- Thomas Hardy
The focus in Hardy studies still veers toward the extratextual: biographical activities continue to flourish (as noticed here, in 2004), even branching out into an array of hybrid forms. There are several varieties of this in circulation. Roger Ebbatson, in "The Authorial Double: Hardy and Florence Henniker" (An Imaginary England: Nation, Landscape and Literature, 1840-1920 [Ashgate, 2005]), certainly has something of a literary cross-breed in applying the device of the doppelgänger to Hardy's creative writing activity with Henniker. Ebbatson explains, "Whereas it [the double] is a literary strategy customarily employed to expand, deepen and disturb realist narrative and characterization, in Thomas Hardy and Florence Henniker's collaborative story 'The Spectre of the Real' it is the figure of the authorial double which generates a fascinatingly unstable text" (p. 84).
The doppelgänger device, whereby a character is self-duplicated, has produced protagonists as antithetical as Jekyll and Hyde, as self-alienated as Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, and as sinister, or troubling, as Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein. The divided self, in the world of psychoanalysis, theorizes a concept—or concepts—of splitting consciousness between ego, id, and superego. Whichever way you look at it, the doppelgänger is problematic.
Ebbatson's focus is on the "inconsistencies" of the "Spectre" text. These he says, can be traced to:
1. the "economic and social situation of the 1890s, in respect both to the debate about women's status and to the imperial project"
2. the "uncertainties surrounding the composition of literary audiences and issues concerning female authorship"
3. the "unresolved erotic relations between Hardy and Mrs. Henniker"
4. [please note the "Mrs."]
Ebbatson cites Paul Coates who claims that the fin-de-siècle period was preoccupied with the concept of Unheimlichkeit, a Freudian term used to describe things which should remain secret and hidden but which are revealed. He feels that Unheimlichkeit is generated in the "Spectre" story via the "return of a presumed dead husband" (p. 83). So perhaps now we can dispense with Ebbatson's 1, 2, and 3. After all, 1 and 2 applied to the entire twenty-year period of Hardy's novel-writing career and 3 is far too loosely speculative, too much of an assumption, to be useful. What, for instance, is an "unresolved erotic relation"? Sexually non-consummated? How would anyone know? Must we assume, as Hardy's male biographers do, from the many letters and [End Page 352] other relevant, available documents, that if these two met up almost every day for many years (and if they didn't meet they constantly wrote letters, and even when they were meeting every day they still constantly wrote letters), that "erotic" must have been an element in their relationship? Possibly. That seems a reasonable assumption. But, and herein lies the catch, must we also assume (with Hardy's male biographers), that he was the "romantic" partner and she merely the dutiful wife to a dutiful military husband? To those of us who have studied Hardy's correspondence (Ebbatson does not include the Collected Letters in his bibliography), it does not appear that the "erotic" element is one-sided and unresolved. There is far too much reciprocal intensity, far too much seeking out by Henniker, far too much need in the She-To-Him connection, for the relationship to be anything other than mutually desiring and desirable. Take the month of June 1893 alone, shortly after their first meeting: she asks him to send her letters chronicling his "doings," to send her a book on architecture and to show her around London's architectural gems, to give her his photograph, to send her a copy of Tess, to annotate her copy of Tess, to find out something concerning Ibsen (a play she would like to see with him?); then, on her side of the gift-exchange she gives him a silver inkstand on which she has the words engraved "T.H. FROM F.H." All of this in the space of a few weeks. From a dutiful wife?
In addition, who is to say where "erotic" begins or ends? Some critics, arguing from art to life...