Bowdlerization and Self-Censorship in Hardy and Other Victorian Fiction

GPL: What evidence do we have that such censorship took place?

PVA: One source of evidence comes from authors' correspondences with publishers. "You may not have to consider the vicar's daughters, but I always do," said Cornhill editor Sir Leslie Stephen to the young Thomas Hardy. The real question is, "How far would you like me to go in a paragraph, or are we considering something longer?" A second kind of evidence appears in the divergences between serial and volume forms of each of the novels, generally the result of Hardy suppressing and then restoring material originally in the manuscript.

GPL: Did authors ever censor themselves? and where can I go to find out more about it?

PVA: The editors of a number of modern editions of Hardy's novels, such as the Norton Critical edition Tess, address the question of Hardy's self-Bowdlerisation, and Robert Schweik is quite knowledgeable in this area. An article in PMLA (1921) points out a number of instances in the major novels, and Richard Little Purdy's bibliographical study of Hadry's major novels indicates many such divergences.

GPL: Did authors other than Hardy censor their own works?

PVA: The most obvious piece of self-Bowdlerisation I have ever read occurs in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: The women near Hyde's Soho lodgings are obviously prostitutes, but Stevenson is very careful not to mention that fact. Similarly, Hardy never introduces the "p" word when describing the female denizens of Casterbridge's Mixen Lane -- even in the volume edition. The serial edition of Tess avoids the 'fade-out' rape scene by having Alec bribe a defrocked clergyman to perform a bogus wedding! Sometimes, the censorship removed important information the reader might need to undertand the actions of certain cgharacters. Fior example, the passage that Hardy has excised from Chapter 18 in Good Words, "The Night after the Arrival," might be a "relatively innocuous" (Nemesvari 360) expression, but it is necessary to the reader's understanding why John Loveday opposes Matilda's marrying his brother, Bob. The serial reader was left to guess of what John had to remind the actress "at some length" (p. 361), whereas the volume reader could conclude that she had been on intimate terms with a number of members of a cavalry regiment. The serial merely reads:

"You have never seen me before?"

"Never," she answered, with a face as impassible as Tallyrand's.

"You mistake; I'll remind you," he said.

And he did remind her at some length.

"Never!" she again said desperately.

But she had mistaken her man. (Good Words 361)

In contrast, the restored reading in the volume edition reveals the sexual history which John feels disqualifies her as a sister-in-law:

"I have not," she answered, with a face as impassible as Tallyrand's.

"Good God!"

"I have not," she repeated.

"Nor any of the čth Dragoons? Captain Jolly, Captain Beauboy, Mr Flight, for instance?"

"No."

"You mistakečI'll remind you of particulars," he said drily. And he did remind her, at some length.

"Never!" she said desperately.

But she had miscalculated her staying powers, and her adversary's character. (Oxford World's Classics 149)

Thus, aside from eliminating the mild oath "Good God!" Hardy was compelled to excise material vital to the reader's comprehending Matilda Johnson's desperation and John's motivation. Nemesvari cites many lesser instances of Bowdlerization that Hardy later reversed, although he does not mention another excision in Chapter 17: "The miller wishing to keep up his son's spirits, expressed his regret that, it being Sunday night, they could have no songs to make the evening cheerful . . ." (150).

GPL: Were references to sexuality the only occasion for such things being removed or toned down?

PVA: No. Religion or phrasing considered offensive to religioous readers were an object of censorship in certain periodicals. Richard Nemesvari's excellent notes in the Oxford World Classics edition (1998) of Hardy's The Trumpet-Major cite a number of instances in which editor the Reverend Dr. Donald Macleod, a staunch Presbyterian, probably asked Hardy to revise his text for delicate sensibilities of the readers of Good Words. For example, Hardy cut the mild oath "Good God!"


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Last modified 10 August 2001