Prince of the World," "the First Cause," "the Intangible Cause," "Supreme Mover," "Immanent Will." This occult power generates the "astonishment" which Edmund Burke finds essential to the sublime. But Hardy's sublimity retains the original sense of "awe" before this sublime phenomenon, and consequently takes on a theological perspective. This "gothic sublimity" seems closely associated with the "numinous" experience as defined by the German theologian Rudolf Otto in The Idea of the Holy (1917). This study proposes to examine the gothic and sublime influences on Hardy's narrative technique and characterization, and assess the degree that these considerations reflect Hardy's elusive philosophical and theological thought.