Between the Pages is a new, weekly blog series which explores the life, times and creative works of well-known authors. I plan to run the blog series until the end of 2015, focusing on one author per month. New posts every Tuesday, plus occasional bonus posts.
The first post in the series is a brief biography of the author, the second looks at the historical period of the author, and the third post discusses their creative works. Finally, the last post includes selected quotations and short excerpts by the author.
So, I know I said that these posts will be published every Tuesday… And it hasn’t escaped my notice that today is Wednesday. I am a punctual person when deadlines are important, but when deadlines are self-imposed and there’s no great urgency, I think it’s okay to cut ourselves some slack. 🙂
When you think of Thomas Hardy’s writing and storylines, it wouldn’t be surprising if you think of gloom: death, depression, dark and rainy English countryside filled with mud (it’s not all pretty and picturesque, you know). When I researched material for this post, I was amused to find this Guardian infographic: Which Thomas Hardy novel is the bleakest? The graphic lists a key of all the bleak events that occur in each of Hardy’s novels — Jude the Obscure scores the most (no surprises there!), closely followed by Tess of the d’Urbervilles and The Mayor of Casterbridge.
But if we put gloom to one side for a moment, one of the key characteristics of Hardy’s writing is his affinity for writing about nature and the lives of people who are in tune with their surroundings, such as the shepherd Gabriel Oak in Far from the Madding Crowd. Gabriel’s surname has a dual meaning: it references his loyal, steadfast character and his name also draws attention to his profound connection with the rural landscape.
Hardy wrote about the landscapes and people he knew — the rolling downs of Dorset in the south of England, the accents and dialects of the country people and farm labourers — and he uses careful linguistic choices and imagery in order for the semantic richness of his works to be expressed.
Hardy has been criticised for “his at times pedantic, awkward, mannered style” (Bloom, 2004: 73) and it is true that he frequently utilises Latinate words and lengthy expressions; for example, “Their condition of domiciliary comradeship put her, as the woman, to such disadvantage by its enforced intercourse, that he felt it unfair to her to exercise any pressure of blandishment which he might have honestly employed had she been better able to avoid him” (Tess of the d’Urbervilles, ch. 29). However, his choice of lexis and use of dramatic imagery creates vivid scenes and character descriptions for the reader.
In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Hardy uses imagery of the natural world to portray the varying emotional states of Tess. For instance, at the beginning of the novel when Tess is a maiden, “the sun blazes down upon the fields”, but by the end of “Phase the First”, the cloudy fogs of autumn with their “webs of vapour” enshroud Tess with emotional distress.
At the close of the novel, there is an intensely symbolic element in the poetic resonance of the setting of Stonehenge. “The heathen temple” (ch. 58) with its “towering monoliths and trilithons” (ibid.) not only creates a sense of the finale of an epic classical tragedy, but it also contrasts with the Victorian context: the Pagan history of Stonehenge as an opposing faith to Christian Victorian England.
The strong imagery of the scene and compelling descriptions implicate the reader in the overwhelmingly dramatic and sacrificial tone of the conclusion of the novel. The image of Tess sleeping on the sacrificial stone as she is surrounded by the policemen who will lead her to her death does not fail to raise a shudder of dread within the reader at what is to come for our heroine.
Hardy’s talent for using language is evident in his poetry too, sometimes even more so than his novels. Later in the week, we’ll explore a few of his poems and I’ll share my favourite quotes with you.
Bloom, H., (2004). Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: Thomas Hardy. New York: Infobase Publishing.
What do you like about Hardy’s novels — the characters, the storylines, the imagery? Are you a reader who doesn’t mind some doom and gloom, or do you prefer your reading material to be “light and bright and sparkling” (a quote from Jane Austen, describing Pride and Prejudice)? Share your thoughts in the comments!