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ELT 40:2 1997 Hardy: A Literary Life James Gibson. Thomas Hardy: A Literary Life. London: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996. xi + 206 pp. $29.95 LIKE OTHER excellent shorter surveys of Hardy's life and work already available in such studies as those by Desmond Hawkins and Timothy Hands, James Gibson's Thomas Hardy: A Literary Life justifies its appearance by its special focus. In this case, Gibson conforms to the stated objective of the Macmillan Literary Lives series to "follow the outline of writers' working lives, not in the spirit of traditional biography, but aiming to trace the professional, publishing and social contexts which shaped their writing." Gibson divides the outline of his literary life of Hardy into three phases each of about thirty years: "Preparing to Be a Writer (1840-70)," "The Novelist (1870-97)," and "The Poet (1898-1928)." These, in turn, are subdivided into such spatial-temporal categories as "Dorset, 1867-70" and "London and Dorset 1874-85," though it is a rather odd "outline," since no equivalent heading is provided for the period 1885 to 1897, and the third major period is provided with just a single sub-heading, "Dorset, 1898-1928." In the first of these major sections, Gibson ranges over the influence of family, music, religion, architecture, art, and literature as formative influences on Hardy's writing; here he is both adroit and revealing in the ways he points out how such diverse matters as Hardy's sister's Salisbury Training College experiences, his awareness of a dispute between Horace Moule and his father, and his reading of major Romantic poets would later be reflected in his fiction and poetry. Curiously lacking, however, are some major intellectual influences on Hardy: Darwin is mentioned, but not Mill, Comte, Frederic Harrison, Fourier, Leslie Stephen, the authors oÃ- Essays and Reviews, Huxley, or Von Hartmann. And, on rare occasions, Gibson draws upon interpretations of influences that seem less than persuasive—e.g., that Hardy's description of Gabriel Oak with lamp in hand is a visual echo of Holman Hunt's The Light of the World. Usually, however, Gibson negotiates the treacherous field of relating Hardy's manifold life experiences to his literary production with circumspection, tact, and good sense. Although Gibson's treatment of the three phases of Hardy's life is reasonably balanced, the last is somewhat slighted, and I confess to wishing that the section dealing with the "poetic" part of Hardy's life had been longer. There is no one in the world who knows more about 194 BOOK REVIEWS Hardy's poetry than James Gibson and no one equipped to deal with it more illuminatingly. Hardy's defense of his poetry as "gothic" in form, for example, leads Gibson to a brief but telling analysis of the "cunning irregularity" of Hardy's "The Colour." An observation on Hardy's strong sense of time is illustrated by short discussions of time in such poems as "Beyond the Last Lamp" and "Beeny Cliff and a comparison of their effects with the Volta in a Petrarchan sonnet. And there is much more of the same. Would that there had been room for even more of those subtle poetic analyses from a man whose scholarly acumen and poetic sensibility is unexcelled in the world of Hardy studies—particularly since some space might have been better used for it. I wish, for example, that Gibson had not spent a full page correcting Lois Deacon's now thoroughly discredited theses about Hardy and Tryphena Sparks; I wonder, too, whether the fact that the publisher Tinsley was bought up by Chatto and Windus accounts for the Chatto imprint on later editions of Under the Greenwood Tree is sufficiently important to warrant even mentioning. But with a few such exceptions, I think Gibson has used the limited space available to him wisely. He is particularly good in putting Hardy's literary life in a financial context that is often overlooked—as he does in this shrewd observation on Hardy's shift from fiction to poetry: It was almost certainly money that kept him writing novels for several more years. His success and reputation as a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 194-196
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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