Hardy Promises: The Dynasts and the Epic of Imperialism



Some eight years of concentrated composition (c.1900–1908),2 by a writer at the height of his power and ambition, formed the culmination to a fascination with the Napoleonic Wars which Hardy had lived with, tended and nurtured his entire life. Reading in typescript the first volume of Florence Hardy’s biography, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, Sir James Barrie commented: ‘the most striking thing in the book is that all his life he was preparing, getting ready, for his Dynasts, chopping his way through time to the great event’.3 The Dynasts was evidently intended by Hardy to set a crown upon his lifetime’s effort, and it has no less evidently failed.


Literary Genre Greek Text Rough Draft Time Literary Supplement Poetic Vision 
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  1. 1.
    Thomas Hardy, The Dynasts, ed. Samuel Hynes [vols IV and V of The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)], Part First, Fore Scene, lines 76–8 (vol. IV, p. 17).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The differences between the advertised outline and the published text are clearly presented in Richard Little Purdy, Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954) pp. 126–34Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Letters of J. M. Barrie, ed. Viola Meynell (London: Peter Davies, 1942) p. 152Google Scholar
  4. cited in Chester A. Garrison, The Vast Venture: Hardy’s Epic-Drama ‘The Dynasts’ (Salzburg: Institut fur Englische Sprache und Literatur, 1973) p. 4Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    The Dynasts is placed in the context of the vast enterprises of modernism in the following recent essays: Samuel Hynes, ‘Mr. Hardy’s Monster: Reflections on The Dynasts’, Sewanee Review, vol. 102, no. 2 (1994) 213–32Google Scholar
  6. review by Jerome McGann of Porius by John Cowper Powys, Times Literary Supplement, 1 December 1995, 4–5Google Scholar
  7. George Steiner, ‘Do-it-Yourself’ [review of Franco Moretti’s The Modern Epic], London Review of Books, 18 (10), 23 May 1996, 14Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    J. M. Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (London: Macmillan, 1919) pp. 4–5Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    Thomas Hardy, The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, ed. Michael Millgate (London: Macmillan Press, 1984) p. 292.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    See Harold Orel, ‘Hardy, Kipling, Haggard’, English Literature in Transition, vol. 24, no. 4 (1982) 232–48.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    See Ronald D. Knight, T. E. Lawrence and the Max Gate Circle (Weymouth: Bat and Ball Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, ed. Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate, 7 volumes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978–88) vol. V, p. 340; vol. VI, pp. 9, 10, 44, 63 (subsequently cited as Collected Letters followed by volume and page number)Google Scholar
  13. Letters of Emma and Florence Hardy, ed. Michael Millgate (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) p. 102Google Scholar
  14. 11.
    See Gregory Nagy, Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) p. 65, n. 25: ‘It may be pertinent to the mythical detail about the cutting-out of Philomela’s tongue that the nightingale is described in [‘Aristotle’s’] Historia animalium as bereft of a tongue-tip.’Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    According to William R. Rutland, Thomas Hardy: A Study of his Writings and their Background (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1938) p. 34, Hardy had marked precisely these lines in his Greek text of Aeschylus.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    One Rare Fair Woman, ed. Evelyn Hardy and F. B. Pinion (London: Macmillan Press, 1972) p. 77Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Simon Gatrell, ‘An Examination of some Revisions to Printed Versions of The Dynasts’, The Library (6th series), 1, 3 (September 1979) 266–7.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (New York: Library of America, 1983) p. 356.Google Scholar
  19. 23.
    Donald Davie, ‘Hardy’s Virgilian Purples’, Agenda, vol. 10, nos 2–3 (Spring-Summer 1972) 143.Google Scholar
  20. 24.
    So copious were Hardy’s preparations for posterity that this detail is not mentioned by Michael Millgate in his pioneering study in ‘literary thanatography’, Testamentary Acts: Browning, Tennyson, James, Hardy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  21. 32.
    F. B. Pinion, A Hardy Companion (London: Macmillan Press, 1968) p. 209Google Scholar
  22. or Lennart A. Björk (ed.), The Literary Notebooks of Thomas Hardy (London: Macmillan Press, 1985) vol. 1, pp. 276–7 (263–8 nn.)Google Scholar
  23. 35.
    Lawrence Lipking, The Life of the Poet: Beginning and Ending Poetic Careers (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1981) pp. 76–7, 79Google Scholar
  24. Only a fellow-poet could see through the cunning: Ezra Pound wrote of Hardy: ‘No man ever had so much Latin and so eschewed the least appearance of being a classicist’, Confucius to Cummings: An Anthology of Poetry (New York: New Directions, 1964) p. 325.Google Scholar
  25. 37.
    Even Dennis Taylor, the most metrically astute and sensitive of all Hardy’s critics, can write: ‘Nothing in The Dynasts is as [metrically] interesting as “The Souls of the Slain”’, Hardy’s Metres and Victorian Prosody (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) p. 155.Google Scholar
  26. 39.
    On Hardy’s systematic devaluation of his novels in favour of his poetry and The Dynasts, see Charles Lock, Thomas Hardy: Criticism in Focus (London: Bristol Classical Press, 1992) pp. 49–54.Google Scholar
  27. 41.
    These are detailed in Charles Lock, ‘Though Dynasts pass’, Essays in Criticism, vol. XLVII, no. 3 (July 1997) 270–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 43.
    See also Susan M. Dean, Hardy’s Poetic Vision in ‘The Dynasts’: The Diorama of a Dream (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977) p. 11, on Hardy’s Preface: ‘These remarks do not describe a work whose genre we can even identify.’Google Scholar
  29. 48.
    On the parallels between James and Hardy, see Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist (London: Bodley Head, 1971) pp. 353–8Google Scholar
  30. 50.
    See the finest of the early critics of The Dynasts, Lascelles Abercrombie, Thomas Hardy: A Critical Study (London: Martin Secker, 1919 [1st edn 1912]) pp. 149–50.Google Scholar
  31. 52.
    The Iliad of Homer, translated by Alexander Pope, ed. Susan Shankman, Penguin Classics (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1996) p. 8.Google Scholar

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© Charles Lock 1998

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