This essay traces the connections between Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) and the work of the twentieth-century psychoanalytic writer D. W. Winnicott, particularly his essay “The Capacity to Be Alone” (1958). It argues that reading Hardy alongside British object-relations psychoanalysis and its present-day inheritors helps to uncover the invention of modern solitude: a paradoxical state in which we are never truly alone because we have internalized the presence of others, whether they are persons or, this essay argues, literary characters. We, like Tess, imagine that others are with us, narrating and experiencing our lives alongside us, even when we are alone. Analyzing Tess alongside Winnicott's relational solitude reframes many of the perceived failures of the novel—its stylistic incongruities and particularly the often-criticized “uneven” characterization of Tess—as important acts of formal experimentation. In turn, the essay uncovers in Winnicott's work on psyche and subject-formation a theory of novel reading that allows us to rethink how nineteenth-century novels work on their readers—including how they gender us. Ultimately, the essay is interested in the way novelistic representation comes to shape both theories of the psyche and psyches themselves.

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