Texts, ideas, the traces of historical and cultural forces: all take time to arrive. If they arrive at all, they are never on time. The arrival of the trace is radically disordered from the start. If interpreted precipitately, texts miss being read and so remain to be received. Yet the reader cannot help but be precipitate, overly anxious; otherwise, the reader is laggardly, moving in the wake of delivery or transmission. Moreover, any reception of some past trace always involves loss in translation, impoverishment through transmission, even if there is some other gain. We have seen such effects: Bathsheba’s valentine to Farmer Boldwood, Tess’s letter of confession to Angel Clare. There is also, perhaps most heartbreaking of all, a note written by a suicide, A Sergeant-Major Holway, in one of Hardy’s most disturbing short stories, ‘The Grave by the Handpost’ (1897). ‘On the table in the cottage’, Holway ‘had left a piece of paper, on which he had written his wish that he might be buried at the Cross [the cross-roads] beside his father’. However, ‘the paper was accidentally swept to the floor, and overlooked till after his funeral, which took place in the ordinary way in the churchyard’ (DPOT 342). This ‘last post’ can only ever be received by the reader, who must live with the belated knowledge that another’s desire remains unfulfilled — and perhaps the awfulness of the situation is not in our consciousness of this, but in our awareness that Sergeant-Major Holway will have died in the mistaken belief that his will would be carried out, and that he can never know that it was not.
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