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158 ACCIDENT AND FATE: THE POSSIBILITY FOR ACTION IN A PAIR OF BLUE EYES By Arthur K. Amos (University of California, Davis) Concluding his commentary on Hardy's A Pair of Blue Eyes, Richard C. Carpenter notes that the novel Is a failure because the novelist "did not recognize the power of traditional forms [comedy and tragedy ] In shaping our reaction, so that A Pair of Blue Eyes, In many ways the most powerful of the minor novels, remains a tale lacking In general appeal."1 This judgment rests upon Carpenter's claim that A Pair of Blue Eyes begins by setting a comic current In motion and end's only after expectation and desire have been seriously thwarted by a turning aside to tragedy. But the novel Is unified; as a careful analysis will show, even In Its most optimistic moments the narrative has expectant shadows of failure« Related to the problem of the novel's unity Is the problem of adequately defining the sense which the novel leaves with Its reader. As Carpenter notes early In his discussion, neither "tragedy" nor "comedy" is an adequate term to describe the feeling of the novel. Certainly the quality of punishment felt as Stephen Smith and Henry Knight walk from the grave of Elfride Swancourt lacks the intensity that is associated with tragedies. Moreover, the nature of Elfride's marriage to Lord Luxellian and of her death is left open, so much so that Knight tells Stephen, 'She is beyond our love, and let her be beyond our reproach. Since we don't know half the reasons that made her do as she did, Stephen, how can we say, even now, that she was not pure and true in heart?· (p. 430)2 Although the novel is not clearly a tragedy, it is not clearly a comedy either; the losses suffered by the major characters prohibit that sense of the novel from dominating our response. Finally, the use of "comitragedy" to describe A Pair of Blue Eyes is, insofar as it is not precisely defined,3 merely an admission of the inadequacy of "comedy" and "tragedy" without provision of a viable substitute. This problem can be solved only through the recognition of at least four factors operating simultaneously in the reading experience which are Involved In the sense of the novel as a whole» story the formal structure of the book or what it says; meaning - what the novel means or its conceptual structure; rhetoric - the way the story is told or its formal presentation; and the reader's needs or conceptual validity - the final response both to the modes of perception apparently promised the reader and to those actually given him by the novel. The problem of defining the sense of the novel Is, then, far more complex that the simple labels "tragedy" and "comedy" would imply and its solution requires 159 a separation and identification of these four components. In the analysis that follows we shall discover that although the story is an irony in which the world seems ruled by fate, we are directed toward a romantic principle according to which a character who chooses to assert himself can gain limited rewards. We shall see, moreover, that the rhetoric of the novel makes clear the limited vision of the story in contrast to its implications . ii The problem of unity is rather easy to handle, for those critics who have sensed a division between what they call the comic impetus of the first portion of the novel and the novel's tragic outcome have simply not paid close enough attention to clues imbedded in the surface story. Early in the novel, theses clues set in motion undercurrents of failure that ultimately dominate the action. Thus, for example, early in the novel we are aware that both Stephen and the narrator are withholding certain information and so we become uneasy. When Stephen is first on his way to Endelstow rectory he is curious enough about Lord Luxellian's house to make Lickpan, his driver, think that he has changed his mind about his destination . And his response to Lickpan1s identification of the house implies knowledge which as far as...


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pp. 158-167
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