- Thomas Hardy Reappraised: Essays in Honour of Michael Millgate
As readers of this Quarterly will know, Michael Millgate has, over thirty-five years, produced volume after volume of editions of Hardy's correspondence and other material, a biography that genuinely deserves to be called 'magisterial,' and – my own favourite – a book of literary criticism that combines inventive and original research, deep insight into the stories and poems, and lucidity. That would be Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist. Each of the essays in this collection under review in its own way reflects research and understanding of Hardy's works suitable for a festschrift for Millgate. KeithWilson skilfully introduces the effective theme of the collection: Michael Millgate's protean contributions to Hardy studies are underscored by the variety of tacks the contributors take to various issues in Hardy's works and life. So, the fifteen essays range from Pamela Dalziel's exploration of the implications of a recently [End Page 304] uncovered sermon, written when Hardy was eighteen, for understanding his life-long inability to reconcile rationalism and religion, through J. Hillis Miller's application of twentieth-century philosophers (Martin Heidegger and Raymond Williams) to distinguish the members of a 'community' in The Return of the Native, to several essays about Hardy's uses of and relations with other writers.
Reappraised brings to mind not only Millgate's contributions to Hardy studies but how much Hardy can benefit from a reappraisal in the twenty-first century. When one asks oneself when the last truism-breaking study of Hardy appeared, it's deflating to realize it was in the early 1970s, which, fortuitously, saw the initial publication of both J. Hillis Miller's Thomas Hardy: Disappearance and Desire (1970) and Millgate's own Thomas Hardy: His Career a Novelist (1971). There have been since 1971 other excellent studies, as well as ambitious editions of Hardy's poetry and novels, and the revelation of facts about Hardy's life that has been Millgate's own subsequent focus. Of course it's the very nature of experimental criticism that we don't know what it can accomplish until it's done it. Among these contributors, for example, Marjorie Garson, George Levine, and Miller come as close as any to being avant-garde readers, but even their essays follow essentially traditional lines, or at least lines the authors have themselves followed previously. This Reappraisal, in other words, awaits, in this peculiar sense, its true manifestation.
Although concentrating on The Woodlanders, Levine juxtaposes a mass of parallel issues in Hardy – idealism/materiality, tragedy/comedy, theory/individual, conventions/challenge – in dealing once more with the impact of Darwin on Hardy (which, interestingly, Levine suggests was not as powerful in Hardy's early years as Hardy wanted people to think). Levine's is a fresh use of Darwin that encourages additional study. Indeed, part of the value of each essay is its identification of areas warranting further work, however well each contributor knows her or his field. Notably, Jeremy Steele writes the best essay on the classical underpinnings of The Well-Beloved that I know of. Mary Rimmer's examination of the 'shiftiness' of Hardy's mixture of secular and religious allusions makes clear that a century's worth of studies of Hardy's metaphors and allusions can be carried further, particularly in Hardy's non-Victorian uses of Bible passages. Dennis Taylor and Barbara Hardy also work with allusions and borrowings, involving Hamlet, in Taylor's case, and other poets, in Barbara Hardy's. Taylor, for example, studies both the editions of Hamlet Hardy owned or read and the allusions to or modified quotations from the play with which Hardy studded his work. Ruth Bernard Yeazell identifies various reflections of Dutch painting in Under the Greenwood Tree, and U.C. Knoepflmacher draws upon his unparalleled knowledge of Victorian [End Page 305] childhood to limn a few child characters in Hardy's fiction and poetry. Simon Gatrell in his usual calm innovative manner suggests his article on Hardy's employment of female dress...