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About this book

No other major author of the nineteenth century has arguably produced as much critical activity as Thomas Hardy. This timely addition to the Critical Issues series explores the various philosophical views of critics, with close textual analysis of Hardy's novels and with reference to his poetry.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Dwelling on Hardy

Abstract
Thomas Hardy is at once amongst the most constantly read of novelists of the nineteenth century, and yet, at the same time, the most challenging and misread of authors. He lends himself to popular adaptation, as the BBC’s 2008 production of, predictably, Tess of the D’Urbervilles demonstrates. Yet, as faithful as such adaptation — or what I would term ‘translation’ — might be to the narrative, that which is most arguably ‘Hardy’ is occluded, if not erased almost entirely. With Hardy (and, indeed, almost any novelist), there is so much which does not translate. In Hardy’s case, though, the untranslatable is of greater significance, and so remains, encrypted and in full view, on almost every page. Tess and Jude the Obscure excepted, Hardy’s dozen or so other novels still receive less attention than is their due (unless by some Hardy critics), and it is in part the purpose of this book to redress that balance a little. To this end, Tess and Jude are given less attention than some might think they deserve, and I explain, without justifying, my reasons for this in the last chapter.
Julian Wolfreys

1. Apprehension, Suspension, Abstention: Desperate Remedies (1871)

Abstract
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.
Julian Wolfreys

2. Distortions and Transformations: Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873)

Abstract
That we are vouchsafed visions of Midsummer’s Day, such as the one on which the bell-ringing occurs at the close of Desperate Remedies — Under the Greenwood Tree and The Return of the Native also close on the same day — is indication of Hardy’s insistence that the world is comprehended as moving to at least two times within the same time: Christian, calendrical and progressive, linear temporality and at the same time, within and yet other than the time of the modern, a cyclical pagan calendar. A generation may pass but given moments in time return, the same and yet not the same. In this, there is the idea that a previous generation is not departed entirely, but leaves its traces in subsequent generations, such remains being the spectral signature of the past in the present. Thus there will be read in Hardy an irreducible tension between the spectral and material, which tension is often put to work in Hardy through, on the one hand, aural and auratic experience, perceptions of the pagan, and so on, and the heightened or intensified visual experience that Hardy inscribes through the emphasis on line, shape, and colour field. In this, Wessex becomes the imaginary site which bears the burden of all history and memory, in a dialectic challenge to modernity understood as urbanism, as the presencing of the present, in the face of the increasingly absent — because forgotten — ‘organic’ home of the rural.
Julian Wolfreys

3. Being and Dwelling: Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Return of the Native (1878), Two on a Tower (1882)

Abstract
In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Mr Crick tells the story of an ‘“old aged man”’ who tricked a bull by playing a Nativity Hymn on his fiddle when it wasn’t Christmas, in order to escape a violent altercation with the animal (TD’U III.XVII.110-111). The old man’s name was William Dewy who, at the time of telling, ‘“is a-lying in Mellstock Churchyard at this very moment”’ (TD’U III.XVII.111). A ‘“curious story”’ that ‘“carries us back to medieval times”’ (TD’U III.XVII.111), the tale not only invokes a distant world recovered through narrative, it also reintroduces the figure of Dick Dewy’s grandfather. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Michael Henchard’s bankruptcy case is heard. In addition to his assets, Henchard offers his gold watch and purse, which are turned down in the following manner:
The creditors, farmers almost to a man, looked at the watch, and at the money, and into the street; when Farmer James Everdene of Weatherbury spoke.
‘No, no, Henchard,’ he said warmly. ‘We don’t want that.’Tis honourable in ye; but keep it. What do you say, neighbours — do ye agree?’ ‘Ay, sure: we don’t wish it at all,’ said Grower, another creditor.
‘Let him keep it, of course,’ murmured another in the background — a silent, reserved young man named Boldwood; and the rest responded unanimously. (MC 217)
Julian Wolfreys

4. Uncommon Events: The Trumpet-Major (1880), A Laodicean (1881), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886)

Abstract
Consider two remarks of Hardy’s, concerning the writing and purpose of fiction. They are striking for their recognition of that in fiction which should by-pass, flow out of, or exceed merely realistic representation. In 1881, Hardy notes:
the real, if unavowed, purpose of fiction is to give pleasure by gratifying the love of the uncommon in human experience … uncommonness must be in events … and the writer’s art lies in shaping that uncommonness while disguising its unlikelihood. (LTH 150)
Julian Wolfreys

5. Confessions of the Other: The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), Jude the Obscure (1895)

Abstract
I turn finally to Hardy’s last novels, The Woodlanders, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure. I reflect on what speaks without speaking, attesting to unwritten history and shared memory. I consider that which would remain otherwise, without witness and without voice. And, I explore, again, what is lost in translation when phenomena pass beyond living memory, or when the modern subject fails to read, or reads incorrectly. As what is to come will make clear, Hardy’s worlds are expressed through phantasmal manifestations from within the real, and voices belonging to such projections. Such voices are not simply those of humans, but belong to actions, places, and all manner of inanimate phenomena. In turning to specific manifestations and articulations, I intend to revisit particular themes that have been addressed elsewhere.
Julian Wolfreys

Afterword

Abstract
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.
Julian Wolfreys
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