Criticism of Thomas Hardy is marked by more than its share of brilliance and also of heroic ingenuity. Probably one is best advised to avoid both, and for many of us the first prohibition creates no hardship. But there may be a mere ingenuity, heroic or not, in the recurrent attempts to create either a univocal or a muddled Hardy, one who ‘explained’ and formed perfectly or one who offers texts already deconstructed. I think it is possible (and by no means unique) to occupy a middle ground, recognising the large and the local gaps, the ‘open spaces’, in Hardy texts without succumbing to the old itch to find a covering formula for the text’s ‘unity’ or to the new itch to ignore such traditional organising patterns as there are and proclaim that the meaning of the text is indeterminate. We now acknowledge more fully the tentativeness and inconsistency of a typical Hardy narrator and the ambiguity of the action. What is not so clear are the theoretical implications of these facts or, more modestly, the effects they have on our actual reading experience.
KeywordsMoral Responsibility Critical Approach Lower Animal Social Ritual Contradictory Signal
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- 2.Roland Barthes, S/Z: An Essay (1970), trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill & Wang, 1974) P. 6.Google Scholar
- 3.John Bayley, An Essay on Hardy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978) p. 118 (ellipsis mine).Google Scholar
- 8.J. Hillis Miller’s suggestive treatment, in The Form of Victorian Fiction (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968) pp. 7– 16, is noteworthy. Of course, criticism being what it is, most try to find a formula for coherence in the novel. I think it is significant, however, that the most distinguished analyses articulate that formula as a consistent general pattern of what I would call incoherence.Google Scholar
- Michael Steig’s ‘The Problem of Literary Value in Two Early Hardy Novels’ (TSLL XII  55 – 62) argues that there is ‘a consistency to be found in the very pattern of setting up expectations and then disappointing them’ (p. 59).Google Scholar
- Arthur K. Amos, in ‘Accident and Fate: The Possibility for Action in A Pair of Blue Eyes’, ELT XV (1972) 158–67, says that the presence of an ‘if-plot — an alternative plot in which characters make different choices and are rewarded instead of punished’ creates an integrated and coherent ‘negative exemplum (pp. 163, 166).Google Scholar
- 9.The ‘pathological’ tag is repeated by many critics, J. I. M. Stewart, for example, in Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography (London: Longman, 1971) p. 65. The second quote is from Steig’s ‘The Problem of Literary Value’, p. 60. It should be noted, however, that Steig is fully alert to the contradictory attitudes signalled towards Knight. He points out ‘the apparent unsureness of Hardy’s attitude toward Knight’ (p. 61), for instance.Google Scholar
- 10.Bayley, An Essay on Hardy, p. 141; also see Ronald Blythe’s ‘Introduction’ to the New Wessex Edition of the novel (London: Macmillan, 1975) PP. 19, 29 (paperback edition).Google Scholar