Thomas Hardy as a Novelist
As with the majority of his earlier novels, poetry, and short stories, Hardy set his “Novels of Character and Environment,” in and around Dorchester (‘Casterbridge’), near his boyhood home at Bockhampton on the outskirts of ‘Egdon’ Heath. While both Anthony Trollope (181582) and George Eliot (1819–80) employed rural locations in their writings, Hardy’s rural environment is neither romantic nor idealised. Hardy’s critics charged him with being excessively pessimistic about humanity’s role in the scheme of things from the publication of his earliest works. Hardy asserted in 1901 that “non-rationality seems. . .to be the [guiding] principle of the Universe.” Chance, as Lord David Cecil observes in Hardy the Novelist, p. 24-30, is the embodiment of the blind forces that regulate human fate in all his writings. Ironically, the blind forces of ‘Hap’ appear to favour certain characters while relentlessly pursuing those who deserve better, such as Tess, as well as those whose fates could be interpreted as proof of Nemesis or Poetic Justice (Sergeant Troy in Far from the Madding Crowd, Lucetta in The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Alec in Tess of the d’Urbervilles). Hardy’s April 1878 journal entry reveals the underlying concept that guided his fiction:
A Plot, or Tragedy, should arise from the gradual closing in of a situation that comes of ordinary human passions, prejudices, and ambitions, by reason of the characters taking no trouble to ward off the disastrous events produced by the said passions, prejudices, and ambitions.
Hardy’s Novels of Character and Environment, like the great tragedies of fifth-century Athens and Elizabethan England, communicate a strong feeling of fatalism, a belief that human actions in life are predetermined, either by the very essence of things, or by God, or by Fate. Hardy’s reliance on chance and fate in his storey plots frequently shows that human volition is fettered rather than free. He uses random happenstance as more than a storey technique in both Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Under the Greenwood Tree, for example. Dick Dewey is summoned away to a friend’s funeral on the same day that his beloved, Fancy Day, is to debut as the church organist in Under the Greenwood Tree, and Angel comes to Tess from Brazil and near-death after she has created a common-law marriage with Alec.
Hardy appears to apply the concept of ‘Fortune’s False Wheel’ (which Chaucer discusses at length in “The Monk’s Tale” and to which Shakespeare alludes many times in King Lear) to the rise and fall of Michael Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886): starting as a poor hay-trusser with a drinking problem, he renounces alcohol and works his way up to become the town’s leading corn factor and mayor Although Far from the Madding Crowd contains elements of Shakespearean comedy, the most of the Novels of Character and Environment (commonly known as “The Wessex Novels”), such as The Return of the Native, are tragic in nature.
His minor female characters are rarely endowed with inner strength, spiritual power, or physical attractiveness. He treats them with affectionate sarcasm, as he does Bathsheba’s maid Liddy in Far from the Madding Crowd, who has “womanly dignity of a diminutive order.” Although the old furmity vendor of The Mayor of Casterbridge, androgynous or an “anti-woman” as she has been dubbed, appears only a few times, Hardy treats her with the same respect and faithfulness of description that characterises his treatment of “Wide-Oh” (more properly, ‘Conjurer Fall’) in the same novel. Hardy’s main female characters, like those in The Well-Beloved, may be based on the artist’s personal notion of the feminine ideal. The Mayor of Casterbridge’s quiet, shy, strong-minded, moral, and responsible Elizabeth-Jane endures the trials of poverty but is able to learn from bitter experience, even providing herself with an education in the classics, just as young Thomas Hardy, the former Dorchester architect’s apprentice, had done. In contrast to Elizabeth-Jane, the independent-minded Bathsheba of Far from the Madding Crowd is a nonconformist since she seeks to run her own farm and manage men; nonetheless, Hardy makes her act with a spontaneity of feeling and feel at times inferior to men.
Nature As Character in Thomas Hardy’s Wessex Novels:
Some of Thomas Hardy’s works have some of the most striking descriptive and poetic passages about nature. His use of minute detail in representing nature and natural processes is arguably unparalleled in English fiction. One of his greatest talents as a novelist is the way he depicts his characters’ interactions with the natural world, which he frequently represents as sentient; in many instances, he even lends the natural world human characteristics. His figures are frequently observed in various ties to the natural world: Nature can be viewed as merely decorative; it can be viewed as illustrative, i.e. in harmony with the character (s) moods or situation, in essence, a projection of the character’s inner state; it can be viewed as sometimes determinative of action, i.e. the weather or natural features influence the moods and behaviour of the character (s); it can be viewed as a controlling influence, causing characters to take action in some way; and finally, it Nature, in all of its forms, becomes a central figure in his art. By allowing his characters to engage with nature in his fictitious region of Wessex (the counties of Berkshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, and Devon), Hardy is able to give a strong sense of drama and a profound vision of the man in harmony with the natural world to his work. It has been said that “Hardy instinctively unites nature and man, making the external setting a kind of sharer in the human fate” and that he writes in such a way that “the landscape takes its place as an actor in the drama of human life” Perhaps no other living or deceased writer has such a grasp of nature while also possessing the writing skill and emotional depth to capture and express this reality in text.
The theme of alienation in the major novels of Thomas Hardy:
Human isolation and alienation is a pervasive theme that has received insufficient attention in Thomas Hardy’s fiction. This study delves into the concept of estrangement via the lens of Hardy’s main works. Although the phrase “alienation” is one of the most prominent elements of this era, it is not entirely obvious what it implies. To comprehend the term’s intricate repercussions, the writer must rely heavily on Hegel, Marx, Fromm, and other theorists. The term’s multiple links are limited to only a few meanings and uses, the most essential of which refers to a mismatch between one’s society and one’s spiritual goals or welfare. The issue of estrangement is then explored through sample pieces from the broad range of Victorian literature. The major intellectual trait of the Victorian era is undeniably “the sense of want of correspondence between the forms of modern Europe and its spirit” as Arnold put it. Hardy and other late Victorians have made a significant topic of the increasing difficulties of integrating historical and spiritual perspectives. Following that, each of Hardy’s major works receives a chapter in which the idea of alienation is explored. Boldwood’s neurotic and self-destructive nature causes him to become obsessed with Bathsheba in Far from the Madding Crowd, and as a result, he murders Troy and suffers the isolation of life imprisonment; Fanny Robin’s tragic and lonely death, only assisted by a dog, is a flagrant indictment of society. Clym is the first prototype of alienated modern man in Hardy’s writing, appearing in The Return of the Native. He returns to Egdon Heath only to dwell in solitude, unable to engage with the individuals he hoped would help him overcome his alienation. Eustacia has continually led an alienated existence in Egdon Heath, which leads to her death. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Henchard’s alienation may be attributed to his own character, recalling Boldwood, rather than to social incongruity. Hardy, on the other hand, emphasises society’s march toward modernity, which Henchard cannot cope with. Not only does wild nature fail to be a regenerative and constructive force in The Woodlanders, but human nature also fails to be communicative and reassuring. Little Hintock’s residents are unable to interact with one another. Marty and Giles’ connection is an “obstructed relationship”; Giles suffers a sacrificial death, and Marty finishes as a wreck in a rare moment that is hard to believe in a freshly developing society. Fitzpiers and Mrs Charmond, on the other hand, are trapped within the sterile confines of their own delusions. Grace, anticipating Tess and Sue, is caught between two worlds, neither of which can comfortably contain her. In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Tess rapidly finds how repressive society is after her early experiences at Marlott and later at Trantridge, notably when she is rejected by Angel, whom she loves and through whom she strives to fulfil herself. Angel’s character suffers from self-division, and the tension between conventional attitudes and progressive thoughts makes him the embodiment of an alienated man unable to reconcile the values of two worlds. Hardy’s most full expression of alienation is Jude the Obscure. Jude’s estrangement is both explicit and implicit, and his inability to recognise himself in society is a prominent issue in the work. Failure, frustration, futility, discord, loneliness, rootlessness, and absurdity are foreshadowed as inescapable life conditions throughout the work. Finally, the idea of alienation is prevalent in Thomas Hardy’s major novels. Nonetheless, not all of his characters are alienated; however, their joyful state, like that of the rustics in Gray’s Elegy, is seen to be the result of their intellectual limitations.