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REVIEWS Marjorie Garson. Hardy's Fables ofIntegrity: Woman, Body, Text. Oxford: Clarendon, 1991. vin + 198. $64.95 CDN (cloth). Until the last decade or so criticism tended to overlook, castigate or explain away the often disjunctive and contradictory impulses of Thomas Hardy's fiction. Marjorie Garson's approach aUows her not only to accept the contradictions, but also to see them as central to Hardy's work. She concentrates on the subtextual fables in Hardy that run counter to "the obvious patterns which carry his moral" (2), and sees the "paradoxical power of Hardy's figurative style" as "its tendency to deconstruct itself" (160). Her critical stance thus has affinities with those of recent Hardy commentators such as Penny Boumelha, John Goode, Patricia Ingham, Peter Widdowson, and George Wotton, who have also produced a more complex and divided "Thomas Hardy" than they inherited from earlier critics. The subtext emphasized in Hardy's Fables ofIntegrity concerns somatic anxiety, or anxiety about bodily integrity (especially as it figures psychological integrity). Garson's analyses draw on the psychoanalytical theories of Freud and Jacques Lacan, and in some ways the central myth of this subtext echoes the Freudian family romance. The leading character of the myth, the Son, seeks wholeness but is exposed to fragmentation and castration by an absent or ineffectual Father. He is flanked by Other Men who are either his "flashily phallic" rivals or "comicaUy impotent" (2) parodies, and the principal agents of his dismemberment are the Mother and the Other Woman. In Garson's reading of the myth, the male body is the principal site of somatic anxiety; the female body, by contrast, possesses a mysterious integrity which both attracts and threatens. Bathsheba in Far from the Madding Crowd, for instance, is "compelling because she images wholeness, threatening because, being female, she cannot be allowed to embody it permanently" (41). Though a woman may become a list of body parts to those who desire her, as Eustacia Vye does in The Return of the Native, Garson argues that this sort of fragmentation is "connected in a straightforward way with specific characters," whereas "when a man comes apart, the figurative dimension of the imagery is less obvious, its application more oblique" (71). Clym Yeobright survives, unlike Eustacia, but the recurrent imagery of decapitation and castration that surrounds him, his loss of vision and hence of vocation, his near-absorption by the heath when he 90Victorian Review turns furze-cutter, and finaUy the ineffectual lecturing he ends up with by way of occupation, suggest a more subtle, and perhaps to Hardy a more horrifying kind of dismemberment. The deepest and most deeply veUed anxieties in Hardy turn on male identity and male fragmentation. It is not only in The Return of the Native that imagery combines with fable to reveal patterns of somatic disintegration. Imagery is a central concern of Garson's, and her detailed and subtle discussion of Hardy's "nervously figurative language" (3) is perhaps the book's greatest strength. She deftly shows how even descriptive set-pieces, such as the sheep-washing in Far from the Madding Crowd, turn against themselves and disrupt the novels' dominant patterns. Meant to contrast Gabriel Oak's wholeness and immersion in the processes of nature with Boldwood's obsessive and longrepressed sexuality, the scene's imagery keeps escaping from that structuring contrast. The sheep-washing pool is a problematic image from the start, for its perfectly circular form marks it as a creation of culture rather than nature; the problems come to the fore when the narrator suddenly observes it from above, as it might appear to a flying bird. From that angle the pool resembles a "gUstening Cyclops' eye in a green face," a description which makes the green landscape "into a gigantic, uncanny body" (49), and the individual human bodies on its surface into insignificant parasites. Gabriel's apparent wholeness and harmonious relationship with Nature the Great Mother are here seen through a grotesque lens which calls them into question. Since her study so persistently shows us the unexpected and overlooked, it may be surprising to find that Garson confines her discussion to Hardy's canonical novels. This choice is, however...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 89-92
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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