‘Nothing Backward Climbs’: the Futility of Return in The Return of the Native, The Woodlanders and The Well-Beloved

  • Peter J. Casagrande


The creation of Gabriel Oak brought to a hopeful end a first phase of Hardy’s exploration of the drama of regeneration. After Far from the Madding Crowd Hardy would find it possible to exhibit human powers of amelioration or remedy comparable to Oak’s only in the minor narratives he called ‘romances’, ‘fantasies’ or ‘novels of ingenuity’. There would be, of course, the meliorism of The Dynasts; but that is evolutionary, its source non-human rather than human nature. A sense of tragic irremediability in things can be said to govern in the major novels, which Hardy called narratives of ‘character and environment’. Even more distinctly than before 1874., the pattern of Hardy’s fiction after that year is vacillatory, an alternation between comedic displays of regenerative possibilities and tragic depictions of the impossibility of renewal. And so, after the pastoral comedy of Far from the Madding Crowd he moved to social comedy in The Hand of Ethelberta (1876) then to tragedy in The Return of the Native (1878); then to ‘romance’ and ‘ingenuity’ in The Trumpet-Major (1880), A Laodicean (1881) and Two on a Tower (1882); then to tragedy and tragi-comedy in The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess (1891) and Jude (1895); and, finally, to ‘fantasy’ in The Well-Beloved (1892, 1897). After the creation of Oak, Hardy found it possible to exhibit regenerative heroics only in admittedly fanciful or severely attenuated forms.


Moral Reality Platonic Idea Monistic View Bare Equality Sympathetic Magic 
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  1. 16.
    See John Hutchins, The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset 3rd edn (London, 1861–73) vol. 11,p. 546.Google Scholar
  2. 28.
    Thomas Hardy: The Novels and Stories (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949) p. 142.Google Scholar
  3. 30.
    Harold Child, Thomas Hardy (New York: Holt, 1916) p. 75.Google Scholar
  4. 32.
    Thomas Hardy: A Critical Study (London: Martin Seeker, 1935) pp. 113–14.Google Scholar

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© Peter J. Casagrande 1982

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  • Peter J. Casagrande

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