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About this book

This Reader's Guide analyses the critical history of two of Hardy's major tragic novels, from the time of their publication to the present. Simon Avery traces the changing critical fortunes of the texts and explores the diverse range of interpretations produced by different theoretical approaches.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
In January 1928, Thomas Hardy was buried not once, but twice. For whilst his family and friends wanted Hardy to be buried in the parish of Stinsford, near Dorchester, in the same grave as his first wife, Emma, his executor insisted that he should be interred in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. The final resting place of the great novelist and poet, aged 87 when he died, was therefore a site of anxiety and debate every bit as controversial as much of his work had been across his career, and in the end a compromise was reached with Hardy’s heart being taken for burial in Stinsford and his remaining ashes being placed next to those of Charles Dickens and Robert Browning in the revered space of Poets’ Corner.
Simon Avery, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter One. Contemporary Reviews

Abstract
Like any piece of criticism, reviews of works of fiction are never unbiased; for even if they masquerade under the guise of a nominal ‘objectivity’, they are always written from an agenda-driven viewpoint. The consideration of reviews therefore of ers us not only an insight into the qualities of a particular work as it is perceived and interpreted by the reviewer, but also reveals something about the ideological assumptions of the reviewer him/herself and, often, of the society of which he/she is a product. The layers of meaning and the underlying assumptions in commentaries upon works of fiction are therefore highly complex and fluid.
Simon Avery, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Two. Establishing Lines of Critical Enquiry, 1890–1949

Abstract
In the last chapter I examined some of the diverse reactions towards The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure that emerged on their immediate publication, detailing the ways in which critics and reviewers responded to the texts and how they were viewed within literary and cultural debates of the late-1880s to mid-1890s. In particular, I demonstrated how responses to Mayor were generally appreciative if somewhat ambivalent, whilst responses to Jude were often condemnatory and founded upon a sense of moral outrage. In this chapter, I consider the various ways in which Mayor and Jude were read, debated and in some cases condemned by critics over a wider time span, from 1890 to 1949. This major sixty-year period witnessed many dramatic changes in thinking in the Western world as a result of the impact of modernist aesthetics, the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), changing gender roles and the two world wars of 1914–18 and 1939–45. It is not surprising, therefore, that thinking about Hardy’s works often altered drastically during this time period as well, as critics reconsidered Hardy’s place in literary history, his influence on the development of the novel, and, after his death in 1928, his specific legacy.
Simon Avery, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Three. Developing Critical Approaches: Criticism of the 1950s and 1960s

Abstract
In the last chapter I explored the range of criticism on The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure produced during the sixty-year period from the end of the nineteenth century to the end of the 1940s. Many critics of this period were particularly concerned with reading Hardy through liberal humanist and formalist frameworks, whilst others began to examine Hardy’s works in relation to contemporary sociopolitical concerns and intellectual history. Although F.R. Leavis might have dismissed Hardy from his Great Tradition at the end of the 1940s, reductively reading him through the lens of his favoured Henry James as ‘the good little Thomas Hardy’, more astute critics such as Albert Guerard emphasized that it was time for a shift in Hardy criticism through a thorough re-examination of the sophistication of his works and his place in literary history.
Simon Avery, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Four. Critical Expansion: Criticism of the 1970s

Abstract
During the 1970s criticism of Thomas Hardy’s work, and The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure specifically, expanded rapidly and diversely. For alongside the continued development of earlier formalist and humanist approaches with their focus on close reading, internal textual meaning, the notion of the transcendent individual, and conventions of tragedy, the 1970s also witnessed the impact of new ways of reading, including those derived from structuralism, increasingly sophisticated socio-historical and political frameworks, psychoanalysis, and the emergence of feminist and gender-based perspectives. The overriding sense of the decade’s work in Hardy studies, therefore, is one of increased plurality as a number of critics — for example, J. Hillis Miller (1970), Jean Brooks (1971) and Ian Gregor (1974) — continued to emphasize the unity and coherence of Hardy’s vision and practice, whilst others — for example, Perry Meisel (1972), Terry Eagleton (1974 and 1976), Mary Jacobus (1975) and Elaine Showalter (1979) — began to of er more destabilizing and revisionary readings which took Hardy studies in new directions and marked the shift from more traditional literary analysis to more theoretically alert criticism. Certainly by the close of the 1970s, the way is paved for the impact of the theory wars of the following decade.
Simon Avery, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Five. The Impact of High Theory: Criticism of the 1980s

Abstract
In the last chapter I demonstrated how, across the 1970s, an expansion in approaches to reading The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure occurred and how, by the close of the decade, new and competing critical discourses had emerged which were to set the foundations for criticism of the following decades. For alongside continued interest in formalist and humanist readings of Hardy’s work, there developed an increased concern with the socio-political contexts of the novels, a more detailed consideration of the psychological complexities of Hardy’s characters (particularly Henchard and Sue), and more theoretically alert readings of the textual constructions of gender, both femininity and masculinity. Analyses of Mayor and Jude were therefore becoming increasingly complex and multifarious and were clearly the sites of much critical and theoretical debate.
Simon Avery, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Six. Recent (Re-)Readings: Criticism from 1990 to the Present

Abstract
By the end of the 1980s the field of Thomas Hardy studies had shifted radically. For as postmodern ideas took hold, increasingly astute and nuanced readings of The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure began to appear, drawing upon materialist and New Historicist approaches, more intricate models of psychoanalysis, and sophisticated and diverse theories of gender. Indeed, interpretations of the texts, and Hardy’s work generally, were now often increasingly complex, challenging and confrontational, as the assumptions underlying earlier liberal humanist approaches were firmly, and in many cases irrevocably, dismantled.
Simon Avery, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Seven. Re-representations: Film and Television Adaptations

Abstract
In this final shorter chapter, I consider a different but interrelated aspect of the critical histories of The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure: the ways in which the novels have been adapted for film and television across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. As many critics have noted, Hardy’s novels are extremely visual in terms of landscape, architecture and character description, and many scenes from them often seem ready made for filming. We might note, for example, the way in which many of the novels open with a cinematographic-like panning round of the landscape and a focusing in on an individual figure or groups of figures, as in the opening scene of The Mayor of Casterbridge. We might also point to the theatrical positioning of many of the principal encounters in both Mayor and Jude which seem ef ectively ‘staged’ (John Goode has drawn particular attention to the emphasis on performance and staging in the text of Mayor: see discussion in Chapter Five of this Guide). And we might highlight the often dynamic dialogue and the frequent narrative arcs of conflict, resolution and intimacy which are of the kind to transfer well to the screen. Indeed, as Douglas Brown wrote in 1961, a decade before the major period of Hardy adaptations began in the 1970s, Hardy’s novels might often seem dificult to stage in the theatre but the ‘potentialities in the medium of cinema seem exciting’.1 To this, we might add the potentialities in the medium of television as well.
Simon Avery, Nicolas Tredell

Conclusion

Abstract
Iopened this Guide with a death, that of Hardy himself in 1928. Six decades later, another death has been firmly enacted – that of Henry James’ notion of ‘the good little Thomas Hardy’. For across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, major shifts in reading practices and acts of interpretation have brought multiple and diverse ‘Thomas Hardys’ to life to replace James’s patronizing image — new Hardys which reject the idea of being either ‘little’ or ‘good’.
Simon Avery, Nicolas Tredell
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