Plot Construction in Thomas Hardy's Novel

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      Introduction: In the construction of the plots of Thomas Hardy's novels, he is at once a prodigal as well as an economist; he is a prodigal for he works out every scene and character in detail. He is an economist, for in his writing every word has its place and nothing can be taken out without some injury to the sense or the finish of the whole.

      Hardy is a conscious artist: Unlike the early Victorian novelists whose plots are loose and rambling, Hardy's plots are integrated and compact. In respect of the wholeness and perfection of plot, Hardy can honorably vie with the greatest artists like Flaubert and Turgenev. His early apprenticeship in architecture is much to account for the perfectly symmetrical and architectonic powers of his plot construction. There are no loose ends. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph, and above all every chapter-all of them, singly and also as a whole-contribute to the stately plan of his novels.

      The plots of Hardy's novels are well designed and complete: Hardy's natural instinct especially favors a measured and ordered design and his books have a sweeping simplicity. "Not only in the collective impressions made by their definite outline but in the detailed effect of single isolated passages or pages is this quality of adjustment felt." As in Shakespeare, so also in Hardy, there is a directness of purpose and no other idea is introduced in the middle either to check the progress of the narrative or to mar our interest in the story. The modern reader may be disappointed not to find here that charm which he finds in the infinite complexities of Henry James but for that matter alone our interest in him is not the least impaired. There are not many complications in his plot and whatever they are can easily be explained with the help of diagrams.

      The plot centered around one theme: Hardy's plots are conventionally centered around one theme - love-motif - which recurs in novel after novel. Just as Shakespeare wrote love-comedies, Hardy, it seems, except for the novel Far From the Madding Crowd, writes love-tragedies. His novels deal with the question of love, and the complication in them is either of one man being loved by two women or one woman being loved by two men or two men loved by two women at cross-purposes. Diagrammatically these complicated relationships can be represented. In Jude the Obscure, for instance,

Jude     -     Sue
    ||                 ||
Arabella     Phillotson

In Tess of the D'Urbervilles,

Tess     -     Angel Clare
Alec D'Urberville

In Return of the Native,

Clym Yeobright = Eustacia Vye
Thomasina = Wildeve

      Development of Hardy's art: One can well notice the gradual development of art in Hardy's novels. He is an innovator in the form of the novel by writing his tragical-epical Dynasts just as Meredith is an innovator by his new form of the lyrical comical, or just as Fielding invented the new form of "comic epic in prose". But the art of Meredith and Fielding is a static one. In Hardy, the development of his art may be traced in one novel after another. The Mayor of Casterbridge marks the difference from his early novels. His first three novels - The Woodlanders, Far From the Madding Crowd, and The Return of the Native - are the tragic tales of a group of persons who inhabit the countryside and who are capable of strong passions; while in his later novels such as Tess of the D'Urbervilles or Jude the Obscure, the influence of other writers and especially of the French novel, Jean Christophe, can be distinctly seen, because these are primarily the biographies of one person after whom the story has been named.

      "Psychological" motivations in the plot: Another distinguishing feature of Hardy's plots is that they are essentially psychological in their motive and texture. The plots of Meredith's novels are also psychological and are written around a motive that is also psychological in conception, but Meredith, while he is busy in motive-dissection, entirely forgets his plot. Not so with Hardy in whose novels the construction is as significant as the psychological plan of the novel. Hardy does not present the internal conflict but finds out some such crises, involved in which the character begins to unfold itself. These crises, being psychologically tense, lay open the psychological potentialities or weaknesses of the character. Even the dialogues and scenes are fashioned by human nature alone."

      Interaction of character and situation: In every novel, there is some problem given and the answer can be deduced only by the juxtaposition of the characters given and the situations presented, and then alone we can know as to what happened to these innocent weaklings who are more sinned against than sinning. Jude, Tess, Henchard, Boldwood, all of these and others are psychological studies in relation to the environment; and this environment exercises a potential effect on the mold of their destinies. In this respect, he may not be as ultra-modern and psychological as the writers of the "stream-of-consciousness" method are but it must be said to his credit that he at least evinces the love of this branch of learning (psychology) which was gaining popularity in his day.

      Besides the situations, even the scenes in Hardy are psychological. These scenes show not "what" but "how" a thing happened, and in the circumstances given that alone could happen. The crises in Hardy are not frequent and therefore such scenes also are not many. The 'disclosure-of-the-sin' scene in Tess of the D'Urbervilles is really psychological. In Jude the Obscure no less than three scenes can be marked. The 'quarrel' scene between Clym Yeobright and Eustacia in The Return of the Native is also essentially of the same nature.

      Incidents well managed: Hardy manages his incidents very adroitly. Instead of the Aristotelian preference for "probable impossibilities" he prefers improbable possibilities", but here Hardy does not employ that old ghost-device' which is so much abused by the Gothic writers. But though Hardy does not introduce ghosts yet he makes use of the ghastliness in the atmosphere as in the scene of Tess's disclosure of the secret or: in the suggestion of a singular nature happening at the deathbed scene in Jude the Obscure. Egdon Heath wields ghostly powers. Reddlemen suggest the ghostly spirit of Egdon which is always and everywhere present. Again the coincidences are frequent in Hardy. It is always the unexpected and the unforeseen that happens; the expected never does. The great events in his novella crisis or a denouement - are always governed and determined by several such chance-happenings or what Hardy loves to call "cross-casualties". In Tess of D'Urbervilles, these coincidences are more sombre and ironical than at other places. To have the desired effect, Hardy employs various allusions. The crowing of the cock twice foretells a tragic end. Thus Hardy's stories centered around the Wessex-life as they are, incorporate old relics and common superstitions.

      Folk-song effect: Another characteristic quality of Hardy's plots is their idyllic charm or what Lord David Cecil calls "something of the folk song about Hardy's plots." The characters, in these stories, cherish vehement passions; they are "forlorn maidens and dashing Don Juans". Sergeant Troy is a dashing soldier who has a beloved in every town he goes to.

      Conclusion: Much can be said about Hardy's skill in plot construction. There is symmetrical development of the plot in his novels. But he lacks the inventive power which characterises writers such as Sterne, Scott, Dickens, and Thackeray.

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