Introduction

Annie Ramel
2013 FATHOM  
Hardy's work was the subject chosen for the 2009 international conference on Thomas Hardy, organized in Rouen (France) by Stéphanie Bernard. It was on that occasion that FATHOM, the French Association for Thomas Hardy Studies, was founded. The "letter" was taken in its double acceptation: a written message, an epistolary exchange, used by people to communicate with each other, and a grapheme, the trace left on a page by a "man of letters"-those traces being made available to a multiplicity of
more » ... a multiplicity of readers through printing and publishing. In that second sense, the "letter" comes very close to referring to Hardy's writing, to his novels, short-stories, poems, notes, essays, letters, etc. For after all what is a literary text if not a collection of "letters", arranged and combined with each other to produce a meaning, and to give pleasure to a reader? In the first sense of the word "letter" (the letter as "epistle"), a further distinction appears necessary: between Hardy's personal letters, in which the speaker is the author himself, and the letters whose speaker is fictional, whether in a novel or in a poem. Letters in the real world, sent by real people, should be distinguished from letters within a text-like for instance the letters exchanged between Tess and her mother, or between Raye and Edith in "On the Western Circuit". We will focus mostly on the second category. If we take "letter" in the second acceptation (a grapheme), we realize that the "letters" of a text are not only the printed letters on the page, but also the letters within the text, all the inscriptions that are part of the diegetic world: for instance the fiery red letters painted on a stile by a religious fanatic in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the letters engraved on the marble stones at Kingsbere, those of "The Compleat Fortune-Teller" (a book "so worn by pocketing that the margins had reached the edge of the type"; Hardy 2003, 23), the letters on the coffin-plate that tell the two suitors that their beloved Elfride is dead in A Pair of Blue Eyes, the letters engraved by Jude, the words chalked by Gabriel Oak on Fanny's coffin, etc. All those are letters within the text. Letters within the text, whether they are graphemes or epistles, raise a crucial question:
doi:10.4000/fathom.224 fatcat:qvv46b3ywndoben4jvbey4meni