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.
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