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Garson makes a double claim about the focus of her book: first that she reads the novels as fables of the self, concerned for the construction and dissolution of the self, and second that Hardy's concern for integrity and wholeness not only distorts his material but reveals a "somatic anxiety"—a fear about bodily dissolution. Garson examines psychic dissolution as well as physical dissolution in Hardy's characters, disjunctions or instabilities in the texts that suggest the texts themselves are disintegrating, and figurative parallels to these in the settings of Hardy's novels—in nature, town, or house. In contrast to those who read Hardy's novels as exhibiting clear moral fables, using methods of realism to construct characters and setting as a part of carefully controlled fiction, Garson sees a subversive subtext—a fable that subverts the pattern of the narrative. Although the seven major novels are shown to have individual qualities, Garson's reading concentrates on how they are alike, that is, in carrying Hardy's private myth and private obsessions which she identifies as anxieties about male wholeness, especially in relation to woman's wholeness. Garson notices patterns in which the woman as M(Other) is often presented symbolically, in curiously doubling ways as positive and negative, whose own' wholeness may be called into question, but who nonetheless exposes male fragmentation.
Garson's approach focuses not on integrity, as the title might suggest, but on the dissolution of the texts, bodies, and women into fragmented parts, and on a process that seems to make the male the most vulnerable. Her readings highlight aspects of the novels that have not fit readily into critical modes that focus on coherence. Garson examines gaps, absences in logic or scenes, as well as any action or desire that is overdetermined for evidence of a subtext that points to female wholeness and male need.
In her critical procedures, Garson announces her particular indebtedness to Lacan and critics who have applied his paradigms to criticism, especially those of the corps morcelé and specularity. Garson's book has no formal concluding chapter, but her conclusion is effectively stated in her final chapter on Jude the Obscure. Garson concludes that Hardy's best novels or most satisfying novels are the ones in which Hardy's anxieties about the dissolution of the body are repressed in the main plot only to "return obliquely . . . and under pressure in figurative ways." Hardy's poems, Garson claims, work differently from the novels because they lack the space needed for effective repression. Garson concludes that the reading public responded positively to the novels because Hardy's surface moral and generic patterns masked anxieties they shared as well.
Part of the appeal of Garson's book is her attention to the ways in which Hardy's canonical works remain satisfying as we recognize how our own anxieties are both evoked and repressed in the text as a kind of parodic "(M)Other of us all." Garson's book is best suited to readers ready to dwell in the subtext of repressed anxiety although she has given enough attention to the surface patterns of plot and fable to entice the reader back to the novels, for a second, or twentieth [End Page 955] read. For readers temperamentally at odds with Hardy's narrative voice, Garson's attention to its figurative density and intricacy of allusiveness may provide a reading strategy that could illuminate a powerful subtext.