One Name of Many Shapes: The Well-Beloved

  • Michael Ryan


The Well-Beloved occupies a place of dubious privilege in the Hardy canon. The first version, serialised in late 1892, was written in reaction to the rejection of Tess of the d’Urbervilles for moral reasons by Tillotson & Son. The revised version appeared as a book in 1897, thus making it Hardy’s last novel before he gave up novel-writing altogether. That he chose to make this novel his parting salute to the genre suggests that the spirit with which he bade farewell to prudent publishers and unrelenting reviewers relates in some way to his feelings concerning the rejection of Tess of the d’Urbervilles. His feelings at that time seem best reflected in a short essay, ‘Candour in English Fiction’, published in the New Review in 1890, in which he calls ‘our popular fiction’ ‘a literature of quackery’.1 I shall argue that the bitterness one finds in this essay also informs The Well-Beloved.


Critical Approach Greek Word Popular Fiction Real Woman Marked Antiquity 
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  1. 1.
    Thomas Hardy, ‘Candour in English Fiction’, New Review, ii (January 1890) 15.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Thomas Hardy, Life’s Little Ironies (London: Macmillan, 1912) p. vii.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    The one critic I have found who treats the novel’s irony in any depth is Joseph Warren Beach: ‘There is in the treatment of Pierston’s obsession a note of levity, of light irony, rather well sustained’ (The Technique of Thomas Hardy [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1922] p. 131).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    J. I. M. Stewart, Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography (London: Longman, 1971) P. 159Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Florence Emily Hardy, The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 1892 –1928 (London and New York: Macmillan, 1930) p. 59.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Florence Emily Hardy, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840–1891 (London and New York: Macmillan, 1928) p. 284. This diary entry is found adjacent to an entry about The Well-Beloved: ‘ “February 6. (After reading Plato’s dialogue ‘Cratylus’): A very good way of looking at things would be to regard everything as having an actual or false name, and an intrinsic or true name, to ascertain which all endeavour should be made. … The fact is that nearly all things are falsely, or rather inadequately, named.” ‘Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    For a detailed discussion of topical references in the novel, see Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist (London: The Bodley Head; New York: Random House, 1971) pp. 293–307.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Given in an appendix in Thomas Hardy, The Well-Beloved: A Sketch of a Temperament, ed.J. Hillis Miller (London: Macmillan, 1975) PP. 216–17 [paperback edition] (ellipsis mine).Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    For a discussion of the repetition of names and the use of dithematic names in Wessex, see Henry Bosley Woolf, The Old Germanic Principles of Name-Giving (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1939) pp. 70–94.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    W. Holman Hunt, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (London: Macmillan, 1905) I, 341.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    John Dixon Hunt, The Pre-Raphaelite Imagination 1848– 1900 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968) p. 187.Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    Helmut E. Gerber discusses the bitterness of the last two pages of the novel in relationship to Hardy’s decision to give up novel-writing in his ‘Hardy’s The Well-Beloved as a Comment on the Well-Despised’, ELN, I (1963) 48–53.Google Scholar

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© Michael Ryan 1979

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  • Michael Ryan

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