- Reappraising Hardy
In his introduction to Thomas Hardy Reappraised, Keith Wilson points out that before Michael Millgate's publication of Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist in 1971, biographical information about Hardy was greatly limited, his novels and poems existed in inferior editions, few of his letters had appeared in print, only one of Hardy's notebooks had been adequately edited and, because of all this, critics were hampered by a lack of solid information about Hardy. Today that situation has greatly changed—in very large measure as a result of the profoundly original scholarly achievement of Michael Millgate. This festschrift by fifteen well-known scholars is an expression of gratitude for that extraordinary accomplishment, and what is appropriately striking about such a collection of studies is how remarkably original and how soundly scholarly they are.
The collection opens with Pamela Dalziel's "The Gospel According to Hardy" in which she reprints a newly discovered, strikingly evangelical sermon, written and signed by Hardy when he was eighteen [End Page 99] years old. Dalziel persuasively argues that, when considered along with other evidence, the sermon suggests that Hardy's account of his early religious experiences in Life and Work minimizes what probably were more strongly felt early evangelical views. In a tribute to the dean of Hardy's biographers, it is an appropriately original biographical revelation. The following study, "'My Scripture Manner': Reading Hardy's Biblical and Liturgical Allusion" by Mary Rimmer, carefully surveys the "shiftiness" of Hardy's allusions, particularly in Far from the Madding Crowd, The Hand of Ethelberta, and Jude the Obscure, and, after taking partial issue with Timothy Hands by arguing that Hardy's allusions not only aim at "denigration of religion" but simultaneously register "a residual sense of possible belief," she concludes that "biblical language in Hardy's texts flickers along the spectrum of belief, nostalgic reverence, humour, and mockery." In this case, Rimmer's concluding generalizations are, it seems to me, less important than the subtle analyses she makes of the complex ways they function in the three novels.
Next, Dennis Taylor's "Hardy and Hamlet" provides detailed information on the stages of Hardy's reading of Hamlet and a close consideration of his interaction with the play based largely on Hardy's extensive annotations in his 1863 Singer edition of Shakespeare's works, with particular attention to Hardy's philological observations, his directorial insights, and textual interpretations—the latter extensively analyzed. This is followed by a close and revealing analysis of the influence of Hamlet on Hardy's creative work, though his concluding suggestion that King Hamlet's ghost was a "seminal" influence on Hardy's work is more speculative than what precedes it. To this Taylor helpfully adds over twenty Shakespeare references not mentioned in other sources. Barbara Hardy's "Literary Allusion: Hardy and Other Poets," on the other hand, makes no attempt to be exhaustive, but, rather, focuses on a critical and discriminating analysis that evaluates Hardy's references as ranging from "arbitrary or superficial allusion, pondered quotation or reminiscence, and imaginative engagement or dialogue with writers and texts." Her analysis of allusions to Tennyson in A Pair of Blue Eyes is especially revealing.
In "Hardy's Subterranean Child," U. C. Knoepflmacher calls attention to the variety of ways that innocence and experience interact in Hardy's treatment of children in both his prose and poetry. He argues effectively for a broader range of roles in Hardy's child characters than is usually assumed, and, certainly, makes that point, but he expends [End Page 100] nearly ten pages on "The Withered Arm" and "Our Exploits at West Poley"—much of that summary—and the remaining five are given to discussion of children in Hardy's poetry, in which only three poems are examined in detail. There are, too, small errors of fact: in comparing Leonard and Steve in "West Poley" with characters in a Twain novel, he confuses Becky Thatcher with Huckleberry Finn, and in remarking that "The Calf" in The Book of Baby...