Thomas Hardy’s Novels at Faults? Five Ways You Can Be Certain


"There, in the heart of the nimbus, twittered the heart of Hardy
There on the edge of the nimbus, slowly revolved the corpses
Radiating around the twittering heart of Hardy."

John Betjeman (1906 - 1984)..British poet and broadcaster. Referring to Thomas Hardy ..John Betjeman's Collected Poems"The Heart of Thomas Hardy"

Introduction: Critics have attacked Hardy for his novel's plotting and style arguing that all of his novels could not possibly be considered pure. In fact, Thomas Hardy’s view of life was cosmic. This means that tragic novels exist on two planes, the plane of design and the plane of plot. As a plotter Hardy, largely self-educated, was often defective. Sometimes he stumbles because the course of the Ilion suddenly becomes implausible, as when Tess kills Alec with the hand-knife, an implausibility underlined by the failure in tact which allows him describing the blood seeping through the floor to the ceiling below in the likeness of “a gigantic ace of hearts.” His incursions into melodrama are familiar signs of a failure in fact; the final arrest of Tess at Stonehenge is an ambience. It just fails to come off; the grandiose conception is somehow allured. 

His View of Causality: But Hardy’s chief weakness in plot arises from his view of causality. He intends to show that the stars in their courses fight against the aspiring, the man or woman who would rise above the common lot through greatness of Spirit, of ambition, or passion. Here his problem was difficult indeed, and it is not surprising he never solved it. For the universe it to become suddenly hostile to man could only be shown through the working of what may be called the freak coincidence. We need not blame Hardy for the emphasis he places on coincidence; simply, he believed in coincidence. For example, in The Return of the Native it is part of the conspiracy of things against the exceptional man that Clym’s mother should visit Eustacia in order to make the peace between them, at the very time that Eustacia is entertaining Wildeve; it is part of Nature’s enmity that she should he bitten by a snake on her way home. But Hardy, as though not wholly convinced himself, does not know where to stop. He spoils his case by overstatement: when we learn later that Eustacia’s letter to Clym has not been delivered because the messenger forgot all about it, we begin to protest. We begin to feel that the author has aligned himself with the nature of things against his characters, that he is manipulating fate against them.

Thomas Hardy
Manipulation of the Story:  Same is the Manipulation of the Story in Jude the Obscure. Hardy’s worst failure here is certainly Father Time’s killing of Sue’s children in Jude the Obscure, and his suicide. When we first meet Father Time in the train, he is a memorable and poetic conception, but increasingly he becomes the author’s mouthpiece; and then we realize he is the good little child of sentimental Victorian fiction, who speaks wisdom in his innocence, turned upside down. He too is a sentimental creation, and made the less convincing because, according to the doctor, he is a boy “of a sort unknown in the last generation...the beginning of the coming universal wish not to live.” The philosophical explanation highlights the sentimentality; and when tour pages later Jude quotes Aeschylus: “Things are as they are and will be brought to their destined issue”, we feel that, in this instance, the issue is being brought about not because it is in the nature of things but because Hardy wishes it to be so. It is the one turn of the screw too many.

Failures in the Management of His Plots: But these failures in the management of his plots matter less in Hardy than they would in any other novelist; they are faults, but they do not ruin the work, because though large enough when measured in terms of the plots they are small when seen against the vastness and the strength of the design behind the plots. The plot in Hardy is his attempt to express the significance of the great design in purely human terms. Failure was almost inevitable, because Hardy, as a man of his time and place, had no completely adequate myth through which his view of the nature of things could be conveyed.

Excessive Importance of Nature: Again, there is Excessive Importance of Nature particularly Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native. But the greatness of conception and the sense of cosmic scope behind the action put Hardy’s novels apart from any other fiction written in England in the nineteenth century. The Return of the Native was the first novel in which he achieved the tragic level, and it could be argued that it is his finest. In no other does the setting of the natural world so dominate the characters. Perhaps the dichotomy between the human being and the Nature in which he lives is too acute in this novel; in the tragic works that follow, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure, one has the feeling that the tragic heroes and heroines more and more take Nature into themselves, and to this extent the importance of the natural setting as something apart from man diminishes.

The Inadequacy of His Psychological Analysis: There is also the Inadequacy of his psychological analysis. As a creator of characters Hardy worked in a way diametrically opposite to George Eliot’s. If she is a psychological novelist, then Hardy is the reverse. When he attempts analysis, he generally diminishes the stature of his tragic figures, as with Clym and “Father Time” for, as a rule, his analysis is inadequate. Sometimes, as with Sue in Jude the Obscure, he cannot himself adequately explain his character’s motives. In other words, subtle and complex though she is, she has been instantly apprehended; she has, like all Hardy’s great tragic characters, the authority, only dimly and half apprehended, of a force of nature. Hardy’s characters, then, tend to the great emotional situation, and then their triumphant life comes from the poetry that invests them. The most obvious instance of this is Bathsheba’s realization in the fir-plantation at night of the presence of Sergeant Troy, in Far from the Madding Crowd, and the miraculous description of Troy’s sword-play which follows a little later. After this description, there is no necessity for analysis:
“Bathsheha’s sudden subjugation to Troy, her complete possession by him, is shown in the most striking way possible: she is as much his victim, as before him, as if she had really met him in the field of battle.”

Ardhendu De



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