Rowse, A. L., Contemporary Review
I have always loved Hardy, but not uncritically. He opens himself to criticism, positively invites it. Critics recognise the extraordinary alternations in his prose -- sublime passages of description followed by a paragraph of jargon, clumsy rhetoric or novelistic cliche. Did he never notice, or had he no critical sense? Was there no-one to tell him? (Certainly not Emma!) The case is more curious, but it can be summed up simply: he had genius, but no taste.
Anyone familiar with Hardy's life and surroundings can see it. The house he built for himself, Max Gate outside Dorchester, is hideous, a lower middle class villa; so too the interior furnishings, the garden, the trees he planted -- firs! In the Cornish church of St. Juliot, which he spoiled in restoring it (and afterwards repented), he put up a memorial tablet to Emma in ghastly white Carrara marble, with black-lead lettering! Such a contrast to John Betjeman's oval plaque to his father at St. Enodoc in beautiful grey Cornish slate with italic script.
Hardy's poetry takes us into the heart of the man. He thought of himself as a poet first and last, began and ended with poetry, and actually disconsidered his novels -- as he wrote to Quiller Couch. He wrote a vast amount of verse -- far too much of it, as professional poets do, or did. A proper critical selection would leave perhaps one-third as enough. Many poems could go, with advantage, and many are repetitive, uninspired and automatic, far too often ending in churchyard and grave.
All the same he is a strong poet, inspired at his best, with an idiosyncrasy and idiom of his own, of a most unusual character. Unlike the Victorians, unlike his contemporaries or most poets in our tradition, he was …
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Publication information: Article title: Hardy's Vocabulary. Contributors: Rowse, A. L. - Author. Magazine title: Contemporary Review. Volume: 265. Issue: 1543 Publication date: August 1994. Page number: 90+. © 1999 Contemporary Review Company Ltd. COPYRIGHT 1994 Gale Group.
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