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BOOK REVIEWS Yeats would write, was that their king could not have it both ways, for "... Parnell loved his country/And Parnell loved his lass." Stanley Weintraub ________________ Pennsylvania State University Hardy Biography Martin Seymour-Smith. Hardy. London: Bloomsbury, 1994. χ + 886 pp. £25.00 BIOGRAPHIES come in all sorts and sizes. As far as size is concerned, it will be seen from the headnote that this is a very large one indeed, so large in fact that it demands to be rested on a surface when it is read for any length of time. But it is hardly likely, considering its sort, that many will wish to read it for more than a few minutes, so its bulk may not present a particular problem (except to those who have agreed to review it and are thus condemned to read the whole thing). Its sort may be briefly defined: it is populist, polemical and full of sarcasm. It has no footnotes, no page-references, so that anyone wishing to exercise some personal discrimination, to judge Seymour-Smith's version of an event or a detail against the version he attacks, dismisses or insults (the favoured modes of discourse in the biography) is only able to do so with considerable expense of time and ingenuity, and is often condemned to failure. The spurning of such aids to reader-verification or criticism is an aspect of the author's anti-academicism, but it also leads a reader to suspect that he either expects unquestioning acceptance , or is afraid of too close a scrutiny. It is a biography that offers very little new information. It is based for its facts almost entirely upon preceding biographies, on the collected letters, on Hardy's autobiography, his surviving notebooks and his fiction and verse. What it proposes to do is to provide for the reader a new view of the established facts, a new version of Hardy's life, and it is fair to say that from some of the 900 pages it is possible to derive an impression of the man and of his wives and family that is different from that proposed by most other biographical writers, especially those who have most recently considered his life: Robert Gittings (Young Thomas Hardy and The Older Hardy [London: Heinemann, 1975 & 1978]) and Michael Millgate (Thomas Hardy: A Biography [Oxford University Press, 1982]). Hardy is a very nasty book. It is full of baseless and gratuitous insults addressed on the one hand to some participants in Hardy's life and on the other to most of Hardy's previous biographers, especially Gittings 515 ELT 38:4 1995 and Millgate. This may sound titillating or even exciting, a reason to read the book; but in truth it becomes boring very rapidly. SeymourSmith 's opinion of these individuals is made clear in the first fifty pages, and the subsequent constant repetition is counter-productive; even a reader who knew nothing of previous biographies, or of the people in Hardy's life, would begin to question Seymour-Smith's judgment and would end up by imagining him in the grip of obsessive fantasies. No one aware, for instance, of the evidence concerning Florence Dugdale, the woman who became Hardy's second wife, would deny the plausibility that underlies Seymour-Smith's account of her as indiscreet , complaining, not specially gifted as a writer, not particularly good for Hardy, subject to rapid emotional acts and reactions. But the transparency of his dislike of her—almost hatred—and the need he reveals to interpret every piece of evidence in a light most damaging to her, has the effect of making the reader sympathize with her in the face of such naked aggression. He proposes, for instance, that Florence, though fundamentally afraid of sex, nevertheless was prepared to masturbate elderly men; why else, his implication is, would Sir Thomley Stoker have left her £2000, or Thomas Hardy have married her. It is characteristic of Seymour-Smith's fingering of the sexual in all things that he should suggest that Hardy's expression in the famous photograph of him and Florence on the beach at Aldeburgh might well be interpreted as post-orgasmic satisfaction (700). Anyone...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 515-518
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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