Thomas Hardy
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Thomas Hardy

This has been the year of biography for Thomas Hardy. Most newsworthy, less for its scholarship than for the sensationalized publicity it invited and received, is Thomas Hardy's "Facts" Notebook: A Critical Edition (Ashgate, 2004), edited by William Greenslade. The manuscript of this Notebook,more accurately entitled by Hardy, "Facts From Newspapers, Histories, Biographies, & other chronicles—(mainly Local)," has been in circulation for some time now. It was retained, after Hardy's death, by his second wife, Florence Emily Hardy, for the completion of The Early Life and The Later Years—Hardy's autobiography, published posthumously under Florence Emily's name in accordance with the well-respected convention of pseudonymous authorship.

It is important to note, at the outset, that Hardy's title—"Facts From Newspapers, Histories, Biographies, & other chronicles—(mainly Local)"—truthfully represents the contents of the Notebook, whereas Greenslade's title, "Facts," is misleading. The implications of this are far-reaching—not least for the notoriety attending the publication of Greenslade's book which brought accusations against Hardy of plagiarism (of which more anon). "Facts," or "raw data" (p. xxv) as Greenslade understands the word, are not what Hardy records in his Notebook. First, it is fairly evident, from the casual use of accidentals, inconsistent use of quotation marks, irregular use of abbreviations, alterations, erasures, incomplete headings, and other accessories of rough note-taking, that Hardy was not focussing on making a record of factual data. This is the man, after all, for whom textual accuracy, when necessary, was of paramount importance, most notably in the writing of poetry. This is not his concern in this Notebook. Second, as his title and notebook content both indicate, Hardy was employing the word "facts" as most of his contemporaries would have understood the word—to mean (from factum), a thing done, an action, deed, or course of conduct. And in making rough notes of the words and deeds of interest to him (mainly historical and cultural events), as previously reported by the press et al., it is clear that Hardy's notes are complicit with a degree of previously fictionalized narration. None of his named secondary sources (newspapers in particular), fulfils the precise requirements demanded of "raw data." Finally, as many of the emendations and modifications of his entries attest, Hardy was working in imaginative mode—he was not reading or writing scientific "fact."

It was the much publicized notion that Hardy had copied extracts from newspapers and other documents into a Notebook and that they were [End Page 369] to provide him with material for his novels and poems which recently drew national "scandal" headlines of borrowed plots, intellectual theft, and plagiarism. Greenslade's editorial style and in particular his insinuations invite this. It is not simply that the word "Facts" crops up about seventeen times in his short "Critical Introduction," giving the impression of verbatim transpositions of "hundreds of reports," of an obsessive copying of hard evidence, but that he then describes the activity as "habitual note-taking" (does keeping a commonplace book verge on an addiction?). Evidently, there is something not quite nice about this whole business! Take the following. Given the destruction of several of Hardy's notebooks, what is implied by the phrase, "the real extent of his private note-taking can now only be guessed at"? Or, what informs the statement that the "make-up of 'Facts' was far from straightforward"? And, what are we supposed to infer from the comment that "Hardy did not have to expose his copying . . . to public view." Or the insidious question: "Why did Hardy go to such lengths to obscure some of his sources, by erasing or excising items?" And so on, in this singularly unethical vein (pp. xv-xxiv). If Greenslade had ever studied a Hardy manuscript closely, he would have noticed the manner in which unwanted or undesirable segments are erased in closely hatched excisions. Evidently he seeks to create the impression of some sly, dishonest activity going on in the Hardy household at Max Gate.

The truth is that in observance of the time-honored tradition of the commonplace book Hardy kept literary notebooks from the outset of his...