- Thomas Hardy
This period boasts a number of enticingly good books about Hardy. "The Year's Work," of course, is concerned with Hardy's poetry, and for most of the new monographs, the focus is on prose; but there are some interesting references to the poems, and the quality of each of these works means that it would be remiss of me not to mention them. Themes throughout the published material range from folklore and dialect to animals, time, and communication. There is quite a focus on Hardy's early poetry; his London poems and "The Bride-Night Fire," for example, enjoy ample coverage, and there is even an edition of Literature Compass given over to investigating the concept of a global Hardy. It would appear to be a particularly fertile moment in Hardy studies.
As Anna West points out in her Thomas Hardy and Animals (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2017), despite the abundance of the representation of creatures in Hardy's works, there are very few critical considerations of them. The term "creatures" is central to this original and engaging study, a word used often by Hardy that serves to destabilize the boundaries between human and non-human. In poetry specifically, it "most often describes animals or the creations of an unfeeling Creator" (p. 43), emphasizing vulnerability, drawing on Hardy's empathy or "loving-kindness," as he referred to it (p. 3). The approach is at once historicized, with its consideration of Victorian science, philosophy, the role of the subject, and the humanitarian movement, and theorized, with the reading informed by Derrida and posthumanism. The focus is very much with Hardy's prose, with his poetry used sparingly only to "supplement the exploration" (p. 4). There is a thoughtful reading of "An August Midnight" and a consideration of sound and voice in the always intriguing "Winter in Durnover Field." A lengthier consideration of "Horses Aboard" and pertinent readings of "The Roman Gravemounds" and "Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave?" are included, but there is plenty more in the poetry that could be teased out by this new and fruitful reading.
Jacqueline Dillion's Thomas Hardy: Folklore and Resistance (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) is a fascinating and authoritative investigation into Hardy's imaginative use of the power of folk practices. Although its interest in the poetry is also fleeting, it does include a reading of "The Bride-Night Fire" that suggests the community of the poem is duty bound to observe the custom of the skimmington, a custom that appears to have a dual nature "as a force to socially extinguish, and as a kind of ritual that 'cleanses' or purifies the village" [End Page 373] (p. 83). In reference to the renaming of the poem from "Fire at Tranter Sweatley's," Dillion suggests, "Hardy's revised added emphasis on 'Fire' in the title further suggests this relationship between fire and the skimmington ride's role in purifying the community and purging it (and the shamed parties) of guilt" (p. 83). The study later considers the May Day associations included in this poem and "One We Knew" and makes some thoughtful suggestions concerning effigy burning and the stylistic influence of mummers in The Dynasts.
Also published by Palgrave Macmillan is Karin Koehler's Thomas Hardy and Victorian Communication: Letters, Telegrams and Postal Systems (2016). In this exhaustively researched and original work, the poetry is mostly confined to one chapter, "Epistolary Ghosts: Letters in Hardy's Poems and Short Stories," in which Koehler, drawing on Kafka, argues that the letter is "an instrument of alienation rather than connection" (p. 185). The ghosts of the chapter's title are epistolary versions of the writer and reader, assuming "virtual presences with lives and wills of their own" (p. 186). The letter serves as a device that allows Hardy to explore the impossibility of communication, as shown in examples including "Thoughts of Phena," "The Sun on the Letter," "Read by Moonlight," and "The Torn Letter." Koehler states in her conclusion that it is no coincidence that "The Dynasts—marked by astonishing violence and brutality, but also Hardy's most explicit articulation of his ethic of altruism—begins with a letter...