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147 FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD AND THE WOODLANDERS: HARDY'S GROTESQUE PASTORALS By Charles E. May (California State University, Long Beach) Although Thomas Hardy's novels have elicited more criticism than those of any Victorian writer except Dickens, many critics have always agreed that Hardy did not write novels at all; thus, they have had to consider his fiction within some other generic tradition than the novel as it is usually defined. The immediate cause of this genre problem is that Hardy did not want to write novels, did not even consider the novel a serious art form. Forced by economic necessity to turn from poetry, he wished, for the money, "merely to be considered a good hand at a serial."! However, since he was not sure how to be a "good hand," he was willing to accept any advice or to imitate any successful model. The story of Meredith's rejection of his first manuscript and his advice to Hardy to write a novel with a "more complicated plot" is well-known. Albert Guerard summarizes the indifferent method by which Hardy wrote his first four published novels quite succinctly: "Meredith's suggestion led to the melodrama of Desperate Remedies, Morley's praise of a country scene led to the ruralism of Under the Greenwood Tree, Stephen's demand for more action led to the complex plotting of Far From the Madding Crowd, the critical insistence on his pastoral qualities drove him by reaction to The Hand of Ethelberta."2 However, a more significant cause of the genre problem of Hardy's fiction is that the novel was inimical to Hardy's essentially tragic vision of the world - a vision which was poetic rather than realistic, individual rather than social. In the best early study of Hardy's fiction, Lascelles Abercrombie said that Hardy solved this problem in his six best novels by turning to the classical forms of drama and epic.3 Several years later, David Cecil agreed and urged that if we are to see Hardy's vision in the right perspective, we "must adjust pur mental eyes to envisage life in the tragic and epic focus."4 Morton Dauwen Zabel suggested a similar generic readjustment when he pointed out that Hardy's novels have little to do with the tradition of naturalistic fictions Hardy belongs rather to a succession of novelists that includes Melville, Emily Brontë, Hawthorne, and later Joyce, Gide and Kafka.5 The implication here, one that Hardy would have agreed with, is that his fiction should not be read as novel but as romance ; the focus is on fabulistic rather than realistic action." However, Hardy could not escape the nineteenth-century British convention of the novel as a complexly-plotted form. Hardy, as Arthur Mizener has pointed out, also was unable to free himself completely from the "naturalistic assumption that narrative must be significant historically rather than fabulously." His vision was not finely enough conceived, Mizener says, to make him discard the naturalistic form altogether ¡ it was only "strong enough to make him stretch that form to the breaking point by 148 the use of devices which have no place in his kind of novel."? Walter Allen goes further to posit the essential cause of Hardy's failure: "Hardy, as a man of his time and place, had no completely adequate myth through which his view of the nature of things could be bodied forth."8 Similarly, David Cecil is also forced to admit that although Hardy went back to Elizabethan models for his fiction, the Elizabethan mythus was not available to him. Whereas the Elizabethans saw man against a religious background, Hardy saw man "as a transient product of some automatic principle of life which had cast him into a universe of which he knew nothing, and to whom - as far as he could see his hopes and fears were of no significance whatever."9 This incompatibility between Hardy's vision and the classic and Elizabethan forms he tried to adopt has caused the generic problems which have plagued the critics. The generic problem has been the center of critical controversy over the two "tragic novels": The Return of the Native and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 147-158
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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