- Thomas Hardy
After a short time in the wilderness, the Guide to the Year’s Work for Hardy returns. Having arrived a little late to the party, I will consider work published between May 2014 and the end of 2015. Any work from 2016 will be under consideration for the next edition. In this spirit, any glaring omissions will also be addressed in 2017. [End Page 363]
As indicated by many of the papers and lectures at the Hardy Society’s twenty-second International Conference and Festival that took place in Dorchester at the end of July this year, Hardy the poet is receiving much more critical attention than in previous years. In preparing this review, I have noted a marked increase in articles and books dedicated to Hardy’s poetry. For 2015, there is a range of themes, but explorations of time feature prominently, particularly the play between past, present, and future. Ghosts of various kinds also appear in much of the work, and, inevitably, perhaps, given the anniversaries, the war poetry is also well represented. Throughout the body of recent critical writing, there is a growing commitment to the less-reviewed of Hardy’s works.
This resurgence and commitment are represented in a collection of essays edited by Adrian Grafe and Laurence Estanove, Thomas Hardy, Poet: New Perspectives (McFarland, 2015). The introduction promises to recognize the abundance, variety, and competence of Hardy’s poetry and to “confirm the multifaceted dynamism of current responses” (p. 6). Although the book explores familiar territory in landscape, religion, and pessimism, for example, it does offer some new interpretations. With regard to pessimism, Laurence Estanove’s essay “From Pessimism to Idealism: The Pressure of Paradox” notes Hardy’s discomfort at being labeled a pessimist and argues that his doctrine, such as it is, lies in his assimilation of many philosophical ideas. The result of this theoretical pluralism is not, according to Estanove, the well-documented evolutionary meliorism, but an “Idealism of Fancy” in which imagination acts as a refuge. Estanove readily admits that this concept is “apparently uncertain” but that it can be “encountered with reasonable coherence” in Hardy’s poetry (p. 85). The example of “On a Fine Morning” is used to illustrate Hardy’s “almost mystical belief in the power of dreams,” but not without pointing to “the inner contradiction between illusion and disillusion” (p. 90). Stephen Tardif also confronts Hardy’s pessimism in his deconstructive reading of what he describes as “rhyming events” in Hardy’s work. “Rhyming Events and the Pessimistic Muse” argues that many of the poems present two narrative possibilities, one of which, the preferred, can never be realized. “What is imagined in Hardy’s fiction and poetry,” Tardif suggests, “are not the worst worlds possible, but ones in which potential is deprived of possibility” (p. 61). Tardif’s inventive reading considers Hillis Miller’s modes of repetition, which, when used to explore “Under the Waterfall,” reveal a “perceived connection” between the speaker’s action and memory “so strong that the present actually begins to resemble the past” (p. 66). Ultimately, the poem “achieves two apparently opposed ends, both succeeding and failing to represent a departed past” (p. 68). [End Page 364]
Hardy’s work lends itself well to ecocritical reading, and Adrian Tait’s contribution, “‘Thinking Like a Mountain’? Hardy’s Poetic Vision of ‘Environment’” contextualizes Hardy’s works in a Victorian ecology related to the “crisis of objectivity.” Considering the early verse and The Dynasts, Tait argues convincingly that Hardy rejects the Victorian notion of nature and that works like “In a Wood” serve to parody both “sylvan peace” and the “struggle for existence.” The many scientific discoveries that helped to shape Hardy’s view did not deter him from his “profound fellow feeling with the non-human, natural world” or his “deep-rooted desire to engage with it” (p. 14). Indeed, I am certain that Darwin’s theories of common descent and the economy of nature contributed to Hardy’s compassion for animals or, at the very least, provided it with some rational underpinning. The poet’s notion of nature steps beyond the projection of human needs to consider the “dynamic...