Limitations of Thomas Hardy's Prose Fiction Writing

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      Thomas Hardy is a truly great novelist. He casts his spell on us, but we cannot ignore his defects. He is a great painter and creator of characters. He depicts the landscape vividly, begins his tales brilliantly and ends them eloquently. But he does not paint all these things uniformly. The Wessex novels are not sustained in their grandeur and excellence. Every novel is characterized by some defects. Some of these novels are very bad, They make a regularly sinuous curve. That is why David Cecil says that Hardy's genius works in flashes. When this flash comes it dazzles the reader. When it goes the reader gropes about in wilderness. He has the creative genius which understands his materials artistically, but he lacks the critical qualities which are necessary for presenting all the imaginative conceptions to the best of his advantage. He is a great artist but not a great craftsman.

His Limited Range

      The range of Hardy's novels is very limited. They are confined to the life and people of Wessex which is a literary region created by Hardy himself. He is always concerned with certain types of characters, situations and scenes only. When he goes beyond these things, he treads on slippery grounds. He deals with the struggle of common people with their destiny. These people are born to work hard, fall in love and die. They do not do anything else. His comedy is also confined to the humor of rustics only. 

His Limited Perspective

      The limits imposed by the scene are increased by those of the perspective in which he sees them. Hardy does not deal with many aspects of human nature. His man is one who faces the universe. He is not concerned with man as a member of the family, a citizen or a businessman. When Hardy works outside his range, he shows weakness. He cannot analyze the working of human mind. He fails to paint a modem skeptic in Fitzpiers or a modern thinker in Knight. Each of them is but a collection of views, imperfectly clothed in flesh and blood. When Hardy invents such characters, he lapses into philosophic inconsistency. On the one hand he holds circumstances as responsible for the downfall of his characters and on the other he criticizes them for their defects and weaknesses.

His Emotional Impression

      Sometimes Thomas Hardy is so poetic or imaginative in creating an emotional impression that he disregards probability. The result is that the picture presented by him is a falsification of real life. This is so because his creative power is stronger than his critical faculty or sense. He disregards probability when it seems to be standing in the way of the emotional impression which he wants to make on the reader. He ended The Return of the Native with the marriage of Verm and Thomasin. The public and the publishers forced him to give the present conclusion. Tess and Jude are innocent, but they meet a tragic end. He breaks with probability for giving his catastrophe the required intensity, of blackness. He brings Alec d'Urberville back to the life of Tess and does not give any explanation for it. If Alec is penitent and Tess intends to return to him, we fail to understand why she stabs him to death with a breakfast knife. Thomas Hardy flings probability to the winds in Jude the Obscure also. In this novel the theme is concerned with a conflict between a sensitive passionate temperament and a cruel conventional world. Arabella is a symbol of the tragedy of modem life. There are many incidents and events in the Wessex novels which are not consistent with real life. He seems to care more for creating a tragic impression than for giving a real picture of life. He is not a good judge of probability. That is why he emphasizes the part played by chance, coincidence or circumstance. Chance incarnates or embodies the blind force of fate or destiny. This blind chance is to be introduced in fiction only as a determining factor at some crucial moment when time is everything. But in order to produce the effect of a hostile fate, Hardy crowds many improbable incidents or chance happenings in a short period of time or space. Thus he twists his plots to suit this purpose.

His Philosophy

      Sometimes Thomas Hardy makes his novels a vehicle of his philosophy. He emphasizes his belief that man is but short of an indifferent destiny. It is the lack of a critical sense which leads him to the error of preaching. While behaving like a moralist or preacher he is no more than a typical Victorian. Being obsessed with the universe he turns from an imaginative creator into a propagandist. He forgets that as a tragic artist his first obligation is to his vision of life and not to the set of his intellectual beliefs. Unlike the modern writer of novels he does not remember that moral beliefs or views should be left to reveal themselves involuntarily. He forgets his own principle of recording his own impressions in a novel. Life his contemporaries he is interested in working out his own philosophy of life. He seems to be delivering his moral lectures on the bitterness of fate.

His Violations

      The forms of Hardy's novels are also not without some defects. He uses old words which are no longer in vogue. He violates the ordinary rules of syntax also. His weakness as a craftsman is revealed by the design of his novels. He is a good plotter but a bad designer. His plots are well-knit, but his designs are clumsy. He is almost always concerned with the conflict between man and the nature of things, but he incarnates it in a highly intricate and improbable story. His plots have to do little with this imaginative stimulus. Both the plot and stimulus pull against each other. The themes of Hardy are fit for fiction but the execution of his designs is loose or careless. Sometimes he affects the development of character by revealing an incident.

      While giving us a convincing picture to create an orderly pattern with the chaotic and heterogeneous view of life. Unlike Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy fails to do so, for his vision of life is affective but not realistic. It has got in it the profusion and energy of reality. When he forces it into a pattern, he tends to impose an unconvincing plot on it. This failure is very well illustrated by Tess of the d'Urbervilles. In this novel Alec d'Urberville is a rich young man who loves his animal pleasures only. He is responsible for the suffering and tragic end of Tess. We fail to know why or how he turns into a preacher. This conversion is impossible. Tess does not believe in it. All these things show that he loops the dice but to lose the game.


      In spite of all these defects and demerits, Thomas Hardy remains a great novelist. We love him for his sensitive brooding imagination which likes to play over the past and to see in its moldering relics symbols of a pomp and power that can still affect the lives and imagination of people. He interests us in the permanent impulses of pagan feelings and religious sentiments that have come down to us. The main interest of Hardy's novels lies not in the skillful handling of their plots but in the treatment of their characters. It is this emphasis on character that makes Hardy a modem writer. His ideas and philosophy, his treatment of love and sex, and his frank discussion of religious problems and faith are in advance of his time. Dickens or Thackeray treats love not as an experience but as an emotion which is to be felt. Hardy treats it both as experience and emotion. This increases the range of subject matter in the English novel. They like Hardy for the introduction of a poetic intensity into his novels. It is in this thing that the major contribution of Thomas Hardy to the development of English fiction consists. It means that Thomas Hardy conceives the novel on a higher plane.

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