Hardy, Thomas (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)
Thomas Hardy 1840-1928
English novelist, poet, playwright, short story writer, and essayist.
The following entry provides criticism on Hardy's works from 1906 through 2002. See also Thomas Hardy Short Story Criticism, Far from the Madding Crowd Criticism, and Jude the Obscure Criticism.
Hardy is considered one of England's greatest novelists. His work resembles that of earlier Victorian novelists in technique, while in subject matter it daringly violated literary traditions of the age. In contrast to the Victorian ideal of progress, Hardy depicted human existence as a tragedy determined by powers beyond the individual's command, in particular the external pressures of society and the internal compulsions of character. His desire to reveal the underlying forces directing the lives of his characters led him to realistically examine love and sexuality in his fiction, a practice that often offended his readers and endangered his literary reputation.
Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in High Bockhampton, Dorsetshire. Finishing his formal education at the age of sixteen and then apprenticing with his father as a stonemason, he worked at first on the restoration of churches and from 1862 to 1867 practiced architecture in London. Plagued by ill health most of his life, he returned to Dorset, where he continued to work in architecture until he started writing poetry, with limited success. He began to publish novels in the 1870s. Hardy married Emma Gifford in 1874, and the two embarked on a series of tours to the Continent. They resided in several rural locations in England, finally building a permanent home called Max Gate in Dorchester. By the 1890s Hardy had achieved considerable success with his novels and again began to write poetry. As his fame increased, Hardy was awarded a number of honors, including the Order of Merit, the Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Literature, and honorary degrees from the University of Aberdeen and Oxford University. Mrs. Hardy, now mentally ill, died suddenly on November 27, 1912. In 1914 Hardy married Florence Dugdale. He died of heart disease on January 11, 1928, at Max Gate. After his death it was decided that his heart should be buried near the grave of his first wife, while his cremated remains should be placed in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey.
Although Hardy wrote prolifically in several genres, his novels have achieved the most lasting recognition. Two early novels, Desperate Remedies (1871) and Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), were published anonymously. He used his own name on the next two, A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1874). The latter, less pessimistic in tone than his later work, was the first of his so-called Wessex novels, in which he used a fictitious English county based on his native Dorsetshire. The Return of the Native (1878), a story of the strange and beautiful Eustacia Vye, continues in the sequence of novels which portray the fading rural society of Wessex. In The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Hardy's hapless protagonist Michael Henchard pays for the mistakes of his youth in bitter disappointment. Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) tells the story of a girl whose unfortunate circumstances lead her to a tragic end. The final major Wessex novel was Jude the Obscure (1895), another story of an individual caught in the web of a rigid, conservative social system. Minor works published during this period include the novel The Woodlanders (1887) and the short story collections Wessex Tales (1888) and Life's Little Ironies (1894). At the age of fifty-five Hardy returned to writing poetry, a vocation he had abandoned for a number of years. Although his literary reputation has been primarily established through his novels, Hardy took this work seriously. Among his considerable poetic works during this period were Wessex Poems and Other Verses (1898), Poems of the Past and Present (1901), and a multi-volume verse drama, The Dynasts (1904-1908), which deals with England's role during the Napoleonic wars. Short poems were published as Time's Laughingstocks and Other Verses (1909), Satires of Circumstance (1914), Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses (1917), Late Lyrics and Earlier (1922), Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs and Trifles (1925), and Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres (1928). Several collections of his fiction, poetry, letters, and notebooks were published posthumously.
Early Hardy criticism was mixed, especially following the controversy surrounding the publication of both Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. Debates over the morality of Hardy's fiction and the quality of his poetry waned with the New Criticism beginning in the 1940s, when an entire issue of Southern Review was devoted to Hardy on the centenary of his birth. Several important books on Hardy ensued, as well as a growing number of journal articles, and by the 1960s Hardy scholarship was a vital part of the academic literary establishment. Most Hardy criticism during this period focused on the best-known novels. In the 1970s Hardy studies progressed to structuralist and poststructuralist thinking, the latter including feminist, deconstructive, and Marxist interpretations. Traditional, non-theory-based criticism, however, continues to coexist with poststructural approaches, on such topics as Hardy's regionalism, his “philosophy,” and the correlation between his life and his work. Hardy scholars in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have begun to dwell on his poetry, a genre neglected for several decades by critics, and his minor works of fiction. Criticism of his work continues to burgeon, with several academic journals dedicated solely to Hardy scholarship and many articles and books on Hardy appearing each year.
Desperate Remedies (novel) 1871
Under the Greenwood Tree (novel) 1872
A Pair of Blue Eyes (novel) 1873
Far from the Madding Crowd (novel) 1874
The Hand of Ethelberta (novel) 1876
The Return of the Native (novel) 1878
The Trumpet-Major (novel) 1880
A Laodicean (novel) 1881
Two on a Tower (novel) 1882
The Mayor of Casterbridge (novel) 1886
The Woodlanders (novel) 1887
Wessex Tales (short stories) 1888
A Group of Noble Dames (short stories) 1891
Tess of the d'Urbervilles (novel) 1891
Life's Little Ironies (short stories) 1894
Jude the Obscure (novel) 1895
The Wessex Novels (novels) 1895-1913
The Well-Beloved (novel) 1897
Wessex Poems and Other Verses (poetry) 1898
Poems of the Past and Present (poetry) 1901
The Dynasts. 3 vols. (verse drama) 1904-1908
Time's Laughingstocks and Other Verses (poetry) 1909
The Works of Thomas Hardy in Prose and Verse, with Prefaces and Notes. 24 vols. (novels, short stories, and...
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SOURCE: Moss, Mary. “The Novels of Thomas Hardy.” Atlantic Monthly 98 (September 1906): 354-67.
[In the following review of Hardy's novels, Moss urges that Hardy be treated as a universalist and not just a regionalist.]
In a certain book on Japan the traveler asks his guide why all the little Japanese birds on a telegraph wire face the same way. He even noted it as a characteristic national trait. On learning that they were more comfortable beak to the wind, the author artlessly observes that American birds probably follow the same custom, for the dignity of their tail feathers, only at home such trifles escaped his notice. That man was an accomplished art critic, and to such small purpose had he learned to use his eyes!
Now Thomas Hardy, on the contrary, has so seen and felt the world about him that whether his particular country be as unfamiliar as the mountains of the moon, whether your range of vision be as urban as my Japanese traveler's, you nevertheless recognize and ratify the truth of every word that Hardy utters. Grass grows on the same impulse, birds mate and nest, cattle ruminate under shade trees, sap rises in the spring, women are of two minds, men act under strange promptings, the mills of the gods grind inscrutably, whether the scene be laid in “Wessex,” Asia, or central Pennsylvania. For this reason, interesting as it may be to investigate Hardy's country as a...
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SOURCE: Chew, Samuel C. “Homage to Thomas Hardy.” New Republic 23 (2 June 1920): 22-6.
[In the following essay, Chew presents a brief biography and a tribute on the occasion of Hardy's eightieth birthday.]
Thomas Hardy, the foremost living English poet and novelist, attains the age of eighty years on the second of June. A birthday tribute to the man whose achievement in prose has deepened the thought, widened the horizon and rectified the structure of the novel, and whose verse has appealed profoundly to many minds in these later years, may well take the form of a survey of the many-sided excellencies that make it appropriate to observe the occasion publicly.
Born in a remote humble Dorsetshire cottage, of a family formerly of importance, but (like the D'Urbervilles) fallen in fortune, Thomas Hardy received the first impressions upon a mind unusually sensitive to surroundings from nature and from the past. Upon the heath before the cottage door and in the woodlands behind, beside the Froom and the Stour, among the apple-orchards and corn-fields, he observed not only the silence and the calm but the rivalry and struggle of animal and vegetable life. All about him were memorials of the past: venerable tracts of forest-land like the Chase in Tess [Tess of the d'Urbervilles], amphitheatre and round, tumulus and fortress, Druidstones and strange rude monoliths whose origins...
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SOURCE: Weber, Carl J. “Hardy: A Wessex Seesaw.” Saturday Review of Literature 34 (6 January 1951): 24-5.
[In the following essay, published during a period of decline in Hardy criticism, Weber urges a reconsideration of Hardy's literary contributions.]
Thomas Hardy's first novel appeared in 1871, and those few persons who bought it had to pay only ＄7.50 for a set of three volumes. In 1926 when George Barr McCutcheon's copy of the same novel was sold at auction in New York it brought ＄2,100. Only three years later when Jerome Kern's copy of this same work was auctioned off its purchaser paid ＄4,800. But when Paul Lemperly's copy was sold at auction in 1940 the novel brought only ＄27.50.
These figures are quoted, not with the misguided idea that a revaluation of Hardy's books is a matter of dollars and cents, but because the figures tell more than a commercial story. For the rise from ＄7.50 up to ＄4,800 and the fall from that giddy height to ＄27.50 are indicative of something more than the fluctuations in the market for rare books. Public interest in Hardy has experienced a similar rise and fall, and since his death in 1928 his reputation has in some quarters suffered a marked decline.
Throughout the first quarter of the present century many critics voiced the opinion that Hardy's most nearly perfect work of art was The Return of the Native and...
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SOURCE: Carpenter, Richard. “Tess of the d'Urbervilles.” In Thomas Hardy, pp. 124-38. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1964.
[In the following essay, Carpenter offers an overview of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, calling it a story of a peasant girl transformed into universal tragedy.]
The basic myth of The Woodlanders is reiterated, with some differences, in Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), which was published four years later: an essentially good and natural character is destroyed by the combined powers of society and circumstance. The differences are that the primitivistic, anthropological ambience of Tess is more concentrated on the protagonist and is made more a matter of analogy than allusion. Giles Winterborne is only one of the principal figures in The Woodlanders, whereas Tess Durbeyfield is undeniably the central character in the novel named after her. We are saddened when Giles dies, but there are others to carry on; when Tess is executed, we are desolated and left only with the unsatisfactory solace of a possible rebirth of her love in the persons of her sister and Angel Clare. By focusing all our sympathies on his heroine, Hardy redoubles the emphasis of his scapegoat myth.
Tess is, however, less obviously an anthropological figure than Giles. The archetypal nature of her situation lies in its pattern and process rather than in its allusions....
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SOURCE: Meisel, Perry. “The Mayor of Casterbridge.” In Thomas Hardy: The Return of the Repressed, pp. 90-108. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972.
[In the following essay, Meisel assumes a Freudian orientation in his analysis of Michael Henchard's self-alienation.]
With The Mayor of Casterbridge, we arrive at a full statement of Hardy's universe. “The story is more particularly a study of one man's deeds and character than, perhaps, any other of those included in my Exhibition of Wessex life” (author's preface). The definitive statement of Hardy's achievement in The Mayor [The Mayor of Casterbridge], a pronouncement of central importance to the body of his fiction, occurs directly after Donald Farfrae's crucial dismissal by Henchard and the Scotsman's establishment of his own business:
But most probably luck had little to do with it. Character is Fate, said Novalis, and Farfrae's character was just the reverse of Henchard's, who might not inaptly be described as Faust has been described—as a vehement gloomy being who had quitted the ways of vulgar men without light to guide him on a better way.
[p. 131] [all page references from The Writings of Thomas Hardy (NY: Harper & Bros.), 1940]
That the dialectic of complementary characters would be the logic of...
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SOURCE: Kramer, Dale. “The Return of the Native: Opposites in Tragic Context.” In Thomas Hardy: The Forms of Tragedy, pp. 48-68. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1975.
[In the following essay, Kramer examines Hardy's experiments in tragic form in The Return of the Native.]
The Return of the Native is Hardy's most imitative, most self-conscious, and generally least successful effort at high tragedy. In many ways an impressive novel—in concept of personality, in awareness of the symbolic value of setting—it is probably most accurately thought of as the kind of novel that a determined and self-taught writer had to get out of his system before he could go on to find his own manner. This is not to say that The Return of the Native is a “sport” in Hardy's oeuvre—far from it—or that Hardy did not repeat in later works many of the false notes in this novel, but that its distinctive qualities were blended in subsequent books with techniques and concepts of aesthetic form that were more of Hardy's own devising.
The Return of the Native is the first of Hardy's sustained efforts at tragedy; its uncertainty may stem partly from Hardy's puzzlement as to how tragedy in fiction should be handled and partly from his lack of confidence that he could succeed. It is not surprising that Hardy looked to traditional concepts of the tragic in casting...
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SOURCE: Hawkins, Desmond. “‘By Truth Made Free’: A Reassessment of Thomas Hardy.” Contemporary Review 232 (1978): 209-12.
[In the following review, Hawkins comments on a biography of Hardy and new editions of his prose drama and collected letters.]
Fifty years ago Thomas Hardy died—a fact of which ignorance is barely excusable in view of the flood of books, articles and programmes on television and radio that commemorate the occasion. So firmly is he now established among the great masters of our literature that even his extreme sensitivity to criticism would surely be disarmed by the general acclaim. Nor has his reputation had to pass through that trough of neglect and indifference which sometimes marks the first decades after death and before a later discovery. In the years since 1928 he has been extensively read and closely studied. To speak of him as a figure of worldwide significance is no exaggeration: a recent tour of universities in America, Japan, Singapore and India left me in no doubt of that. Wherever English is understood the conversation turns easily enough to the topics of Tess and Jude, of the Immanent Will and the spellbinding poems, the many ironies and the sheer magic of this man who might have seemed so narrowly provincial in his Wessex fastness.
The sheer weight and diversity of his achievement are not the least of his qualities. Other poets have written...
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SOURCE: Page, Norman. “Hardy and the ‘world of little things.’” Thomas Hardy Annual 5 (1987): 119-36.
[In the following essay, Page discusses several ways in which Hardy uses everyday objects to create meaning in his fiction.]
Comfort, in the sense of physical well-being that it now normally carries, as when we speak of the comfort offered by an armchair, is a relatively modern usage. For Jane Austen, for example, who tends to be conservative and backward-looking in matters of semantics, the word often carries emotional and moral rather than physical associations: in Mansfield Park she can speak of ‘comfortable hopes’ and make Lady Bertram say that she will be ‘comfortable’ now that Fanny has returned to give her support and consolation. The shift of emphasis from the mental to the physical reminds us that the material circumstances of daily existence in the western world have improved immeasurably in the last two or three centuries, and, conversely, that the lives of our more remote ancestors were passed in domestic surroundings which, except for the very wealthy, were of an austerity we should now find barely tolerable. To quote the historian J. H. Plumb, ‘the growing wealth and security of the gentry and pseudo gentry after 1700 led them to indulge a passion for things …’;1 the bareness of earlier interiors gave way to homes and rooms filled with material...
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SOURCE: Grossman, Julie. “Thomas Hardy and the Role of Observer.” ELH 56, no. 3 (autumn 1989): 619-38.
[In the following essay, Grossman examines the observers in Hardy's novels and notes that the observer role is the key link between Hardy's narrative technique and the stories that unfold.]
A seer's spirit took possession of Elizabeth, impelling her to sit down by the fire and divine events so surely from data already her own that they could be held as witnessed.
—Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge
In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Elizabeth-Jane's observations are an extended metaphor for divining the truth. This “discerning silent witch” is Hardy's most objective observer; she propels the narrative with her keen insight.1 Hardy likens her depth of vision to a diving power, suggesting that Elizabeth-Jane's peculiarity lies in her exemplary talent for observing things the way they really are. She is a perfect starting and ending point for a discussion of the importance in Hardy's characters observe other people tells us essential things about the way Hardy thinks that we operate in the world. The recurrence of the observer role, and its multiple versions, reveals not only how Hardy's characters act, but why they act. The implications of observation are psychological. Ultimately, the notion of...
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SOURCE: Mitchell, Judith. “Hardy's Female Reader.” In The Sense of Sex: Feminist Perspectives on Hardy, edited by Margaret R. Higonnet, pp. 172-87. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
[In the following essay, Mitchell offers a poststructuralist approach to Hardy's fictional heroines, concluding that the feminist reader of Hardy will necessarily feel ambivalent about his representations of women.]
What counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance.
—Budd Boetticher, Hollywood director of B Westerns
The heroines of Hardy's early novels are presented primarily as objects of erotic interest not only for the narrators and for the male characters … but also for the implied reader/voyeur. … What they think or feel seems not to matter; the focus of attention is on the feelings they arouse in a variety of men.
—T. R. Wright, Hardy and the Erotic
How does a female reader—particularly a modern feminist reader—read Thomas Hardy? Does she applaud his feminism? Deplore his sexism? The question of Hardy's representation of women...
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SOURCE: Green, Laura. “‘Strange [in] Difference of Sex’: Thomas Hardy, the Victorian Man of Letters, and the Temptations of Androgyny.” Victorian Studies 38, no. 4 (summer 1995): 523-49.
[In the following essay, Green addresses the concepts of gender relations and androgyny in A Pair of Blue Eyes and Jude the Obscure.]
When Thomas Hardy finished his last novel, Jude the Obscure (1896), this son of a provincial stone-mason had already attained the status of a literary lion. At his death some thirty years later, his ashes were placed in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. In fact, the macabre details of Hardy's interment dramatize the persistent division in his identity as a self-made man of letters. Fellow literary men J. M. Barrie and Sydney Cockerell quickly arranged for the Abbey ceremony, but Hardy's own instructions and the feelings of his family directed that he be laid in the churchyard at Stinsford, the parish of his birth, with his parents, grandparents, and first wife. The compromise reached was that his heart should be removed from his body and buried at Stinsford and the rest of him cremated and placed in the Abbey. This queasy division of the spoils epitomizes the conflict between origins and attainments that haunted Hardy throughout his career. The struggle between his widow, Florence Dugdale Hardy, and Sydney Cockerell, first over his physical and then over his...
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SOURCE: Jacobson, Dan. “Thomas Hardy: The Poet as Philosopher.” American Scholar 65 (winter 1996): 114-18.
[In the following essay, Jacobson states that reviewers have often ignored the sophisticated philosophy which led Hardy to test the limits of the use of language in his poetry.]
Hardy as philosopher? The philosophizing of Thomas Hardy? Say the words out loud or write them down—and a series of other words and phrases follows inexorably. Pessimism. Gloom. Melancholy. Fate. Meaninglessness. The impossibility of faith. The mysterious workings of chance. The malignity of coincidence. Tragedy. Morbidity. Decadence. (That last term is T. S. Eliot's contribution, in After Strange Gods, to the critical lexicon.) Sooner or later Edmund Gosse's famous put-down is also bound to come to mind: “What has Providence done to Mr. Hardy that he should rise up in the arable land of Wessex and shake his fist at his Creator?”
Even readers devoted to Hardy's work will know why it provokes responses of this kind. Angel Clare's woebegone parody of Browning—“God's not in his heaven: all's wrong with the world”—may be dramatically appropriate to his character and to the critical moment in Tess of the d'Urbervilles at which he utters it. But we can hardly doubt that Clare is speaking there not just for himself but for his creator too; that he is expressing an...
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SOURCE: Hynes, Samuel Lynn. “How to Be an Old Poet: The Examples of Hardy and Yeats.” Sewanee Review 105, no. 2 (spring 1997): 189-205.
[In the following essay, Hynes discusses the ways in which Hardy and William Butler Yeats dealt with old age and how their responses were evident in their poetry.]
Ten or twelve years ago I wrote an introduction to a volume of Hardy's poems in which I considered the consequences for the poetry of the fact that most of it was written in the last decades of a long life. I want to return to that subject here, but in a different way, expanding it to include another great modern poet, and shifting it upward to the level of theory: The Theory of Old Poets. That's how our thinking about art works, isn't it? We have an idea; time passes; the idea grows, spreads, changes, until particulars begin to look like principles; and we have a theory. I'm a decade and more older than I was when I first wrote about Hardy and old age. And so, I might add, are you. A decade nearer our own old age: high time we thought about it.
When in my theorizing I use the term Old Poets—with those capital letters—I mean, obviously, poets who lived a long time. But not all poets who live past middle age become Old Poets. Some fall silent at the end, as Eliot and Larkin did. Some go on in their poems being their younger selves: Robert Graves, for example. Graves was ninety...
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SOURCE: “Thomas Hardy and Thomas Gray: The Poet's Currency.” ELH 65, no. 2 (1998): 451-77.
[In the following essay, Taylor discusses how Thomas Gray was a key influence in Hardy's aesthetics and thoughts on the public culture, and how Gray's influence convinced Hardy that his highest vocation was not as a novelist, but as a poet.]
Why did Hardy, a major novelist, call his novels “mere journeywork” and say that they “have been superseded … by the more important half of my work, the verse”?1 Consistently, over a writing career of more than 70 years, Hardy maintained that his literary vocation was that of a poet, not a novelist. His novels were what he did for a living; his poetry—enabled by the success of his novels—was what he did for immortality. Where novels for Hardy somehow pander to the society, poems resist it and yet also command it by seeking higher ground. What accounts for the force of Hardy's self-definition, given the artistic quality of his novels?
What we have not realized is a key influence on Hardy's sense of his vocation. Thomas Gray is, of course, only one of a number of influences felt by Hardy in the 1860s, from the perennial influence of Shakespeare's use of the Horatian “Exegi Monumentum” theme to the contemporary influence of Swinburne. But Gray, I would argue, is a key influence because of his unique combination of...
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SOURCE: Siebenschuh, William R. “Hardy and the Imagery of Place.” Studies in English Literature: 1500-1900 39, no. 4 (autumn 1999): 773-89.
[In the following essay, Siebenschuh suggests that Hardy's poetic and fictional vision is closely tied to his symbolic use of the sense of place.]
In the text that follows, I make two assumptions about the nature of Thomas Hardy's fiction and poetry in general, both of which were articulated years ago by John Holloway in The Victorian Sage and both of which have been echoed many times since. The first is that though one looks in vain for a coherent general philosophy in Hardy's works, it is clear that he does have something like a coherent imaginative vision, a consistent set of ways of viewing and presenting the world. The second assumption is that this larger vision is seldom, if ever, effectively expressed in abstract terms. What Holloway calls Hardy's “considered view of the world” emerges instead from image, symbol, and the often symbolic or metaphoric narrative structures of the novels.1 It pervades the fiction and poetry, because in them it is more than simply issues or subjects that drive Hardy's imagination, it is also what he once termed an “idiosyncratic mode of regard,” a way of looking at the world with the quality and characteristics of intuitive and imaginative insight, rather than a considered or abstractable...
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SOURCE: Widdowson, Peter. “Hardy and Critical Theory.” In The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hardy, edited by Dale Kramer, pp. 73-92. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
[In the following essay, Widdowson presents an overview of critical theory on Hardy, especially in criticism written since the 1960s.]
Essay titles are an attempt to say much in little, at once synoptic shorthand for the work which follows and for the whole area of intellectual enquiry to which it alludes. As such, they are susceptible to ambiguity and imprecision, and the title of the present essay is no exception. What is meant, we might ask, by “Critical Theory,” and is it synonymous with that other cognate phrase—“Literary Theory”? While the commonly made slippage between the terms demands urgent attention, it is way beyond the scope of an essay such as this. Let me clear the ground, therefore, by simply stating that I take “Literary Theory” primarily to be concerned with offering theoretical definitions of the nature of literature, and “Critical Theory” to be the articulation of theorized principles on which critical approaches to the analysis of literature are premised. The latter, at least, will be the working definition deployed in this essay. But even so, in its present formulation, the title remains ambiguous. Are we to be concerned here with Hardy's own critical and theoretical...
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SOURCE: Riquelme, John Paul. “The Modernity of Thomas Hardy's Poetry.” In The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hardy, edited by Dale Kramer, pp. 204-23. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
[In the following essay, Riquelme deconstructs a number of Hardy's poems in an attempt to define what makes them “modern.”]
HARDY AMONG THE MODERNISTS
As with literary Romanticisms, a variety of literary modernisms can be described, and no description of modernism as a singular, determinate movement will gain universal assent.1 Among the varieties of poetic modernism, Thomas Hardy's is distinctive because of its class-inflected, skeptical, self-implicating tendencies. The modernity of Hardy's poetry reveals itself in highly ambiguous language, in a resistance to conventional attitudes and hierarchies involving nature and society, in the transforming of lyric traditions, and in an insistence by means of negativity on the possibility of achieving a defiant, permanently revolutionary freedom to choose and to refuse. It is worth admitting at the outset, however, that any depiction of Hardy's modernism is of necessity a selective affair. There is evidence of Hardy's modernity in poems that span the entire period of his career as a publishing poet from 1898 through 1928. Considering that Hardy's collected poetry consists of more than nine hundred texts, not including...
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SOURCE: Dauner, Louise. “Thomas Hardy, Yet and Again.” Modern Age 42, no. 4 (fall 2000): 358-71.
[In the following essay, Dauner discusses Hardy's poetry, with emphasis on the poet's capacity for lyrical expression of universal emotions.]
Five minutes before he died, Thomas Hardy posed his last question to the universe. “What is this?” He had been asking it for most of his 88 years. It epitomizes his lifelong intellectual and spiritual efforts to understand “Life with the sad seared face.”1 The question, with its many variations, like a revolving mirror trained on the human predicament, is treated in his many prose works (14 novels, numerous short stories, essays, and sketches), in his over 800 short lyrics, and in the massive three-part verse drama, The Dynasts. The “answers” that Hardy worked out did not make him happy. Indeed, his naturalism, with its bleak philosophy, exposed him to negative, often harsh criticism until nearly the end of his life.
Nevertheless, his death, on January 12, 1928, was an international news event. British literature, said the London Times, had been deprived of its “most eminent figure”—a sentiment echoed worldwide. The burial in Westminster Abbey of the ashes of the country boy from the poor county of Dorset was a national rite. The Abbey was crowded with the famous in politics, the arts, education, and...
(The entire section is 7285 words.)
SOURCE: Rogers, Shannon L. “‘The Historian of Wessex’: Thomas Hardy's Contribution to History.” Rethinking History 5, no. 2 (July 2001): 217-32.
[In the following essay, Rogers examines the influence of Hardy on concepts of the history of rural nineteenth-century England.]
In 1869, J. R. Green wrote that ‘History … we are told by publishers, is the most unpopular of all branches of literature at the present day, but it is only unpopular because it seems more and more to sever itself from all that can touch the heart of a people’ (Green 1888: xi). Green might just as easily have been commenting on our present day, when the notion of a history book produces countless yawns from prospective readers. And yet, the number of films devoted to historical topics—produced by major Hollywood studios as well as by independents—is growing seemingly exponentially, Renaissance Faires have never been more popular, and historical novels such as Patrick O'Brian's Captain Jack Aubrey series enjoy a large and enthusiastic following. Clearly, it is not ‘the past’ as a concept that leaves the average person cold. It is the notion of ‘the past’ as a discipline. With its rigorous attention to veracity and detail, academic history is often stripped of its connection to life, to the land, to the every day—in other words, from the ‘heart of the people’. People want to experience the past, to see how...
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SOURCE: Meyers, Jeffrey. “Hardy and the Warriors.” New Criterion 21, no. 1 (September 2002): 34-40.
[In the following essay, Meyers discusses Hardy's influence on post-World War I poets.]
The Great War in Europe devastated towns and villages, obliterated irreplaceable architecture, and destroyed an entire generation of young men. The survivors were conscious of living in a shattered civilization, and felt a collective lack of confidence and direction. In “Signs of the Times,” written in the late 1920s, D. H. Lawrence described how young men under thirty, sick of war and materialism, have
a certain instinctive contempt for old values and old people: a certain warlessness even moneylessness, a waiting for the proper touch, not for any word or deed.
The aged Thomas Hardy had “the proper touch.” His bleak but unflinchingly realistic vision profoundly appealed to traumatized war poets. Prominent survivors—including Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, and T. E. Lawrence—made pilgrimages to the author at his home, Max Gate, near Dorchester. Drawn to him for personal and poetic reasons, they hero-worshipped the Old Master. He responded by encouraging them, praising their work, and accepting them, at the beginning of their careers, as colleagues. Hardy's complex and often moving relations with these writers reveal his great reputation and influence between...
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Draper, Ronald P. and Martin S. Ray. An Annotated Critical Bibliography of Thomas Hardy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989, 227 p.
A selective, annotated list of all genres of Hardy criticism and a guide to recent editions of his work.
Gerber, Helmut E. and W. Eugene Davis, editors. Thomas Hardy: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings About Him. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1974, 841 p.
Extensive, annotated list of secondary works covering the period of 1871-1969.
Sherrick, Julie. Thomas Hardy's Major Novels: An Annotated Bibliography. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1998, 195 p.
Comprehensive, annotated list of critical works about six Hardy novels.
Weber, Carl Jefferson. The First Hundred Years of Thomas Hardy, 1840-1940: A Centenary Bibliography of Hardiana. Waterville, Maine: Colby College Library, 1942, 276 p.
Early bibliography with extensive references to 1940.
Hands, Timothy. Thomas Hardy (Writers in Their Time). Hampshire, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan, 1995, 209 p.
Biographical-critical work which traces Hardy's life and work in relation to his times.
Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: A...
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