Thomas Hardy's Shorter Fiction: A Critical Study

Thomas Hardy's Shorter Fiction: A Critical Study

Thomas Hardy's Shorter Fiction: A Critical Study

Thomas Hardy's Shorter Fiction: A Critical Study

Synopsis

This critical study of Hardy's short stories provides a thorough account of the ruling preoccupations and recurrent writing strategies of his entire corpus as well as providing detailed readings of several individual texts. It relates the formal choices imposed on Hardy as contributor to Blackwood's Magazine and other periodicals to the methods he employed to encode in fiction his troubled attitude towards the social politics of the West Country, where most of the stories are set. No previous criticism has shown how the powerful challenges to the reader mounted in Hardy's later stories reveal the complexity of his motivations during a period when he was moving progressively in the direction of exchanging fiction for poetry.Features
• The only book to provide comprehensive criticism of Hardy's entire output of short stories.• The provision of extremely full, extremely detailed, close readings of a number of key stories enhances the book's attractiveness as a potential teaching resource.• Draws on the work of social historians to make clear the background of social and political unrest in Dorset that is partly uncovered and partly hidden in Hardy's portrayals of his fictional Wessex.• Offers fascinating insights into Hardy's near-obsession in his mature phase with the marriage contract, and with its legal binding of erratic men and women.

Excerpt

This compact study of Hardy’s short stories provides detailed readings of many individual texts as well as giving an account of the ruling preoccupations and recurrent writing strategies of the entire corpus. It relates the formal choices imposed on Hardy as contributor to no fewer than twenty-four separate periodicals to the methods he employed to encode in fiction his troubled attitude towards the social and cultural politics of the West Country, where most of the stories are set. There is also a close examination of the extent to which the stories bring out, more pervasively than the novels, the problems of author/reader relations that reached a critical phase for Hardy in the 1890s. No previous study has shown how the powerful challenge to readerly competence mounted in the stories reveals the complexity of Hardy’s motivations during a period when he was moving progressively in the direction of exchanging fiction for poetry.

It is partly because our study has an historical bearing that we have chosen to deal with the stories in chronological order of publication. But there is another, more compelling, rationale: a particular feature of Hardy’s career as a short-story writer is the close relationship he establishes between many (not all) stories in each individual volume. Apart from the situation with A Changed Man, this reflects his practice of collecting into each volume material written within the same relatively short period of time; that chronological condensation often entails historical coherence of precisely the kind that our study is orientated towards.

Chapter 1 is concerned with Wessex Tales, whose stories provide vivid instances of the nature of Hardy’s ‘telescopic’ vision, drawing attention to the wide and extended context of landscape in its temporal and spatial aspects, while also focusing in on the details of personal circumstance; combining awareness of both far and near, often counterpointing the evidence of marks on the landscape with that of marks on the body. This . . .

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