Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Thomas Hardy

Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Thomas Hardy

Article excerpt

This has been another important year for Hardy biographers. Despite the advent of Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited (2004), in which Michael Millgate revisits the terrain he has been cultivating for some twenty years since Thomas Hardy: A Biography (1982), there appears to be a good deal more that needs to be said, or said differently. For most Hardy scholars Millgate adequately redresses the balance somewhat tilted by Robert Gittings' Young Thomas Hardy (1975) and The Older Hardy (1978), while also providing an antidote to Lois Deacon (1960s) and augmenting the less substantial biographies of Edmund Blunden (1942), Evelyn Hardy (1954), Carl Weber (1940-50), Timothy O'Sullivan (1975), and, of course, the plague on all of Hardy's houses, Ernest Brennecke, with his infamous The Life of Thomas Hardy (New York, 1925).

The American author Brennecke had also produced Thomas Hardy's Universe: A Study of a Poet's Mind (1924), which, as the title denotes, proffers a knowledge (of "Mind") which would make cowards of even the most learned of philosophers. But this grandiose proffering pales in comparison with the Life of Thomas Hardy which is, Brennecke claims, "The first biography of England's [foremost] novelist-poet; a work which will probably always stand as the most authoritative and comprehensive book on the subject. Mr Brennecke records every known fact of Hardy's life" (The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, ed. Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate. 7 vols [Oxford. 1978-88], 6:318; hereafter Letters).

Hardy was not amused. He told his publisher, Macmillan, that this "large biography of me," purporting to be "an authorized Life" with its "mass of unwarranted assumptions & errors that are at times ludicrous," must not be published in Britain (Letters, 6:317).

He also felt bitterly betrayed. Brennecke had made himself a guest at Hardy's Max Gate home, had taken notes "under the pretence of being a student of German philosophy" and had solicited tidbits of information from neighbourhood "photographers, tradespeople, servants etc" (p. 319). As hospitality goes, Hardy was the most generous of hosts, rarely turning anyone from his door provided advance notice of arrival was given. But Brennecke had gone too far; he was now advised that he would no longer be welcome at Max Gate unless he could come as a simple visitor observing the common courtesies of hospitality.

Meanwhile, Macmillan had stood by their author and declined to publish The Life of Thomas Hardy in Britain--an action supported first by a cable sent by Hardy expressing to Brennecke his strong disapproval of the book and second by letters to The Times, to the same effect. The protest, sadly, fell on deaf ears. Across the Atlantic Brennecke was now busy compiling an assortment of Hardy's minor prose writings (newspaper items mainly: copyright in England but not in America), and incorporating these with what Hardy was to call "other raked up scraps"; he published the collection in Hardy's own name as Thomas Hardy, Life and Art: Essays, Notes and Letters Collected for the First Time, with an introduction by Ernest Brennecke, Jr. (New York, 1925).

At this point there was very little Hardy could do. He could denounce Brennecke but beyond that, nothing. So, he made do with castigating Brennecke's work as "olla podrida," that is, a hodge-podge but with strongly pejorative connotations (the word derives from the Latin putridus, putrid), and strengthening his efforts to shield himself with an even greater enforcement of privacy than hitherto. He had already decided, about eight years before, that he should prepare his own pseudonymous autobiography, later to be known as The Life (dictated to his wife Florence). He too could play biographer (indeed, from this point on until his dying day his literary reading matter was dominated by biographies). He also told Macmillan at the time of the Brennecke debacle that he would now compile his own writings, his own authorized version of "Life and Art," and if he never fulfilled this ambition (see Michael Millgate's Thomas Hardy's Public Voice, 2001), he did succeed in writing his own, self-shielding, "biography. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.