How to Read A Few Crusted Characters

  • Richard C. Carpenter


Among Hardy’s less-remarked accomplishments is his ability to create cryptic or ambiguous titles for some of his works: Far from the Madding Crowd, A Laodicean, A Group of Noble Dames, Jude the Obscure. Despite an oblique relationship to the works they designate, such titles are hardly exact descriptions. Far from the Madding Crowd, while pastoral in setting, is not really about a world removed from ignoble strife but is concerned with the tragic concatenations of love affairs; A Laodicean is only marginally interested in religious attitudes; and Jude’s obscurity is a complex pun on his nature, obscure to himself as well as others, and on his social situation. Similarly, A Few Crusted Characters, which we would expect to be a series of sketches of quaint personalities valued for their well-aged eccentricities, like a fine old crusted port, turns out to be instead of group of short tales, an interlinked ‘frame-story’ principally built around the ironic mischances of love and ranging from pastoral farce to grim psychological tragedy.


Critical Approach Minor Work Love Affair Church Tower Direct Marriage 
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  1. 1.
    See, for example, Irving Howe (ed.), The Selected Writings of Thomas Hardy (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Publications, 1966) p. 15;Google Scholar
  2. Samuel Hynes (ed.), Great Short Works of Thomas Hardy (New York: Harper & Row, 1967) p. XXIV;Google Scholar
  3. J. Hillis Miller, Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire (London: Oxford University Press; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970) pp. 49, 107. All these comments together total about a page, and only Hynes mentions the stories at all, his comments being brief observations on Tony Kytes and Netty Sargent. Comment by other critics is similarly notable for its brevity and its focus on the frame-story.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Morse Peckham, Man’s Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior, and the Arts (New York: Schocken, 1967) passim.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    Stanley E. Fish, ‘Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics’, in Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1972), Appendix, pp. 381–427 — first published in NLH, ii (1970) 122–61, in slightly different form; Wolfgang Iser, ‘The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach’, in The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett (1972; trans. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), PP. 274–94–also published in NLH, iii (1971) 279–99.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    Ralph W. Rader, ‘Fact, Theory and Literary Explanation’, CI, i (1974) 245–72. The fact that Rader disagrees pointedly with Fish does not invalidate the use of his concept at this point in any essay that bears some resemblance to Fish’s method.Google Scholar

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© Richard C. Carpenter 1979

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  • Richard C. Carpenter

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