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ELT: Volume 33:4 1990 remarkable is narrow, often tangled, and for that very reason perennially fascinating. Keith Wilson University of Ottawa Hardy's Men and Women in Love T. R. Wright. Hardy and the Erotic. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989. χ + 150 pp. $39.95 "THOSE OFT ARE STRATAGEMS which errors seem, / Nor is it Hardy nods but we that dream." For T. R. Wright, critics dream when they charge Hardy's work with "clumsiness, confusion, incoherence and self-contradiction," and in his Hardy and the Erotic he hopes to awaken readers to Hardy's treatment of a universal theme: "the distortions and displacements involved in the erotic fantasies men and women weave around each other." Wright's method is to analyze the fiction—Hardy's novels primarily, but also the short stories and even the autobiography, "perhaps the most distorted piece of fiction he wrote"—in chronological order so as to show how this theme develops. Thus, he begins with The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, then moves to the early novels (Under the Greenwood Tree and Λ Pair of Blue Eyes), the novels of the middle period (Far from the Madding Crowd and The Return of the Native), two novels of the 1880s (The Mayor of Casterbridge and The Woodlanders), selected stories from four collections of short stories, and concludes with three separate chapters on Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, and The Well-Beloved. Wright justifies yet another study of the erotic element in Hardy's fiction by claiming to take a new approach to the subject. Actually he takes two approaches rather than one, the not-so-new Freudian and the currently popular poststructuralist. Since both of these deal with this main theme of Hardy's fiction, distortions created by erotic fantasies, they seem to Wright to be particularly illuminating theories . Unfortunately, in this book he is not able to make either one yield much new information about the subject. The Freudian analysis produces the usual sexual symbols, and so, despite the Master, a cigar is never just a cigar. Thus it is that one character, accoutered with riding crop and sword, becomes "a walking symbol of male potency." The overreaching that is typical of Freudian criticism sometimes combines with awkward attempts to apply Freud's ideas directly to the text. Wright, for example, quotes 472 Book Reviews Hardy's description of a young woman from The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy: '"an Amazon; more, an Atalanta; most, a Faustina. Smokes: Handsome girl: cruel small mouth: she's of the class of interesting women one would be afraid to marry.'" The interpretative introduction to this description is "Hardy also shows himself to be aware of the whole syndrome of psychical impotence [defined by Freud] from which he and his generation suffer." Is such awareness required to describe a femme fatale? And does Hardy's description justify the interpretation contained in a sentence immediately following the quotation: "Proximity and availability, he [Hardy] recognizes, would not only dampen his ardour but exhaust his capability"? For all we know, Hardy may have recognized this and many other things as well, but to say that he does recognize it, with no more evidence than this brief passage, is saying too much. Poststructuralism does not help to understand the erotic element in Hardy's fiction very much, either. Possibly it might, but Wright does little more with it than to make occasional references to "Barthes' hermeneutical code" and to a "Lacanian symbol," scattering these over his pages like so much seasoning to add piquancy to the fare. There is no concerted attempt to apply the principles and methods of this critical approach to the text. For that matter, the Freudian criticism is superadded, too, and the result is a very traditional and rather plodding excursion through Hardy's fiction, in which the author summarizes novels and short stories, making not very insightful remarks along the way. There is, for instance, an account of the plot of "A Changed Man," a short story about a man and woman who fall in love and then out of love. The only interpretive comment on the story is "Desire, it...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 472-473
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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