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Thomas Hardy. The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, Volume Four: 1909-1913. Ed. Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate. New York: Oxford UP, 1984. 337 pp. $39.95.

During the five years covered by this volume, Hardy was chiefly consolidating his reputation as a poet. Wessex Poems, his first collection of verse, had appeared in 1898, followed by Poems of the Past and the Present in 1901 and The Dynasts in three parts between 1904 and 1908. In 1909 appeared one of his finest volumes, Time's Laughingstocks. Many of the poems destined to go into Satires of Circumstance (1914) were composed in 1912-13 after the death of his first wife. Moments of Vision would follow in 1917, Late Lyrics and Earlier in 1922, Human Shows in 1925, and Winter Words (1928) in the year of his death.

The period 1909-13, though closer to the end than the beginning of Hardy's long life (he was born in 1840), were crucial to his literary reputation. He [End Page 336] published a final collection of stories—A Changed Man and Other Tales —in 1913; he oversaw publication of the first volumes of the Wessex Edition, which remains the most authoritative collection of his works largely because it incorporates all the extensive revisions of his fiction he began to undertake in these years; he received the Order of Merit—and, rather ungraciously, the gold medal of the Society of Authors, of which he was elected president upon the death of Meredith in 1909; he was elected to the Royal Society, and—after a year-long fracas at Cambridge—was granted an honorary degree from that university and made an honorary fellow of one of its colleges.

Genuinely shocked by the sudden death of his unloved wife Emma in November, 1912, and by the discovery of the "black" diaries she had been keeping about him, Hardy, who described Emma's literary remains (largely unflattering characterizations of himself) as "sheer hallucination" (1913), moved his future second wife, whom he had been seeing quietly for years at the homes of friends, into his house within seven months of Emma's demise. Two months after Emma's death, even as he announced to friends how sad and lonely he was, Hardy wrote to Florence: "If I get you here again won't I clutch you tight"; shortly after this she was being addressed as "My dearest girl."

There is little to surprise in this finely edited and printed volume—the fourth of a projected seven—perhaps because Hardy, with peasant cunning, seems to have outwitted his biographers and editors by concealing anything of real importance in his private life. Still—one notes with interest Hardy's comment on In Memoriam: "why Tennyson . . . should not have seen the awful anticlimax of finishing off such a poem with a highly respectable middle class wedding, is a mystery, when it ought to have ended with an earthquake" (1909); his admiration for Housman and for Swinburne, who died in 1909 ("I read him as he came out"); his suggestion (1909) that Westminster Abbey add "a heathen annexe . . . strictly accursed by the Dean & clergy" to house godless poets; his contempt for Meredith's later fiction: "to indulge in psychological analysis of the most ingenious kind in the crisis of an emotional scene is fatal—high emotion demanding simplicity of expression above all things" (1909); his characterization of Tess of the d'Urbervilles as "not written to prove anything. . . . A certain character was imagined to feel at a certain time of his life that god was not in his Heaven, & there was an end of it" (1909); his observation (1911) that "literary composition . . . interferes largely with the digestion; I don't think it affects one much in any other way"; his conviction (1911) that Henry James was "the other" major living writer of English; his declaration as he began revising his novels for the Wessex Edition that Clym Yeobright in The Return of the Native "is the nicest of all my heroes, and not a bit like me," and that "taking up the Woodlanders & reading it after many years I think I like it, as a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 336-338
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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