Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Thomas Hardy is best known for his fiction. He was the author of fourteen novels, four collections of short stories containing more than forty tales, and several volumes of poetry containing some nine hundred poems, as well as a large assortment of nonfiction prose, prefaces, and essays. His letters, diaries, notebooks, and private papers have survived, despite Hardy’s intention that this material be destroyed. Several volumes of his correspondence have been published. In addition, there are two books of autobiography, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy (1928) and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy (1930), which Hardy dictated to his wife.
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Although Thomas Hardy’s achievements as a novelist and poet are widely recognized, his achievements as a playwright are less well-known. Hardy’s training as an architect has been taken to explain his intricately plotted novels, and it might also be seen as the reason Hardy liked the conventions of dramatic structure. Hardy had a lifelong interest in drama and the theater, and it was his original literary ambition to be a playwright, although he did not produce any plays until near the end of his career and then wrote only two. Although he was sometimes tempted by London theatrical agents and friends to turn his talents to the stage, he largely resisted the lure of stagelights, being unwilling to compromise with the demands of actors and directors in the commercial theater, a position he explains in an essay, “Why I Don’t Write Plays” (1892). Alternately fearful of the limitations and fascinated by the possibilities of drama, Hardy finally wrote his first “play,” The Dynasts, which is something of a composite literary form. Intended for a mental rather than a real stage, it is epic in size and scope. This immense verse play, about which one might remark, as Samuel Johnson did of John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667, 1674), “none would wish it longer,” has attracted some critical attention, but it has never drawn many readers from the general public. As a closet drama, it is a major artistic accomplishment, and it rivals Leo...
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Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
In addition to his short stories, Thomas Hardy is best known for two distinct literary careers: first as a novelist, author of such classic works as Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891); then, following the hostile reaction to Jude the Obscure in 1895, as a poet, especially for his epic verse drama about the Napoleonic Wars, The Dynasts: A Drama of the Napoleonic Wars (pb. 1903, 1906, 1908, 1910, verse drama; pr. 1914; abridged by Harley Granville-Barker).
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Thomas Hardy is widely regarded as both a major Victorian novelist and a major modern poet. With little formal education, Hardy, who trained and worked as an architect before becoming a professional writer, was largely self-taught and eminently well read, particularly in the philosophical and theological exchange of ideas in the late nineteenth century. In addition to reflecting the intellectual climate stimulated by such thinkers as Charles Darwin, John Stuart Mill, and Herbert Spencer, Hardy’s fiction also is recognized for its portrayal of rural southwestern England, vividly and lovingly represented in his fictional region called “Wessex.” Many of his tales are based on local folklore, thus preserving this tradition while also recording the historical effects of mid-nineteenth century industrial changes on the agrarian community. Hardy fought critical and popular disapproval for his frank treatment of then taboo subjects and for what was deemed his inordinately hard pessimism. Hardy was awarded honorary degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews, Bristol, and Aberdeen universities, a medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects, a royal Order of Merit, and a gold medal of the Royal Society of Literature. He was offered, but declined, a knighthood. His burial in Westminster Abbey is a further testament to his status among the great English authors.
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Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
In addition to his novels, Thomas Hardy published four collections of short stories, Wessex Tales (1888), A Group of Noble Dames (1891), Life’s Little Ironies (1894), and A Changed Man, The Waiting Supper, and Other Tales (1913). In the latter part of his life, after he had stopped writing novels altogether, he published approximately one thousand poems in eight separate volumes, which have since been collected in one volume by his publisher, Macmillan and Company. In addition to this staggering body of work, Hardy also published an epic drama of the Napoleonic wars in three parts between 1903 and 1908 titled The Dynasts, a one-act play titled The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall (pr., pb. 1923), and a series of essays on fiction and other topics that have been collected in individual volumes. All the novels and stories are available in a uniform library edition in eighteen volumes published in the early 1960’s by Macmillan. The Early Life of Thomas Hardy (1928) and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy (1930), although ostensibly a two-volume biography of Hardy by his second wife, Florence Hardy, is generally recognized to be Hardy’s own autobiography compiled from his notes in his last few years.
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Thomas Hardy is second only to Charles Dickens as the most written-about and discussed writer of the Victorian era. Certainly in terms of volume and diversity alone, Hardy is a towering literary figure with two admirable careers—one as novelist and one as poet—to justify his position.
Interest in Hardy’s work has followed two basic patterns. The first was philosophical, with many critics discussing metaphysical structures that supposedly underlay his fiction. In the late twentieth century, however, interest shifted to that aspect of Hardy’s work most scorned before—his technical facility and generic experimentation. One hundred years after his heyday, what once was termed fictional clumsiness was reevaluated in terms of poetic technique.
Furthermore, Hardy’s career as a poet, which has always been under the shadow of his fiction, has been reevaluated. Hardy was a curious blend of the old-fashioned and the modern. With a career that began in the Victorian era and did not end until after World War I, Hardy was contemporary with both Matthew Arnold and T. S. Eliot. Critics, including Babette Deutsch and Vivian de Sola Pinto, have asserted that Hardy bridged the gulf between the Victorian sensibility and the modern era. In his unflinching confrontation with meaninglessness in the universe, Hardy embodied Albert Camus’s description of the absurd creator in Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942; The Myth of Sisyphus, 1955); he...
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Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Besides his eight substantial volumes of poetry, Thomas Hardy published fourteen novels, four collections of short stories, two long verse plays, and a variety of essays, prefaces, and nonfiction prose. Although Hardy directed before his death that his letters, notebooks, and private papers be burned, much interesting material has survived in addition to that preserved in The Early Life of Thomas Hardy (1928) and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy (1930), both of which were dictated by Hardy himself to his wife, Florence Hardy. A definitive seven-volume edition of Hardy’s letters (1978-1988) was edited by Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate. In addition, Ernest Brennecke has edited Life and Art (1925). An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress appeared serially in 1878 and as a book in 1934; it is a story based on scenes from Hardy’s rejected first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, which he later destroyed.
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Although Thomas Hardy’s poetic reputation has grown steadily since his death, critics seem unable to agree on the exact nature of his poetic achievement or even on a list of his best poems. Aside from a small group of frequently anthologized pieces, the bulk of Hardy’s poetry goes unread. Part of the problem is the immense amount of his verse—nearly a thousand poems in eight substantial volumes. The other problem is the inevitable comparison between his poetry and his fiction and the tendency to prefer one or the other, instead of seeking continuities in his work. This is an unavoidable problem with a poet-novelist, particularly with a novelist as accomplished as Hardy, whose fiction is better known than his poetry.
Hardy began his career as a novelist rather than as a poet. He turned to poetry later in life, publishing little before 1898. Here, however, chronology can be misleading. Hardy began composing verse early in life and continued to write poetry throughout the years when he was publishing his Wessex novels and tales. To a certain extent, economic pressures early led him to relegate poetry to a secondary place in his career. Once he had abandoned architecture, he turned to fiction to earn a livelihood. Had the means been available to him, he might have remained primarily a poet.
Yet even during his most productive years as a novelist, Hardy was putting aside verse that he would later publish. Sometimes these poems develop a...
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Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
How does Thomas Hardy respond to the Victorian culture’s pervasive belief in human—and especially British—progress?
What are Hardy’s attitudes toward social class and class conflict?
Are Hardy’s views of romantic love clear? Are they consistent in his work?
How does Hardy depict southwestern England—the Wessex of his fiction and poetry?
Compare the themes, forms, and diction of some of Hardy’s poetry to those of another poet, such as his predecessor Alfred, Lord Tennyson (perhaps the quintessential Victorian poet), Gerard Manley Hopkins (a near-contemporary, displaying both striking similarities and striking differences with Hardy), or Robert Frost (a younger American regionalist who also had a dark side).
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Bibliography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Armstrong, Tim. Haunted Hardy: Poetry, History, Memory. New York: Palgrave, 2000. An attempt to elevate Hardy as poet within the Western tradition.
Carpenter, Richard C. Thomas Hardy. Boston: Twayne, 1964. Carpenter argues that Hardy is a “gloomy philosopher,” though he maintains that label is too restricting. In addition to the usual characterization, descriptions, plots, and social themes, Carpenter also looks at elements of symbolism, myth, impressionism, and drama in Hardy’s fiction and poetry. Contains a chronology, a bibliography, and an index.
Chew, Samuel C. Thomas Hardy: Poet and Novelist. 1928. Reprint. New York: Russell and Russell, 1964. Although it does not lack sentiment, this volume is still one of the most respected of the traditional analyses of Hardy’s work. Chew examines Hardy’s pessimism, his use of coincidence, his conflict of intellect and intuition, and the structural excellence of his Wessex novels, which Chew considers to be a clarification of Victorian technique. Includes a bibliography and an index.
Daleski, H. M. Thomas Hardy and Paradoxes of Love. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997. Argues that Hardy is the premodern precursor of sexual failures and catastrophic ends.
Gatrell, Simon. Hardy the Creator: A Textual...
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