Thomas Hardy

By Morgan, Rosemarie | Victorian Poetry, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Thomas Hardy


Morgan, Rosemarie, Victorian Poetry


At some indefinable point in recent decades a significant new movement occurred in Hardy criticism. For want of a better term I would like to call it a "focalization" change for, indeed, there came a time when a greater loco-specific shape developed in individual critical works, and a far more detailed taxonomy. As the Hardy Association bibliographical list of early Hardy criticism shows (), there was a distinct predominance of generic titles in the first one hundred years of Hardy criticism (1870-1970). Typical was Lascelles Abercrombie, Thomas Hardy: A Critical Study. (London: Martin Secker, 1924); equally, there was Henry Charles Duffin, Thomas Hardy: A Study of the Wessex Novels, (Longmans, Green, 1916.), but as often as not it was just plain old Thomas Hardy, as published by numerous authors such as Desmond Hawkins in 1950 and half a century earlier, Annie Macdonell (1894).

Then, in the 1970s things begin to change. To take some illustrative examples, the poet Tom Paulin entitles his study: Thomas Hardy: The Poetry of Perception (London: Macmillan, 1975); and moving from sense-experience to sexuality, J Hillis Miller has Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire (Cambridge: Belknap, 1970); whereas James Richardson adds to the foco-specific shift by adopting a utilitarian approach: Thomas Hardy: The Poetry of Necessity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), and going one step further, from stress of circumstance to stress of mind, Perry Meisel opens the recesses of the unconscious in Thomas Hardy: The Return of the Repressed: A Study of the Major Fiction (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972). A pattern was clearly emerging.

The 1970s shift to specifically designated areas of Hardy's life and thought influenced, in varying degrees, I suspect, by the sexual revolution of the Sixties, can also be measured by certain seminal works immediately preceding the above-named works. Take, on the one hand, Roy Morrell's influential Thomas Hardy: The Will and the Way (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1965) which points back to the Voluntarism of the philosopher Schopenhauer and, on the other hand, Lois Deacon's ten separate Sixties publications on aspects of Hardy's purported sexual life with his cousin, Tryphena Sparks. Deacon launches into the author's private life and his possible genetic legacy. Although she has suffered more discredit than any other single author who ever published on Hardy, with critics raising eyebrows and nay-saying the notion of Hardy's illegitimate child, her work remains influential, with critics strongly divided not so much on the question of morality as of Deacon's epistemology. Thus while The Will and the Way may have been looking back to the philosophical legacy of Schopenhauer where Deacon appeared to be looking forward, from the youthful Hardy to his biological progeny, both were deeply concerned with origins--with genesis and development and, of course, action, idea, and consequence.

The post Sixties decade was now ripe for probing Hardy's private life. Of greatest significance are Robert Gittings' five biographical studies two of which concern themselves with Hardy's wives. Notice that in the case of both Gittings (whose approach to his subject is defensive and, consequently, often dyspeptic) and Deacon (whose topic is presumptive), that quantity engineers an artifice of sufficiency. By contrast, Michael Millgate's Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist. (London: The Bodley Head, 1971), and F. E. Halliday's Thomas Hardy: His Life and Work. (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1972), elevate the biographical span to a literary dimension and sustain this sufficiency within a single volume. Harold Orel follows with The Final Years of Thomas Hardy, 1912-1928 (Lawrence: The University Press of Kansas, 1976), and Richard Taylor expands the topical focus with The Personal Notebooks of Thomas Hardy, With an Appendix Including the Unpublished Passages in the Original Typescripts of The Life of Thomas Hardy (London: Macmillan, 1978). …

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