Academic journal article The Comparatist

A "Network of Hopes": The Romance of Gambling in Thomas Hardy's A Laodicean

Academic journal article The Comparatist

A "Network of Hopes": The Romance of Gambling in Thomas Hardy's A Laodicean

Article excerpt

If we had knowledge of absolute certainty there could be no such thing as romance for us. If science held absolute sway, if we were not forever skirting the perilous edge of the unknown, we should never be disappointed and we should never hope ... Magnificent uncertainty is essential to the romantic atmosphere; the intellect must leave things undefined in order that imagination may define them, that the consciousness which lurks behind consciousness may hint at the wonders behind the known. (Scott-James 9)

In Modernism and Romance (1908), literary critic R. A. Scott-James registers the angst of many of his literary contemporaries about the cultural forces undermining the romance novel. He recognizes the romance novel's affinity with indeterminacy, and identifies scientific rationalization as detrimental to the possibilities of the form. In discerning the threat that scientific certainty poses to hope and wonder he anticipates Max Weber's account of disenchantment in society and culture more broadly in the 1918 lecture that claimed "there are no mysterious incalculable forces that come into play ... one can, in principle, master all things by calculation" ("Science as a Vocation"). A pervasive concern with modern romance and disenchantment underlies the fiction of many turn-of-the-century novelists about whom Scott-James was writing, but the specific link between romance, chance and rationalization is explored consciously in Thomas Hardy's novel A Laodicean. Though Hardy had shifted all his energies to poetry by the time Scott-James was writing, Modernism and Romance contains a whole chapter on Hardy as a modernist, but it neglects any mention of A Laodicean. The omission of this "minor" novel is unsurprising but regrettable, since, amongst other themes, it consciously juxtaposes realism and modern romance to tease out the cultural and literary trends with which Scott-James engages. The pairing of romance and chance reveals Hardy's sensitivity to some of the major artistic, scientific, and ideological issues of his time, and suggests a project of re-enchantment for both chance and romance in the novel.

The disenchantment of the modern world has been a favoured historical narrative of scholars and cultural critics since its articulation by Weber. In essence, this narrative posits disillusionment as an effect of advances in science and technology that eliminate the magic of the unknown. Yet a more recent scholarly turn attempts to alter this script by looking to instances of enchantment and re-enchantment that challenge the dominant story of modern rationalization and the loss of wonder and magic. (1) In her 2001 book The Enchantment of Modern Life, political theorist Jane Bennett articulates a project for re-enchantment today with which Hardy was already involved at the end of the nineteenth century. For Bennett, fostering enchantment is both an ethical imperative, and a sort of coping mechanism that helps one respond to the challenges of a "turbulent and unjust" world (160). Many of Hardy's novels nakedly present such a "turbulent and unjust world" with little space for meaningful participation, but in A Laodicean Hardy is occupied with something akin to Bennett's re-enchantment project: Hardy's sensitivity to his own changing time is notably less morbid in this novel than in many of his others, and even hopeful as he strategically romanticizes modernity and depicts the wonder of chance in a manner unconventional for the Victorian novel. In the twenty-first century, Bennett claims this enchantment and sense of wonder can actually be cultivated and practiced intentionally through deliberate strategies, three of which she describes as giving "greater expression to the sense of play," "hon[ing] sensory receptivity to the marvelous specificity of things," and "resist[ing] the story of the disenchantment of modernity" (4). According to her, such practices open up possibilities, and provoke new ideas and connections (6). …

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