- A Companion to Thomas Hardy
Like the many other titles in the Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture series, this volume offers comprehensive, newly written work that meets the needs of experienced undergraduates, [End Page 103] graduate students, and all who seek the best recent scholarship on Hardy. No one is better equipped to put such a volume together than Keith Wilson, a member of ELT's Advisory Board who has devoted years to creating scholarly editions of Hardy's fiction and letters; writing an important study, Hardy on Stage; editing Thomas Hardy Reappraised (2006); and steadily contributing to scholarship about Hardy.
Divided into five parts, the volume ranges through Hardy's life, the intellectual and sociocultural contexts of his works, the works themselves, and Hardy's legacy in the modern world. Each of the thirty essays includes a state-of-the-art examination of its topic with examples and citations from the best in recent literary criticism; and many contain ample suggestions for further work for future scholars. In his introduction Wilson remarks that one virtue of the present study is that the usual bifurcation of Hardy's work—into the Victorian novelist and the twentieth-century poet—receives less emphasis as many of the studies bring the fiction and the poetry "into a more seamless relationship to each other." The excellent material in this volume, which has everything to recommend it, calls for broader and deeper commentary than is possible here. What follows is a series of points that future scholars might find fruitful to pursue.
The first essay, Michael Millgate's "Hardy as Biographical Subject," deftly exposes Hardy's role in constructing his own fable of identity, meticulously and perhaps obsessively ghostwriting the work that would ultimately appear to be written by his wife in an authorized or official family biography. On balance, Millgate asserts, we are better off with than without The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy. But there is room for future research: what did Hardy read and when? We know he met other luminaries: when, what did he know of them, they of him, what did they say? What prompted him to treat life in the spirit of art?
The volume's second section, "The Intellectual Context," represents a far-ranging series of seven essays that probe the background against which Hardy wrote. Phillip Mallett's "Hardy and Philosophy," for example, examines Hardy's thought in relation to Comte, Harrison, Mill, and Schopenhauer, not so much for Hardy's conclusions or formation of a personal philosophy as for his sharing with these thinkers "an urgent need to question the terms on which we hold our existence." George Levine's essay on Hardy and Darwin has a dual focus: looking first at the quest for "fullness" in both writers and whether it can be achieved through secularity, Levine then connects it to the second framing idea of "enchantment" as the work of Jane Bennett illustrates. Levine has [End Page 104] a most useful exposition of seven points Darwin and Hardy have in common and concludes with a remarkable observation: "Like Darwin, Hardy could not look at the mindless procession of the world without feeling. Against the interpretation that Darwin's rationalism and intellectualization of the world had stripped it of meaning and value, Hardy looks with Darwinian eyes and re-enchants it." Certainly, further exegeses of the novels might take this as a point of departure.
In "Hardy and the Place of Culture" Angelique Richardson discusses the extent to which culture can modify nature in Hardy's work and the divergence from Darwin's perspective one finds in Hardy's treatment of the role of culture in human life. Yet just as Darwin and Mill diverged on the notions of "instinct" and "moral instinct" in the "Nature/Nurture" debate, so Hardy diverges from Mill and other contemporaries in finding a "Golden Rule" that becomes inclusive of all men (members of one corporeal frame) and "the whole animal kingdom." Secularizing the "Golden Rule" and bringing it into line with a needful "rationalization" forms part of...