The Road to Norcombe Hill: Hardy’s Musical Evolution

  • Mark Asquith


Through the pages of The Life Hardy recounts that as an infant he was ‘extraordinarily sensitive to music’, with a ‘sensitiveness to melody… [which] remained with him through life’.1 Memories of his youth are dominated by evocative descriptions of his ‘adventures with the fiddle’ in the villages neighbouring Bockhampton.2 This early musicality is a characteristic upon which most modern critics agree:3 Michael Millgate notes that ‘the sounds of his father’s violin of an evening could move him to dance and weep simultaneously’; Martin Seymour-Smith that ‘as a boy he sought relief in the joy to be found in music’;4 and Elna Sherman that Hardy ‘possessed a sensitive ear … was quickly and profoundly moved by the music he heard; [and] as he matured his musical taste became discriminating’.5 And maturation did not see a discernible diminishing in his passion, leading Sherman to ask whether ‘music is the greatest unifying factor in his poetry and prose alike?’6 A question answered in the affirmative by Carl C. Weber, whose exhaustive bibliography of Hardy’s ‘musical poems’ concludes that ‘throughout his long life music remained one of Hardy’s chief interests’.7 This conclusion is echoed by Robert Gittings who notes that ‘the chief draw, as always in his life, was music’.8


Poetic Imagination Female Performer Transcendental Power Musical Accomplishment Life Music 
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  1. 4.
    Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 37.Google Scholar
  2. Martin Seymour-Smith, Hardy (London: Bloomsbury, 1995), p. 27.Google Scholar
  3. F. B. Pinion notes that ‘such ecstasy was roused in him as he performed his father’s music that he could hardly hide his tears’, Thomas Hardy: His Life and Friends (London: Macmillan, 1992), p. 14.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Carl J. Weber, ‘Thomas Hardy Music: With a Bibliography’, Music and Letters, 21 (1940), 172–178 (p. 173).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 18.
    Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, edited by Herbert Rosengarten (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), pp. 230–238. See da Sousa Correa’s section ‘Music and the Woman Writer’, pp. 91–101 (pp. 96–97).Google Scholar
  6. 25.
    Edmund Gosse, ‘Thomas Hardy’s Lost Novel’, The Sunday Times, 22 January, 1928.Google Scholar
  7. Quoted from William Rutland, Thomas Hardy: A Study of his Writings and their Background (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1938), p. 119.Google Scholar
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    Hardy, An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress, edited by Carl J. Weber (New York: Russell and Russell, 1965), pp. 97–98.Google Scholar
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    George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, edited by Gordon Haight (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), p. 367.Google Scholar
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    A Pair of Blue Eyes, p. 13. The poem was set to music by John Barnett in 1860 and is no. 2 of a ‘Series of Contralto Songs’ (London: Cramer, Beale & Chappell, 1860). See Burton R. Pollin, The Music for Shelley’s Poetry: An Annotated Bibliography of Musical Settings of Shelley’s Poetry (New York: Da Capo, 1974), p. 11.Google Scholar
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    Hardy to Edmund Gosse, The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, edited by Richard L. Purdy and Michael Millgate, 7 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978–1988), II, pp. 156–157 (31 March, 1897).Google Scholar
  12. 46.
    William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), V, 1, 11. 60–61. See Thomas Hardy’s ‘Studies, Specimens’ Notebook, edited by Pamela Dalziel and Michael Millgate (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), pp. 77–78.Google Scholar
  13. 59.
    John Keats, ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’, in The Poetical Works of John Keats, edited by H. W. Garrod, 2nd edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), 1. 56. For Hardy’s entry, see Literary Notebooks, 416.Google Scholar
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    Hardy, ‘The Sleep-Worker’, in The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy, edited by James Gibson (London: Macmillan, 1976), 1. 7. The Dynasts: An Epic-Drama of the War with Napoleon, In Three Parts, Nineteen Acts, and One Hundred and Thirty Scenes, edited and introduction by Harold Orel (London: Macmillan, 1978), II, V, 3. Hardy’s italics.Google Scholar

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© Mark Asquith 2005

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  • Mark Asquith

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