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Killing the Letter: Alternate Literacies and Orthographic Distortions in Jude the Obscure

Creechan, Louise (2022) 'Killing the Letter: Alternate Literacies and Orthographic Distortions in Jude the Obscure.', Journal of Victorian Culture .


When Jude the Obscure (1895) was published as a single volume novel, Hardy added the biblical epithet ‘the letter killeth’ to the title page. In Jude and across his works, Hardy revels in moments in which literacy seems to undo itself. This article traces Hardy’s attempts to ‘kill the letter’ through non-standard engagements with orthography as part of a larger proto-modernist approach that destabilizes the fixity of meaning. There are several concerns linked to the growing primacy of literacy that appear time and again in Hardy’s novels, specifically: the alternative literacies of the lesser educated, semiotic multiplicities, and the transformative potential of spelling mistakes. I suggest that Hardy’s treatment of these themes demonstrates a sustained effort to ‘kill the letter’ and challenge the assumption of progress made by the various educational reforms that had taken place in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:21 July 2022
Date of first online publication:31 May 2022
Date first made open access:21 July 2022

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