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Book Reviews G. Glen Wickerts. Thomas Hardy, Monism, and the Carnival Tradition: The One and the Many in The Dynasts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. Pp. 255. $63.00 cloth. In his Essay on Laughter (1911), Henri Bergson argues that laughter “is incompatible with emotion.... [It] is, above all, a corrective” and one that “must make a painful impression,” since “indifference is its natural environ­ ment” (Bergson 166,176,10). Central to Bergson’s theory of the comic is his idea that the purely mechanical in human affairs is always comical, an idea that can be seen operant in Hardy’s The Dynasts (first published in three volumes in 1904,1906, and 1908), with its hugely indifferent Imma­ nent Will, spirit-populated Overworld, and puppet-like human characters. Although Hardy studies constitute a notably crowded field, this work has long baffled readers, and so critical approaches to The Dynasts are few and far between. As G.Glen Wickens points out in the introduction to his compelling and scholarly study of Hardy’s most neglected major work, this neglect may stem, in part at least, from its generic indeterminacy. To begin with, Hardy effectively threw critics off the scent with his character­ istically misleading labeling of the text, calling the poem an “epic-drama.” As a result, most critics have (quite naturally) focused on the epic conven­ tions in the poem. Harold Orel (1963), Chester A. Garrison (1973), Susan Dean (1977), and Katherine Kearney Maynard (1991), for example, all stress the poem’s epic qualities and scope: some critics, like Dean and Amiya Chakravarty (1938), see The Dynasts as inherently visionary and organic. In contrast to this visionary epic tradition in reading the poem— and draw- Indeed, very few readers have noticed the comical/ satirical side to much of Hardy’s fic­ tion and poetry. ing primarily on Mikhail Bakhtin’s theories of novelistic discourse and the carnivalesque— Wickens argues that The Dynasts be read, not as either epic poem or closet drama, but rather as Hardy’s last and longest novel. Wickens’s reading clearly moves the poem into the comic or ironic/satiric tradition and away from the epic, which, as Bakhtin suggests, is always problematically hierarchically and ideologically determined. It is certainly true, as Wickens points out, that many treatments of the philosophical basis of The Dynasts have effectively ignored its “serio-comi­ cal” elements. Indeed, very few readers have noticed the comical/satirical side to much of Hardy’s fiction and poetry. Yet laughter is of enormous importance in Hardy’s work, as it is in Rabelais and His World, where Bakhtin suggests that carnival, festival, and folkloric traditions all incor­ porate a kind of controlled subversion of the dominant order. Wickens convincingly argues that the folk-festive element, so clearly seen in novels like The Return ofthe Native and TheMayor ofCasterbridge, also operates in The Dynasts. It is not, he says, that The Dynasts needs to be read in light of the novels, but that both the novels and the poem can be read in terms of their use of carnival (Wickens xvi). The Dynasts conforms to Bakhtin’s theories of carnival in a number of ways; for example, “[t]he clowns and fools of folk humour reappear in vari­ ous low figures who unmask the pretensions of dynastic authority to speak for the good of the whole nation” (Wickens xvi). In terms of its treatment of time, the poem is also more satirical than epic. The Dynasts, Wickens argues, is “a carnivalesque novel in touch with the inconclusive present rather than a lofty epic with no place for indeterminacy and little room for laughter in its representation of thought and events” (4). The carnival culture of the menippean satire, as defined by Bakhtin, includes imagery of the grotesque body; and this kind of imagery figures prominently in The Dynasts, right from the beginning of the poem, in, for example, the aerial perspective description of Europe. The idea, as Bakhtin points out, is to “contemplate the world on the broadest possible scale” (Bakhtin 190), to incorporate multiple voices and genres in a heteroglossia, and to blend the highest with the lowest in terms of social...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1913-4835
Print ISSN
0317-0802
Pages
pp. 189-192
Launched on MUSE
2019-04-03
Open Access
No
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