Thomas Hardy's Style of Writing as A Novelist

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      Poetic style. Hardy is primarily a poet, and nowhere does he have more claims for his recognition as a poet in his fiction than in the imaginative use of style. Here the poet is at his best. His poetic genius coupled with the power of employing imaginative words and phrases has made poetry of his prose. The themes which Hardy employs in his novels are again essentially poetic, as the element of sorrow has always been a spur to the imagination.

      Subjectivity. As a poet, Hardy is subjective, and this quality of subjectivity is abundantly found in the style of Hardy. He feels: “The secret of living style lies in not having too much style—in being a little careless, or seeming to be, here and there.” Here Hardy's instinct is perhaps correct, for an excess of care in the use of style would check the writer from expressing his best self. As such Duffin calls this style of Hardy as “essentially of the philosophic type.” As Lord David Cecil puts it, “You could never mistake a paragraph by Hardy for a paragraph by anybody else. The distinguishing elements in his personality—his integrity, his naivete, his dignity, his strangeness—are present in the turn of his phrases, and to smooth his sentences out into a polished level of perfection would involve obliterating the mark of Hardy's signature.”.

      Style to suit situation. The style of Hardy varies from place to place to suit the mode of the author. He may be clumsy and coarse yet he is imaginative and a poet in the expression of his views; at times he is colourful and at others he uses a naked and bold style yet full of altitudian grandeur. His style answers to the various and shifting moods and natures of his characters. With passionate and loving character it is always a colourful style; with pastoral folk it is purely native and dialectical. It is also of different types as the changing situation—humorous, soft, stirring, tragic, satirical—present themselves upon the screen.

      Dynamic style. A notable thing with Hardy is that like his philosophy his style is not static but dynamic. It has been improving in novel after novel. In the first two novels Far From the Madding Crowd and The Woodlanders it is predominantly pastoral; in Tess of the d'Urbervilles and The Return of the Native there is a leaning towards the tragic though coupled with pastoral but in The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure the earlier note is entirely discarded and is replaced by the tragic wedded with an amount of cynicism. The remark of Duffin is apt; “It may be said of Hardy, as Dryden said of Shakespeare in a slightly different connection, that he is always great when some great occasion is presented to him,” and these great occasions are to be found either in the opening or in the closing chapters of his books especially of his novels The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Return of the Native and Tess.

      Rhythmic prose. But above all, the fact remains that Hardy is a poet and this poetic gift of imaginativeness is seen even in the choice of his words and phrases, in the exactitude of his similes and quotations and in the adroit skill of the movement of the rhythms. He knows the skill of “one-word expression as Eustacia's eyes are “pagan” or Henchard's garden is silent,dewy and full of perfume” or such imaginative phrases as “boisterous tosses of the foam”. “The image always presents itself before Hardy's inward eye” before it is put to pen. “If a vehicle passes a window, Hardy is in the room and knows what effect its passing has on the light.” The rhythm of his prose may be rugged and harsh but the very harshness and ruggedness in it, when timely repeated, become rhythmic.

      Defects of style. But his imagination is not always for the good. The excess of it has brought its disadvantages too which are obvious and hard to be denied. He is primarily wanting in the logical construction of his phrases and sentences. The poet sometimes ousts the intellectual in him with the consequent loss of craftsmanship which are the distinguishing qualities of all great novelists like Gustave Flaubert of Maupassant. Further his style becomes rambling. For a single and direct expression he will waste, like. Ruskin a number of words and with no effect. He will shun an expression like “apparently just beneath his feet” for an indirect expression like “visually just past his toes and under his feet”. Bathsheba is not merely shy but, “not a point in the milkmaid was of the deepest rose colour.” Sometimes he takes the strange liberty of a poet, that of coining new words or interpreting words in his own way; there is “domicile” for house or “habiliments” for clothes but he crosses limits when he coins such an expression as “habilimental taste” to say “the choice of dress.” Very often, as Lord David Cecil remarks, “he cannot manage the ordinary syntax and grammar of the English language.”

      Deliberate and Grave Style. “The style of Mr. Hardy is a deliberate and grave style! His thought falls into phrases and paragraphs of a Latin massiveness. Rarely can it be called supple, agile, brilliant; the sentences do not ‘lash out with a bright play of wit and fancy in the manner of some delightful modern writers. Rather Mr. Hardy cultivates a sustained equality like that of the Roman writers. He gives us the comfortable sense of dealing with realities. Of each page, and paragraph and sentence, we can say that we know the reason of its existence; the measured expression, one with another, each contributing its just service in composing an organic whole. The genius, which gets at ultimate simplicity of things; their vitality, their reality, knows with what care of expression, at what expense of space, in what tone and key, to communicate its apprehensions of each of several things. And, the thing communicated rightly, the reader accepts it rightly, without any immediate sensation of wonder or surprise. That sensation is left when the story is over—then comes the rush of emotion, as the accumulated truth and beauty, which in detail we have quietly accepted, come home to us in their unity and their entirety. Much, doubtless, of the dignity of the work comes from its occupation, which dignifies natures; with men and women conscious in a deep and fearless way, of the great commanding varieties, life and death, love and hate, beings of a pagan-resignation, almost of a somber pride, as the thought of Fate and Fatality, creatures unskilled in the culture of light emotions, vagrant impressions, the cross proposes and chance hits those whose nerves are over-sensitive, whose minds are over-flexible. To say this, is to say that Mr. Hardy’s form is proper to his subject; for there is evidence in plenty that his work is full of conscious paints, of forethought and of elaboration.

      His Scholarly Workmanship. “The scholarly workmanship of Mr. Hardy recalls to me that large manner of our early masters in English prose; those masters of the rich phrase, the elaborate cadence, the liberal and golden eloquence - Examine some of Mr. Hardy’s heightened passages knit together and compact, instinct with a passion strongly controlled and then turn to those old classics of our tongue. You will find the same air of delighted mastery, the same exercise of unwearied powers throughout great reaches of thought and feeling. For the most part, he delights in the immense resources of our traditional speech without wandering into new paths, he knows, how much strength and beauty spring from the simplest well-chosen and well-consorted words by the scholar’s discrimination. A clear conception of the thing to be set down in words, the quite simple and appropriate words, produces wonders. Modern English is in some danger of losing that powerful charm, by its hatred of simplicity; but our old writers, even the forgotten among them, are seldom without it.

      Abounds Style of Simplicities. “Mr. Hardy abounds in fine simplicities. And whilst his happy turns and phrases do not startle us into a surprised delight, disproportionate to their importance, they fill us with a continual pleasure. Here are some examples of Hardy’s style.

      “The said Science of Renunciation that sat in a rigid reticence, that was almost a Third Personality, it is an good as Brownings one and one, with a shadowy third. Her touch upon your hand was as soft as wind. Fletcher mighty have imagined it, or Herrick.”

      “The shearers reclined against each other at suppers in the early age of the world.” It is said in the most delicate manner of Hawthorne, “The occasional leave of the wind became the sign of some immense sad soul, co-terminus with the universe in space, and with history in time.” Senacour wrote so, at the height of his mournful wisdom. “There is no cleverness, sought after and hard won, in these perfect sentences, they are right, by some natural magic of their own, as Virgil’s and Dante’s words are right. And, again, in the way of those masters, it is scholarship, with its disciplined joy in the simple and serene, that helped the writer to capture the beauty of this natural magic” as Lionel Johnson observed!

      His Respect for Science. “The peeper foundations of Hardy’s thought are those of the Victorian mind, positive data, a respect for Science, curiosity as to the cosmic and human past. Upon this basis, others about him were raising the cult of omnipotent evolution; of frightful industry, of pacific democracy. His original instinct, after a quick transition, settles in a coherent system of directly opposed beliefs, which at times are formulated, at times remain latent, and are revealed only through powerful concrete expressions.

      He accepts science, and feels its spell, but joylessly. His tastes leads him away from the fever and fit of industry. A meditative and solitary man, he keeps in harmony with the austere though hardened countryside of Dorsetshire, where he spent his boyhood; and it is there, in retirement, that his life develops, uneventful except for the stages of his work. His books almost ignore the new facts of the present-day world; their background is the eternal framework of the hills and the moors; all their vistas open upon those simple, unchanging realities, the neighborhood of which throws light on the true-relationship between the universe and man.

      Plots Grow out of Passions. His plots are not simple. They grow out of elementary passions; ambition, love, greed, jealousy. The thirst for knowledge; and the springs which move them are psychological. More and more as he progresses in his career, Hardy tends to shift the construction of his novels to the inner world; he writes a moral drama, shows us conflict of contradictory wills guided themselves by feelings. But the development of these conflicts is crossed at every moment by accidents which interrupt them—Ironical malevolent, fatal chance is as it were an invisible third party in all the relationships of human beings; now it seems to express an obscure cruelty lurking in the universe; now in a more philosophical guise, it is the experimental revelation of laws which individuals in their self-deception ignore, and against which probability demands that they should be some day crushed. In this utter sense, chance becomes the chastisement of the unavoidable selfishness of everyday life. Whether one aspect or the other be predominant, the repeated working of that inimical luck is largely responsible for the tragic atmosphere which Hardy’s heroes succeed but rarely escape.

      Strong-willed Souls. Emily Legouis and Louis Cazamian, have aptly written “And yet theirs are strong-willed souls. The solitude and concentration of country habits have saved them from the dispersion and constant war that eat up the town-dweller. There are some among them whose initially has been impaired by reflection, by art, and the exhausting work of the intelligence; but their energy dies hard, and the deadly strain is a long-time conquering theme. Cylm Yeobright, has judged the three different aspects of that rustic robustness struggling against the experience of pain of the disease of thought. However interesting they may be and many among them are original figures, with strong unforgettable features—the characters of Hardy do not bear the stamp of a faultless art. They are laboriously constructed, and from the outside, their creator is not under the immediate spell of intuition. In this field he is the architect, rather than the poet, the building is sound, but its frame and joints are invisible.”

      Conclusion. What place does Hardy occupy then in the galaxy of the great stylists? Hardy owes some debt to some of the great stylists whom he studied in order to improve his style. He names such prose writers as Defoe,. Addison, Burke, Gibbon, Lamb and others; but surely the reader will be disappointed if he tries to discover in him a trace of any of these writers. For him style was but merely a means to an end. His style, therefore, is not without its faults and consequently not great. Duffin also remarks that Hardy was not a born master of style like Thackeray nor a made one like Stevenson. Like some good orators he require ‘a stimulant before eloquence is forthcoming’ and to this end even Lord David Cecil observes: “Hardy writes clumsily but he writes creatively.

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