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Revisiting Hardy's Verse Dramas: A Review Essay Keith Wilson University of Ottawa The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy, Volume TV: 'The Dynasts' Parts First and Second. Samuel Hynes, ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. xxviii + 422 pp. $85.00 The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy, Volume V: 'The Dynasts' Part Third, 'The Queen of Cornwall' and Other Dramatic Pieces. Samuel Hynes, ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. χ + 409 pp. $79.00 PUBLICATION of the last two volumes of Samuel Hynes's magnificent edition of Hardy's complete poetry makes available for the first time genuine scholarly texts of the verse dramas: The Dynasts (1904-1908) and The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall (1923). Also included in Volume V are Hardy's versions of two traditional Dorset folk works: The Play of 'Saint George' ("As Aforetime Acted By The Dorsetshire Christmas Mummers," 1921), and the "operetta" "O Jan, O Jan, O Jan ('Being A Recension Of A Wessex Folk-Piece'" [unpublished in Hardy's lifetime]). The completion of this arduous five-volume project, the first part of which appeared in 1982, is a milestone in the process by which Oxford, whether in its consistently reliable World's Classics series or in such full scholarly Clarendon Press editions as those of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Woodlanders, The Collected Letters, and now the poetry, has been advancing Hardy textual scholarship since Macmillan lost copyright in 1978. This is perhaps an appropriate time, therefore, to reflect on the place Hardy's verse dramas occupy in both our conception of the whole canon and our sense of how Hardy himself might have viewed his own career from the perspective of its later years. What now seem almost self-evi333 ELT 39:3 1996 dent categories of majority, minority, and flawed eccentricity—even to those of us amenable to Peter Widdowson's suggestion1 that the constitution of "Thomas Hardy" could, and perhaps should, be rather different from what a century's-worth of criticism has made it—may well not have looked so obvious to either Hardy himself or his contemporaries. Certainly there is considerable evidence that The Dynasts, that vast "Epic-Drama of the War with Napoleon, in Three Parts, Nineteen Acts, and One Hundred and Thirty-One Scenes," here spread so expansively across the bulk of Hynes's final two volumes, was not always read almost exclusively by scholars and critics. On his 81st birthday, 2 June 1921, Hardy received a congratulatory address from 106 younger writers. It contained what seems from a modern vantage point a surprising tacit judgment on the relative status of his works. After complimenting him for having "crowned a great prose with a noble poetry," the tribute continued: "We thank you, Sir, for all that you have written ... but most of all, perhaps, for The Dynasts."2 The appearance in 1908 of The Dynasts's final volume had elicited less united critical acclaim, although the response was certainly more positive than that accorded publication of the first volume four years earlier, when Hardy had entered into uncustomary public debate with A. B. Walkley, drama critic of the Times, over the choice of genre and the question of performability (an exchange included by Hynes as one of his fifth-volume appendices). Able in 1908 to see, for the first time, this strange generic hybrid as a whole, most critics, while impressed with its ambitious historical and philosophical scope, were only cautiously complimentary. Reviewing it for the Times Literary Supplement (27 February 1908), Harold Child asked a question implicit in many of the more qualified judgments, seemingly without recognising the finality of the decision Hardy had taken in 1896, after the publication οι Jude the Obscure, to renounce novel-writing: "by which would Mr. Hardy's fame and his readers' good have won the greater increase—The Dynasts, or the three novels which might have taken its place?"3 Writing in the Quarterly Review a year later, after the post-publication critical dust had had time to settle, Henry Newbolt was considerably more enthusiastic . Under the titular identification of "A New Departure in English Poetry," he resorted to robust wayfaring imagery in a strained attempt to establish...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 333-344
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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