Thomas Hardy. A review of Thomas Hardy: A Study of the Wessex Novels, by H. C. Duffin
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404 ] Thomas Hardy A review of Thomas Hardy: A Study of the Wessex Novels, by H. C. Duffin Manchester: University Press, 1916. Pp. vi + 218. The Manchester Guardian, 803 (23 June 1916) 3 This is an excellent book of its kind. It resembles, in form, a doctor’s thesis at an American university, and in substance a good set of Extension lectures. The youth of the writer, intimated by Dr. Herford’s prefatory testimonial, is indicated by the conscientious conventionality of the table of contents.1 Part I deals with the art of Hardy. Under this heading are grouped chapters on character, plot, use of the marvelous, nature and the lower animals, humour, style, and development. This part can be passed over rapidly; we are frankly bored when Mr. Duffin tabulates the novels in order of (1) gloom, (2)style,(3)character,(4)greatness,and(5)maturity;orwhenheindulgesin the exercise of expounding the difference between the realist, the typical, and the universal. The second part is concerned with the philosophy of Hardy, and has chapters on Hardy’s irony, views of God, nature, man, women, society, and pessimism. This part is much better than the first. Mr. Duffin is not, it is true, a critic. In spite of his wide acquaintance with comparative literature, his study is not really comparative. Of the value of Hardy’s ideas he fails to give a just estimate. The gift of detachment, the faculty of seizing upon the essential strength and weakness of his authors, are denied him. The “Philosophy of Hardy” presents no account of Hardy’s philosophy, and does not even succeed in showing that he has any. What Mr. Duffin does succeed in presenting is an admirable appreciation of certain of Hardy’s characters, and an analysis of Michael Henchard which is worth reading.2 The chapter devoted to Jude the Obscure is one of the best, although Mr. Duffin is inclined to expend too much space upon retelling the story; the chapter on Tess is also good. Mr. Duffin is right, no doubt, in objecting to the scene in the latter book where “it is early morning at the farm, and Tess has knocked at Clare’s door to awaken him and has then returned to her room to dress. When, a few moments later, he meetsheron the landing, he says peremptorily: ‘Now, Miss Flirt, before you go down. It is a [ 405 Thomas Hardy fortnight since I spoke, and this won’t do any longer. . . .’” [164] etc.3 Such a speech is certainly inappropriate to Angel Clare. Mr. Duffin is also right in objecting to the slaughter of Sue Bridehead’s children in Jude.4 This is a horror nearer to Cyril Tourneur than to Sophocles, and hints at a faint infection of decadence.5 Mr. Duffin has not drawn this conclusion, nor is the drawing of conclusions and generalizations his peculiar province. The style of the book is exuberant and immature, the criticisms of Hardy’s style not altogether felicitous. Mr. Duffin’s enthusiasm atones for many faults. Most of his praise of Jude and The Mayor of Casterbridge is just enough, but to rank Hardy with Fielding and Thackeray as the greatest masters of the English novel is the privilege of such enthusiasm.6 T. S. E. Notes 1. H. C. Duffin (1884-1974) was twenty-five years old when he published this book on the novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). His supervisor at the University of Manchester, C. H. Herford (1853-1931), contributed a preface saying that “a young writer, who has lived for years in intimate companionship with [Hardy’s] works . . . and who gives his impressions with absolute . . . sincerity, may well have something fresh and stimulating to say” (v). 2. Michael Henchard is the dissolute protagonist of The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), which TSE later referred to as Hardy’s “finest novel as a whole" (ASG 56). 3. The scene occurs in chapter 29 of Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891). 4. Duffin sees the violence in Hardy’s last novel, Jude the Obscure (1895), as going beyond the logical and probable limits in horror: “Hardy does not convince us that this ghastly catastrophe was inevitable. Something less awful would have satisfied more. It is Hardy’s parallel to the gouging out of Gloucester’s eyes” (197). 5. In Cyril Tourneur (1930), TSE was to say of the Jacobean dramatist (1575-1626) that The Revenger’s Tragedy expresses “an intense and unique and...


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