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175 2. Thomas Hardy J. I. M. Stewart, Thomas Hardy: A_ Critical Biography. London: Longman, 1971. Mr. Stewart has already written at length on Hardy in his Eight Modern Writers (Vol. XII of the Oxford History of English Literature, Oxford, I963). For all its bulk, the QHEL is not exempt from the fault to which shorter literary histories fall victim, the Cook'stour superficiality that stems from dealing with too much material too rapidly; and it must be said that Mr. Stewart's new book, although it is about four times as long as his earlier essay, suffers from the same weakness only to a lesser degree. In some 230 pages he covers Hardy s life and background, his autobiography, and the prose and verse of sixty years. Necessarily, therefore, some of the material gets short shrift: a brief chapter on Minor Fiction succeeds in disposing of five novels and nearly fifty short stories in fifteen pages, and while this is an improvement on the two pages the same material is given in the QHEL volume, the suspicion that, at this stage in the history of Hardy criticism, such novels as Two on a Tower and The WeIlBeloved call for more than a passing mention is irresistible. It is not so much that one would wish to quarrel with Mr. Stewart's discriminations between the major and minor novels; rather that the lesser work can now be seen to have an interest in relation to Hardy s total achievement which does not justify its casual dismissal. Nor can one readily accept the account of the short stories as "pot-boilers" except in the rather obvious sense that, like some of the best Victorian fiction, they were written to fill the pages of periodicals and were duly approved and paid for by an editor. Seven of the fourteen novels receive a chapter each, and two early novels, Desperate Remedies and Under the Greenwood Tree, shaire another; there are further chapters on the Life, the Private Life, the Intellectual Background and the Major Poetry. There is a short and very selective bibliography, but no notes. The writing is clear and elegant, with some touches of the wit that is familiar to readers of Mr. Stewart's work (as in his description of the late C.J. Wever as "a devoted if not invariably persuasive student of Hardy"). He deals sensibly with the Tryphena theories, recognizes the importance of Mrs. Henniker, and is refreshingly appreciative of Desperate Remedies, a novel so often denigrated or ignored, as "notably good in its kind." It is inaccurate, however, to describe the notorious Spectator review of that work as "savage"; it is for the most part moderate in tone and constructive in its criticisms, and Hardy s extravagant reaction was surely excessive. It is also slightly misleading to say that "as a child [Hardy] had twice witnessed public hangings": the first occasion was after his sixteenth birthday, the second two or three years later. It would be unfair not to add that the intelligent appreciation and shrewd judgement which have been brought to the subject make this book highly readable and occasionally stimulating on details of interpretation . It contains little to excite the specialist, and there is some evidence - for example, in the lengthy plot-summaries - that the general reader rather than the student or scholar is addressed. Much of 176 the ground covered is familiar to anyone even cursorily acquainted with_earlier Hardy criticism, and some well-worn quotations make their inevitable appearance. The book invites comparison with such earlier general studies as those of Douglas Brown, A. J. Guérard and Carl J. Weber; and while the reader who is seeking a short survey of Hardy s work will find Mr. Stewart a pleasant and reliable guide, the view must be recorded that his book lacks the originiaity of thesis of Brown's study, the critical incisiveness of Guerard's, and the inclusiveness of Weber's. (Both the claim in the publisher's blurb that it is "comprehensive," and the subtitle Ά Critical Biography,· can only be accepted with strong reservations.) Professor Millgate's Thomas Hardy: his Career as a Novelist, also published last year, is a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 175-176
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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