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About this book

This book is designed to serve as a practical guide for students and others wishing to improve their skills in the detailed analysis and discussion of Hardy's prose texts. Its aim is to sharpen readers' awareness of the complexity and subtlety of Hardy's art by encouraging responsiveness to such aspects as language and style, imagery and symbol, descriptive and dramatic method and narrative technique. At the same time extracts are considered not in isolation but in relation to the overall purposes of a highly-organised text.

While the main focus is on four of Hardy's most-widely read novels, the twenty-four examples of close analysis cover six major themes that are relevant to all his fiction. There are also numerous references to his other writings in prose and verse. The second part of the book provides, in succinct form, essential background material, including an outline of Hardy's life and career and an account of the literary, historical and intellectual contexts of his fiction. As well as a guide to further reading, a chapter is devoted to samples of criticism illustrating a range of approaches to the chosen texts and representing the work of important critics past and present.

Table of Contents

The Novels

Frontmatter

1. Writer and Reader

Abstract
Hardy grew up in a culture in which storytelling, especially by word of mouth, was a normal part of the pattern of daily life: from his grandmother, for example, who lived with the Hardy family for many years, he heard stories of the time before his own birth, and the ballads and songs of the region were another kind of narrative art with which he became familiar from his earliest years. On a different level, he acquired a close knowledge of the stories told in the Bible, and as soon as he could read his mother gave him books that included some of the popular novelists of the day as well as more serious fare.
Norman Page

2. Beginnings and Endings

Abstract
Since the nature of language is linear, one word following another, literary texts must inescapably have beginnings and endings. In an obvious sense, however, no story (as opposed to narrative) ever really begins or ends: it is always possible to think of something that happened before the beginning and something that may happen after the end. As a result the decisions that novelists make as to where to start and conclude their narratives are often of considerable interest, and Hardy’s solutions to these problems are worth careful examination.
Norman Page

3. Nature and Humanity

Abstract
Historically speaking, the idea of ‘nature’ underwent profound changes during the nineteenth century, largely as a result of the ways in which science radically modified perceptions of the natural world. For Wordsworth (a poet much admired by Hardy), at the beginning of the century, nature was a moral guide and a source of wholesome influences: humanity could and should live in harmony with nature. But Tennyson, at the mid-century, famously characterized nature as ‘red in tooth and claw’, with its creatures existing in a state of relentless and competitive savagery: humanity was admirable only in so far as it had risen above the brutal appetites of the natural world.
Norman Page

4. Individuals and Communities

Abstract
Most of Hardy’s novels embody a strong sense of community — the outstanding exception, as we shall see, is his last, Jude the Obscure — but the characters typically include both insiders and outsiders. At the most obvious level, Hardy’s characters may be divided into those who belong to a community by virtue of birth and upbringing (with all that these imply in terms of knowledge and loyalty), and those who are interlopers or strangers from elsewhere. In Tess, for instance, there is a profound gulf between the heroine and her family, who have for generations been established residents of Marlott, and the nouveau riche family to which Alec belongs and which has only recently settled there with the aim of winning a place in the social hierarchy of the district. In Far from the Madding Crowd, though Sergeant Troy belongs to a local family, he has chosen to spend his life elsewhere. As a professional soldier, Troy has embraced a career that involves mobility, and has no particular affiliation — as Gabriel Oak, for instance, emphatically has — with the rural world of which he becomes a member through his marriage to Bathsheba.
Norman Page

5. Tradition and Change

Abstract
Hardy’s major novels depict a rural society in the process of transformation as a result of the unprecedented social, economic and technological changes that took place in nineteenth-century England. Characteristically he portrays a traditional world only to demonstrate how it is being undermined and ultimately destroyed by the agents of change. These latter may be new inventions such as the steam-train and the kind of agricultural machine that made obsolete traditional methods of farming, or, more intangibly, the dispersal of the once tightly-knit village community and the collapse of the old social hierarchies. The following passages all illustrate different aspects of change, as a community that has formerly been relatively isolated and self- sufficient suffers the invasion of what, in another novel (The Return of the Native), Hardy calls ‘the irrepressible New’.
Norman Page

6. Men and Women

Abstract
All Hardy’s novels are love stories, but from an early stage in his career he depicts love relationships as problematic and liable to be attended with pain, stress, and even madness and tragedy. In his second published novel, Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), for instance, the heroine, Fancy Day, is a young teacher who finds herself obliged to choose between three men who all seek her hand in marriage — a simple countryman, a rich farmer, and a socially superior clergyman — and the happy ending is reached only after she has confronted the opposition between the impulses of her heart and the lures of social and economic ambition. In this chapter we shall examine a number of scenes in which the relationships between men and women, inside and outside marriage, are explored.
Norman Page

The Context

Frontmatter

7. Hardy’s Life and Work

Abstract
Hardy had three careers — as architect, novelist and poet — and they overlapped and have a complex and interesting relationship to each other. Far from robust as a child, he received relatively little formal education. At eight years old he was sent to the village school, but soon afterwards his mother, an energetic woman ambitious for her firstborn, moved him to a school in the nearby town of Dorchester, where he would be able to study Latin under a good teacher. At sixteen he left school, and though he later suggested that it might have been possible for him to have gone to university at the age of twenty-five, that was the end of his formal education.
Norman Page

8. The Context of Hardy’s Fiction

Abstract
The mainstream tradition of the English novel, from Defoe in the early eighteenth century at least until the time of the Modernists some two hundred years later, has always been strongly sociological. In other words, with a few notable exceptions (such as Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights), it has used the conventions of formal realism to present a kind of ‘working model’ of society, depicting characters in relation to their social roles as well as their inner psychology. Such notable Victorian examples as Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Dickens’s Bleak House, George Eliot’s Middlemarch and the political novels of Trollope present largely urban settings in which those at different social levels are involved in different kinds of work (or sometimes idleness), and the plots are often driven by tensions arising from social roles or from attempts to transcend the boundaries of class.
Norman Page

9. Samples of Criticism

Abstract
In this chapter we shall consider extracts from five critical accounts that between them cover a period of some forty years. They also represent different ways of looking at Hardy’s fiction, and it is important to insist that with a writer of such richness and complexity it is not a question of one approach being ‘right’ and another ‘wrong’, or even of one being ‘better’ than another (though we may, as individual readers, find particular methods and interpretations more congenial or more helpful than others). Hardy the novelist not only invites but requires a pluralist approach. The critical methods represented here include ‘sociological’, ‘feminist’ and ‘masculinist’ readings, as well as those that make use of historical, biographical and textual information.
Norman Page

10. Guide to Further Reading

Abstract
Towards the end of his life Hardy wrote an autobiography that was published after his death under the pretence that it was a biography written by his second wife, Florence Emily Hardy. This was a characteristically devious strategy to pre-empt the unwelcome attentions of biographers while maintaining the appearance of objectivity. However, this work, which makes extensive use of quotations from Hardy’s diaries and notebooks, is of great interest. It is best consulted in the edition prepared by Michael Millgate, The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy by Thomas Hardy (1984), and, since it is a long book, students may wish to concentrate on the sections specially related to the texts they are studying (for example, Part V is on ‘“Tess”, “Jude”, and the End of Prose’).
Norman Page
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