This essay argues that the phenomenology of light in Thomas Hardy's novels affords a key to his representation of subjectivity. The lighting of most scenes in nineteenth-century fiction is never specified. But from the spectacular lighting effects of Hardy's early sensation novel, Desperate Remedies (1871), to the futile quest for the "City of Light" in Jude the Obscure (1895) and the burned-out pyrotechnics of his last narrative, The Well-Beloved (1897), the light of Hardy's fiction is marked in a double sense——both described in detail and registered as exceptional. Rather than a figure for enlightenment, as in the realist novels of George Eliot and others, Hardy's light is the medium of subjectivity, and it characteristically occludes and distorts as much as it illuminates. Like the painter J.M.W. Turner, whose art the novelist excitedly recognized as an analogue of his own, Hardy represents light not as an absence to be looked through but as something to be looked at and closely observed in all its varieties.

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