Historical consciousness and pastoral irony: The Trumpet-Major (1880)
On 28 November 1878 Hardy made a sombre entry in his notebook: ‘Woke before it was light. Felt that I had not enough staying power to hold my own in the world.’ (L, 124) This characteristic feeling of disquietude followed close on the publication of The Return of the Native on 4 November, and the note must have been written soon after Hardy had read the review of the novel in the Athenaeum, which provoked his reply on ‘Dialect in Novels’.1 The reviewer thought the novel ‘distinctly inferior to anything of his which we have yet read’, and although Hardy avoids saying almost anything about the novel in the Life what struck him most deeply was that he might not be able to sustain the level he had reached. The confident tone of Hardy’s reply hid misgivings which were to be deepened by further criticism. The Return of the Native was his greatest literary achievement so far, yet there were charges from W. E. Henley of ‘insincerity’ and ‘affectation’; the Saturday Review repeated this and concluded that ‘in the attempt to amuse us Mr Hardy, in our opinion, breaks down’; the Illustrated London News found the descriptions good, the movement slow, the characters uninteresting, the action poor and the conclusion flat; the critic for The Times ‘could scarcely get up a satisfactory interest in people whose history and habits are entirely foreign to our own’ and regretted that readers were taken farther from the madding crowd than ever.2
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- 2.W.E. Henley, Academy (30 Nov 1878); anon., Saturday Review (4 Jan 1879), anon., Illustrated London News (14 Dec 1878); anon., Times (5 Dec 1878).Google Scholar
- 5.See Ruth Firor, Folkways in Thomas Hardy (Philadelphia, 1931) pp. 299–301.Google Scholar
- 15.Carl J. Weber (ed.), ‘Dearest Emmie’: Thomas Hardy’s Letters to his First Wife (London, 1963) p. 64. Emma’s comment was recalled by Sir George Douglas.Google Scholar