Beginnings and Endings in Hardy’s Major Fiction

  • Daniel R. Schwarz


Because of the length of a novel, our memory of it is disproportionately related to its opening and ending. In the opening chapters, the narrator creates for his readers the physical world in which the novel takes place and the first episodes of the story which begin to reveal the personalities of the characters. But more significantly, beginnings introduce the novel’s cosmology and the standards and values by which actions will be judged. (Of course, since the reading of a novel is an ongoing process, as the reader experiences subsequent episodes, the moral terms on which the reader makes his or her judgement will be modified.) Each novel has its own Genesis and Apocalypse; when we open a novel, our world is closed off and the genesis of a new ontology begins. The opening chapters of the novel, that form which more than any other seeks to have the inclusiveness and specificity of the real world, mimes the process of Creation as the author’s language imposes shape and form upon silence and emptiness. Imperceptibly, as we read the first sentences, our sense of time gives way to the internal imagined time of the novel. The ending is an apocalypse which reorders the significance of all that precedes; it is the moment when the imagined world is abruptly sealed off from us and we return to our diurnal activities.1


Critical Approach Central Character Subsequent Episode Early Chapter Holy Plan 
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  1. 1.
    My understanding of endings has been influenced by Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967)Google Scholar
  2. And by Alan Friedman, The Turn of the Novel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    For further discussion of Hardy’s narrators, see my ‘The Narrator as Character in Hardy’s Major Fiction’, MFS, XVIII (1972), 155–72.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    See Florence Emily Hardy, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840–1891 (London and New York: Macmillan, 1928) p. 293.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    As Scott Elledge indicates in his Norton Critical edition of Tess of the d’Urbervilles (New York: Norton, 1965) p. 19, when Hardy uses this phrase in the third chapter of the novel (p. 24 in the Wessex Edition), he is specifically responding to Wordsworth who, in line 22 of ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’, speaks of ‘Nature’s holy plan’.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    M. H. Abrams, ‘English Romanticism: The Spirit of the Age’, in Romanticism and Consciousness, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Norton, 1970) p. 103.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Ian Gregor, The Great Web: The Form of Hardy’s Major Fiction (London: Faber & Faber; Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1974) p. 232.1 should stress that this remark is in no way central to Gregor’s splendid study.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Joseph Conrad’s Letters to R. B. Cunninghame Graham, ed. C. T. Watts (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1969) pp. 56–7.Google Scholar

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© Daniel R. Schwarz 1979

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  • Daniel R. Schwarz

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