Thomas Hardy: Overview

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Author: F.B. Pinion
Editor: D. L. Kirkpatrick
Date: 1991
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,590 words

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In his early twenties Thomas Hardy aspired to be a country curate and poet, like William Barnes. Yet, after a period of intense reading in London, he rejected belief in Providence for scientific philosophy, based largely on the writings of J.S. Mill, Darwin's Origin of Species, The First Principles of Spencer, and readings in geology and astronomy. Like Mill, Hardy was impressed with Auguste Comte's emphasis on the need for altruism and a programme of reform based on education and science. Hardy never forfeited his belief in the Christian ethic; he was convinced that there was little hope for humanity without enlightened co-operation and charity. His preface to The Woodlanders suggests that his conscious aim in his last major novels was to further amelioration through enlisting the sympathetic awareness of his reader. Humanitarianism combines with his scientific outlook in imaginatively visualized presentations to maintain his appeal today.

Hardy's basic ideas did not change greatly and, as his London poems of 1865-67 show, they were formed early. Events are the result primarily of circumstance or chance, which is all that is immediately apparent in an evolving network of cause-effect relationships extending through space and time. In The Woodlanders the ``web'' which is for ever weaving shows, for example, a link between the death of Mrs. Charmond and the American Civil War. Chance includes heredity and character; only when reason prevails is man free to influence the course of events. Such philosophical ideas are inherent, and sometimes explicit, in Hardy's first published novel, Desperate Remedies. His previous novel, The Poor Man and the Lady (which survives only in scenes adapted to other novels and in ``An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress''), had been loosely constructed, and too satirical, of London society and contemporary Christianity in particular, to gain acceptance.

In Desperate Remedies Hardy merged, for the sake of publication, a tragic situation with a thriller story and a complicated plot (in the manner of Wilkie Collins). Until the sensational dénouement takes over, the writing is enriched with poetical quotations and effects, Shelley's wintry image of adversity determining crisis settings, as in later Hardy novels. A reviewer's commendation of his rustic scenes led to Under the Greenwood Tree, which Hardy wrote rapidly, with notable economy, in a happy mood kindled by love of Emma Gifford, a church organist whose blue dress and vanity are the subject of light...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420003738