Desperate Remedies, Hardy’s first novel, is typically regarded as an apprentice work, as derivative. It is worthy of close reading, however, because it will teach us how to read Hardy if you pay close enough attention, and if your reading is directed especially to the unique manner in which it arrives as a series of epistemologically disconcerting textual events. Desperate Remedies is, in effect, a forceful, if crude, elaboration of transformations in the modern world brought about in perception, and how these mediate, and are mediated in turn by, narrative. At first glance, the novel appears to inhabit the sensation genre. On the surface it seems a merely imitative narration. Moreover, a surface reading might suggest that this is not really what Hardy does. At least, it does so if one reads the novel as if it were readable, and therefore capable of being subsumed, within the totality of Hardy’s fiction. To put this differently, there is too great a readiness not to read and to ignore the singularity of Desperate Remedies. Such an avoidance of reading falls into a programmed assessment, however, which does not recognize Hardy’s experiment with the ‘machine’, that narrative technic we know as the novel, which exposes the merely mechanical nature of much fiction. Even though Hardy draws on the sensational novel, which is ‘already a subversive form, bringing the licensed margins of the gothic into daily life’ (Goode 1988, 11), there is much that takes place in Hardy’s ‘parasitical’ inhabitation of conventional form. It haunts as much as it inhabits the genre in question, and in doing so subverts subversion, illuminating in the process through its phantasmal habitation the haunted condition of modernity.
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