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THOMAS HARDY A CRITICAL ExAMINATION OF A TYPICAL NovEL AND His SHORTER PoEMS FREDERICK PHILIP GROVE E VEN at this late date, over sixty years since he published his first novel, one hesitates about applying rigid standards of criticism to Hardy's work. It does not matter whether we shake our heads at the curious rriixture of humour and romanticism with a classicistic realism of which much, perhaps most, of his work consists; nor whether we eliminate from his poetry such large agglomerations of mere verse as to leave only a slender volume of selections. It is irrelevant that occasionally we get tired of the ceaseless repetition, in verse and prose, of the same themes and thoughts; that we fret at the lack of finality in the form in which they are expressed; that we are repelled by the.naked outcropping of purely intellectual intention in the rich soil of his imaginative recastings of reality. To that thought and those themes we return again and again. Once we have sympathetically followed his musings, we can no longer free ourselves from them and from the conclusions which they force upon us. The reason is that Hardy's thought exacts a complete revaluation of accepted values, a reminting of all our intellectual and emotional currency. Hardy, in his searchings, went below the very foundations of life; and, in doing so~ he never shrank from any lane into·which they might lead him. He is the greatest of the three great educators which the second half of the nineteenth century has produced throughout the world. Considered as educators (and as such, I believe, they 490 I I l! I r THOMAS HARDY ultimately wished to be considered) Ibsen and Tolstoi stand dwarfed by his side, no matter how much more perfect this one or that one of their works, considered as a work of art, may be than anything Hardy ever produced. In order to compare these three great educators, we have to restrict ourselves, in that comparison, to their influence on the thought of the present day. All three have been called pessimists, which' is equivalent to saying that their thought or their work has proved inconvenient to those who have not yet freed themselves from an obsolescent tradition. All three have attacked conventional standards of morality and conduct. They have questioned things. Now it is the task of every educator to question things; the man who accepts convention unchallenged can at best be a teacher or inducator; for education is the process of calling forth in us th9ughts and reactions which, while they lay dormant in us, yet had never been evoked before; the educator is necessarily heterodox; he who is orthodox can never be anything but an inducator. Right here we have the point which .matters 'in the present enquiry. Tolstoi questioned the justice of present social arrangements. Ibsen questioned the efficacy of conventional remedies for social ills. But both accepted life as a thing given beyond even the possibility of revolt. Life being what it is, they asked, how can we make the best of it? Hardy goes a step farther; he questions the value of life itself, and above all the value of consciousness, reason, progress, and all that distinguishes the animal from the plant and man from the animal. For Tolstoi, all things are fundamentally right; they become wrong through human sin. For Ibsen all things are fundamentally right; they become wrong through human stupidity. For Hardy, all things are fundamentally wrong; they can become right only through 491 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY man's victory over God. "Theirs," God says of men, in one of his poems, "is the teaching mind." This involves a curious point: in spite of his radicalism Hardy is no . pess1m1st. "If way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the ·worst." That thought is the key to all that is being done today, in the field of sociology as well as in that of serious artistic recastings of life. It is what distinguishes present-day creative effort from that of all previous ages. Having thus defined the basis of Hardy's greatness, we may be permitted...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 490-507
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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