Representation of Nature in Thomas Hardy's Literary Works

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      Nature is constantly present in Hardy's novels. Nature does not merely exist in Hardy's novel in the form of background to man's action. Of course, we have vivid descriptions of the landscape in his novels. But more than that, his landscapes have a "bare, sheer, penetrating power and are invested with human significance." Winter-borne looked and smelt "like Autumn's very brother." It is true to observe that the love which Scott felt for the Tweed and Morris for the scenery of his Thames, Hardy feels for the heaths and the pastures of Wessex; and he describes these with a sure hand. A full comprehension of Hardy's view of nature will be denied to us if we do not know the relationship which exists between the life of nature and that of man.

      Hardy's world of nature is invested with human significance. His natural world is on one level the background against which the drama of humanity is incessantly being played. The stage remains while the characters continue to come and go. In his novels, nature appears in the form of the Eternal; men die and are born again to witness its grand spectacle. Some of the characters as Maty South or Diggory Venn are incomprehensible to us unless we fully realize the background in which they move and are brought up.

      Nature is a character. Hardy's natural world is not merely a background that is passive and lifeless. On the contrary, it appears as a character animated and animating. Unlike Scott, Hardy paints nature, not as inanimate automation but invests it with a personality and an individuality of its own. It must be remembered that Hardy is primarily a poet and he looks at everything imaginatively. Nature in his novels intrudes directly to affect the destinies of other men and women; and like other characters of his novels, it also assumes a role and plays its part successfully. In many of his novels, Hardy has given an allegorical interpretation of nature. Such books as The Woodlanders, Under the Greenwood Tree and Far From the Madding Crowd evince, even in their titles, the innate love which the author has for this natural world. The woods in The Woodlanders and the heath in the Return of the Native and living presences in his books.

      Thus nature is an active and potential force in the novels of Hardy. As such Egdon Heath determines the character and dominates the plot of its novel. Clym Yeobright, the hero, is the true child of Egdon. In his moments of prosperity and adversity, he is a part and parcel of Egdon. It sometimes checks the unruly passions of other characters. The already existing passion of Eustacia is multiplied by the hatred of this austere power which checks her powerfully from her indulgence in fierce passion.

      Thus the life of Egdon and of the characters that move within its compass is inextricably mixed with each other. As in Tennyson so in Hardy, the poetic feeling and scientific observation are happily blended. Read Egdon and you will know the nature of its people; read woodland to know the real disposition of the "Woodlanders." The nature and the inanimate are sentient and it feels and thinks and acts. When Tess confesses her crime, even the furniture bears a mocking shape towards her.

      Cruelty and indifference of Nature of Man: Besides its domination on characters, Nature plays a part in the plot of Hardy's novels. Most hideous and dreadful acts are perpetrated in its bosom. The wild-eyed heath ponies steal up shadow-like to watch the game between reddlemen and Wildeve. The spirit of Egdon Heath determines the victory in the same way. Most of the scenes in Hardy's novels take place in the dark. "In Egdon", says Hardy, night falls earlier than at the other places and even the day in Egdon is made dusky by the thickness of the forest." It sometimes precipitates the tragedy of those who are not its chosen sons. The tragedy of Mrs. Yeobright, the mother of Clym, is a point in illustration. Nature kills with the help of a poisonous serpent one who is already deserted by her son.

      Egdon, according to Hardy, presents a face upon which time makes but little impression. Being the manifestation of the Supreme Self it is not subject to any change; the varying seasons cannot disturb the unruffled silence of its woods. Hardy is against the device of "Pathetic Fallacy" for nature is untameable and is not amenable to the changing moods of its people as it used to be with Tennyson. Sometimes it may represent itself through an individual. The spirit of Egdon is personified in the form of Diggory Venn who, within its territory, is present everywhere and sees everything that happens there.

      Tragedy results if Man conflicts with Nature: Though Hardy's nature commands a colossal power, perhaps second to the Almighty if there be any, yet nowhere does Hardy suggest that it can become a transcendental force as it was for Wordsworth or Shelley. The latter writers required a personal God but Hardy tries to discover a universal God whom he finds as cruel or at least indifferent and as opposed to the benevolent God of Wordsworth or the rewarding God of Browning. This perhaps accounts for Hardy's blindness to see anywhere "Nature's holy plan". On the contrary, he observes that a constant struggle for existence is going on in these forests. Again, as opposed to Wordsworth's optimistic conception, Hardy's view of Nature is truly sad and pessimistic. He does not see the existence of some spirit in these forests and again unlike Wordsworth, he does not draw the extreme inference that "every flower enjoys the air it breathes." Similarly there is no touch of Wordsworthian mysticism here. Nature, to him, is not the incarnation of some "brooding spirit" that lives and moves and influences all thought and action, compelling men to pay homage to it.

      Conclusion. Thus nature, in Hardy, is usually indifferent but it is not always so. Sometimes it is inspired with a boundless love for those who are its chosen sons. It may be cruel and indignant to some who oppose it but it is also mild and tolerant. The human aspect of Hardy's writing cannot be made known to us unless we study closely his view of nature. To get an intimate knowledge of its human significance a thorough study of Egdon Heath is indispensable. He has his clearest views about Nature, and he fully pays the debt which he owed to it for being brought up in its lap; and what he realized from it as a child, he set forth here as a man.

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