Vision of Wessex: in Thomas Hardy's Literary Creation

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      Wessex, the fictional name for a real place: Wessex is an important name associated with Hardy's novels. The place where actions of his novels occur. But it is the fictional name of the real Dorset, and in the creation of this background or "locality" for the actions of his novels, there is an aesthetic mixture of truth and distortion of the real Dorset. He paints this Wessex as powerfully and instinctively as Scott painted the Tweed or as Morris paints the color and scenes of Thames. Hardy conjures up the spirit of Wessex by vividly presenting to us its heaths and pastures. The place which Hardy depicts is quite definite and can easily be traced on the map. It is even more definite than the provincial Midlands of George Eliot. The persons he portrays are of a true pagan origin and are merely disguised under a Christian nomenclature. Some folk, "still seek into them that have familiar spirits and into wizards that peep and that mutter". Without any information about this land and its phenomena help with a few delicate touches and some allusions to it. Even the slightest changes of seasons are recorded on the face of Egdon - the coming of tempest or rain is foretold; the meaning of the rustling wind is made clear to us. No direct knowledge is imparted to us and yet we are better acquainted with the place. Not only does Hardy himself feel the fullness of this country but he makes us also share it.

      A realistic description is fraught with romance: Hardy's love for Wessex is intensely lyrical and yet this Wessex has been scientifically and accurately portrayed. This land abounding in ancient relics, dilapidated amphitheaters, fortifications, Stonehenge, and altars of ancient Britons sends his romantic imaginations into the remote past where he can conjure up visions of its feudal glory, and he traces the history of this from the past to the present day. And all this he does with such a minute observation and fidelity that it remains not merely romantic. Hardy combines patriotic love and scientific accuracy. Dorset the most unpoetic, has been made poetic; the most unhistoric has become a history in the hands of Hardy.

     Modernity versus convention: the spirit of Hardy's Wessex. Hardy was being greatly affected by the infection of modern science. The Industrial Revolution had entirely changed the face of this country. Even in Hardy's time's farmers and poor laborers, bidding 'au Revoir' to their sweethearts, were leaving that locality with a view to finding some jobs in the newly-created towns of Buckinghamshire. Here and there some so-called cultured men crept into the pure air of this countryside, and with a 'maliceless malignity affected the destinies of those simple natural folk. Hardy in his novels shows, so distinctly as no other writer can, the struggle and incompatibility of primitive ideas and modern scientific thought. These modern men, bred in the new culture and civilization brought by science, flout the dictates of Egdon Heath or the woodlands and are, therefore, ever-subjected to rigorous punishment. The cities may safely be modernized but the villages were alright with their unscientific ways and methods. That is why Hardy has chosen a very pure and untainted place which is 'Far From the Madding Crowd' where people are not taught false emotions and pretended love.

      Employment of local dialect: "The local dialect, which Hardy employs, also helps a great deal in actualizing to us this life of Wessex and he is right to think it as "the passport to intimacy" with the Wessex life. Further, this dialect suggests the past glory of this country. Hardy is cautious to mark the passage of time. While Scot brings the dead past of bear upon the present and breaks the sense of historical continuity, Hardy never violates the past and has too great a regard for it. With the lapse of time, he suggests many old Norman families like Durbeyfield or D'Urberville and Paridelles have degenerated into peasants and farm-laborers and all this he does without a touch of unreality.

      Universality through Regionalism. For dealing exclusively with this Wessex-life Hardy is called the first and greatest of the 'regional' novelists. His predecessors in this field-Dickens and George Elliot - do evince some interest for the soil and the background in which they were born but it is merely a regional interest or merely an interest in the soil. Hardy's interest in the soil is linked up with the history and customs and with the gradual changes in the Wessex country. He has, therefore, nothing to do with mere regional interest. As Priestley holds, "he does not ask us to read his novels because they exploit in travel-book or guide-book fashion the scenery and quaint customs of Dorset. He simply makes use of it in a new way. The woods and the heaths and the fields of Wessex do not support him merely with so much scenery against which his characters move as they would have done to an earlier novelist". They are part of the atmosphere of the novel, and are as important in the understanding of Hardy's view of Life as are the plot and characters. Regionalism is the basis for the contemplation of situations and ideas of universal significance.

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