The Spider’s Web: Metaphysics into Music Drama

  • Mark Asquith
Chapter

Abstract

A good novel, argues Hardy in ‘A Profitable Reading of Fiction’ (1888), must be ‘well and artistically constructed’ with a ‘beauty of shape’ which gives the reader a pleasure similar to that gained from the pictorial or plastic arts.1 In The Life Hardy airs his more immediate fears concerning the modern novel, that it is ‘gradually losing artistic form, with a beginning, middle, and end, and becoming a spasmodic inventory of items, which has nothing to do with art’.2 In ‘The Science of Fiction’ (1891) he makes clear those he feels are responsible for this decline: the ‘social realists’. Their search for emotional realism in the accretion of infinitesimal detail has, he argues, missed the point of the art, which relies on the captured essence of isolated moments crafted into a satisfying whole.3 ‘Good form’ is central to artistic success, and in ‘A Profitable Reading of Fiction’ he quotes J. A. Symonds to indicate those forms that fulfil this criteria: ‘good fiction may be defined here as that kind of imaginative writing which lies nearest to the epic, dramatic, or narrative masterpieces of the past’.4 Thus, in common with a number of contemporary Hellenes, Hardy is to be found rejecting Romantic introspection as a means of exploring the mid-century religious, moral and social malaise, in favour of the detachment offered by structured Greek forms. As Arnold observes, ‘the literature of ancient Greece is, even for modern times, a mighty agent of intellectual deliverance’.5

Keywords

Depression Europe Steam Amid Fibril 

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Notes

  1. 7.
    Pater, Greek Studies, Library Edition (London: Macmillan, 1910), p. 151.Google Scholar
  2. 50.
    H. Davison, Music During the Victorian Era: From Mendelssohn to Wagner — Being the Memoirs of J. W. Davison, Forty Years Music Critic of ‘The Times’ (London: W. M. Reeves, 1912), p. 65. Furthermore The Musical World, the pre-eminent nineteenth-century English music journal, was written almost exclusively by Davison using a variety of pseudonyms: most notably, ‘Otto Beard’, ‘Drinkwater Hard’ and ‘Sir Caper O’Corby’.Google Scholar
  3. 56.
    Eliot, ‘Liszt, Wagner, and Weimar’, Eraser’s Magazine, 52 (July, 1855), 48–62 (p. 50).Google Scholar
  4. 58.
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  5. 64.
    Hueffer, Richard Wagner and the Music of the Future: History and Aesthetics (London: Chapman & Hall, 1874), p. 89.Google Scholar
  6. 66.
    Hueffer, ‘Richard Wagner and his Ring of the Niblung’, The New Quarterly Magazine, 4 (April, 1875), 159–186. Reprint in Musical Studies, from where this quotation is taken (p. 178).Google Scholar
  7. 68.
    Dannreuther, Richard Wagner, The Music of the Future, A Letter to M. Frederic Villot (London: Schott, 1873). This organisation sponsored the first public concerts consisting of Wagner’s music in London on the 19 February and 9 May 1873. The Athenaeum attacked the idea of performing excerpts from Wagner’s work, arguing that ‘his operas absolutely require, that they may produce their due effect, dramatic action and a mise en scène’, ‘The Wagner Society’, 2366 (March, 1873), 288–289 (p. 288, col. c).Google Scholar
  8. 69.
    Dannreuther, Richard Wagner: His Tendencies and Theories (London: Augener, 1873). Hueffer notes that the brochure received a ‘distinctly hostile’ reaction, but it succeeded in opening for debate Wagner’s aesthetics, Half a Century, p. 66.Google Scholar
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    See Alison Winter, Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 136, See also Ellenberger, particularly the section entitled ‘The Royal Road to the Unknown Mind: Hypnotism’, pp. 112–120.Google Scholar
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    Nietzsche, The Case of Wagner (1888), translated by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1967), pp. 171, 183, Crary, Suspensions of Perception, p. 252. Crary also notes the opinions of two early French critics. Eugène Véron noted of his experience of the Ring in 1878 that the production was of a dreamlike clairvoyance, unlike normal waking states, L’esthetique (Paris: C. Reinwald, 1878). Paul Souriau, writing in 1893, questioned whether ‘Perhaps a new Wagner will soon write an opera for the magic lantern — an opera of dreamlike music and fantastic and virtually imaginary tableaus’, La Suggestion dans L’art (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1893), pp. 176–177.Google Scholar
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    See Miller J. Hillis for a good discussion of this element in Hardy’s fiction, Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1970). He argues that Tess’ movements across the landscape demonstrate how she ‘travels a determined course through life toward her fated end’ (p. 202). In ‘The Absolute Explains’ time becomes ‘a dark highway’ upon which man, ‘plodding by lantern light’, is only able to perceive the ‘Now’ by means of its dim rays, the ‘Past’ and ‘Future’ remaining obscure. Complete Poems, 11. 11–13, 16, 17.Google Scholar

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© Mark Asquith 2005

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  • Mark Asquith

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