3. Thomas Hardy

3. Thomas Hardy
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1. Biography

Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 at Upper Bockhampton. As a boy he learned to play the violin and he was a voracious reader and when he left school in 1856 he was apprenticed to a local architect and church restorer. 

In 1862 he began to write poetry, meanwhile he worked and studied architecture in London. In 1872 he published a novel, Under the Greenwood Tree, but he gained fame thanks to Far from the Madding Crowd. 

His second great work of fiction was The Return of the Native followed by 4 tragic novels: The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of the D’Ubervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure(1895). 

Hardy decided to give up fiction and to turn to poetry with the publication of Wessex Poems in 1898. 

He died in 1928. 

2. Hardy’s deterministic view

Hardy’s works are packed with considerations about life, death, man and the universe. Hardy was influenced by the Oxford movement, a spiritual movement involving devout thinking and actions. Hardy’s family members were Christians and Hardy himself considered the clergy. He eventually abandoned his faith in God influenced by his reading (classics and contemporary authors). 

From Greek tragedy he derived the notions of cruel Gods, indifferent Nature and hostile Fate. After reading ‘The Origin of Species’, by Charles Darwin, in the 1860s he perceived the intellectual consequences of that scientific theory and denied the existence of God. 

Human life was a tragic process in which man had no power. Hardy wasn’t a pessimist, under the influence of Mill and Comte, he advocated the need for altruism, the application of scientific knowledge and loving kindness. 

3. Hardy’s Wessex

Hardy’s stories are set in a very circumscribed area, the south-west corner of England. In the preface to his novel ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’

Hardy had a superb sense of place: he described ruins of churches, towers, walls, monuments etc. He was interested in home interiors with their furniture and objects. It comments on the actions of the central characters, sometimes it interprets their actions and sometimes it provides light relief. 

4. Main Themes

In all his work Hardy develops the difficulty of being alive. Being alive involves ‘an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations’. 

Being in a place surrounded by a set of circumstances which modify and determine the individual’s existence. Another important theme is Nature and Destiny. 

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Nature implies regeneration and expresses the cycle of seasons. In his novels Hardy exposes the most conventional, moralistic, hypocritical aspects of Victorian society. His attitude to religion is polemic: he believes Christianity is no longer capable of fulfilling the needs of modern man. The difficulty or failure of communication is another central theme and it frequently leads to tragedy. 

Hardy’s language is detailed, controlled and rich in symbolism. His characters speak naturally using dialect. Hardy’s love of nature is reflected in his use of metaphor, simile and personification. The language of sense impressions plays an important role in his art. The sense of sight is strong, the characters watch each other and are watched in their turn by the rest of Nature. The use of colour is linked to emotion and experience connected with the natural landscape. 

Hardy emphasizes the importance of strict, rigorous form, symmetry and blend of dialogue, description and narration. He combined the tragedy and the novel. He wrote his later novels in a period of experimentation in narrative technique, he employed the Victorian omniscient narrator, sometimes he commented on the actions or opinions and views of life. He anticipated the cinema in his use of narrative techniques similar to the camera eye and the zoom. 

5. Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891)

The plot

At the beginning of the novel Tess’s father finds out he is descendent of a rich and aristocratic family: The D’Urbervilles. His family has fallen on hard times and the situation gets worse when their horse dies. Tess is convinced to start working as a poultry maid on the D’Urberville estate. 

Later she is seduced by her master, Alec, and finds herself pregnant. She returns to her village and gives birth to a baby boy who dies soon after. She leaves her father’s house and goes to a distant valley to work as a milk maid on a dairy farm. 

There she meets Angel Clare, they fall in love and get married but then he leaves her and goes to Brazil. Tess undergoes sufferings and hardships and finally agrees to become Alec’s mistress. Tess kills Alec and flees with Angel. She was captured and executed while she was sleeping. 

The issue of morality

The sub-title of the novel – a Pure Woman – introduces the theme of distorted Victorian Morality. In this novel Hardy deals with issues of morality in two ways: the relativity of moral values and the opposition between man-made laws and Nature. 

Religious belief is constantly questioned: Hardy regards Christianity as a worthless degradation of primitive spiritual ideas such as the sun-worship. His view is that modern man is in a spiritually hopeless state, as Tess’s attitude on being captured. 

The end of old country life

Hardy introduces one of the main themes of the novel: the destruction of the English peasantry due to the extension of capitalism farming. 

The peasants became wage-earners and the old yeoman class was bound to disappear; the old rhythms of country life were destroyed by mechanization. 

6. Jude the Obscure (1895)

The plot

Jude Fawley has ambitions to become a student at the University of Christminster. He works as a stone-mason and studies. After his marriage ends disastrously, he moves to Christminster where he hopes to fulfill his dream and he meets his cousin Sue Bridehead. They fall in love, Sue takes in the son who was born from Jude’s first marriage and bears Jude a son and a daughter. This relationship causes a scandal. Jude loses his job and after their children die. 

Jude’s obscurity

Hardy follows the Victorian convention of placing an orphan at the center of the story but denies him the possibility of fulfilling his hopes. 

Despite the social criticism, the tragedy of Jude is mainly of frustration and loneliness. Jude is obscure because he doesn’t exist for others. 

After he becomes a ‘self-specter’ and his attempt to improve himself fails in the face of centuries of accumulated class prejudice: his ambitions and sensibility separate him from his own class. 

Sue Bridehead represents the heroine, an intellectual woman. She seems to promise freedom and strength but she is frustrated and unstable with her nature. 

Sue is unconventional but fragile and she accepts the rules of society even if they make her unhappy. 

A departure into the modern novel

Jude the Obscure represents a departure from Victorianism. 

Hardy develops the story through the characters’ repetitive dialogues, denying the narrator the possibility to explain and interpret things. 

In this way, he anticipates the aesthetics and tragic quality of the modern novel by means of a two-voiced process of analysis of the human psyche. It differs both from the stream of consciousness and the interior monologue.

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