Literary Style of Writing in Thomas Hardy's Novel

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      Style is as essential to a prose writer as passion to a poet. Style in prose not only depends upon the matter, it is a form of matter—the most ethereal, imponderable form. It is the most personal and, therefore, the most important thing that the writer has to say, the part of his meaning which is inexpressible in the words he expresses in his style.

      Hardy's strange individuality does contrive to imprint itself on his actual use of language. Even though he uses cliches, the final effect of his writing is never commonplace. His very clumsiness and roughness differentiate it from the leading article and reveal a characteristic idiosyncrasy in the use of language. You can never mistake a paragraph by Hardy for a paragraph by anybody else.

General Features of His Style

      And Hardy's style is essential to the Philosophic type, an emanation of his mind. Hardy may or may not be a pessimist but it is undeniable that his outlook on the visible world is grey—and his style is grey - grey as November skies. His style is not conspicuously beautiful; it is not luxuriant or alluringly harmonious. There is naivete in style. It is in the main, a bare significant narrative Style of easy but not obtrusive balance. It is prose, pure prose, its movement has nothing in it of passion. It is iron cold—cold with the stillness of dead passion. It carries with it an impression of stern, sad eyes, gazing steadily and unflinchingly out over the wilderness of the world's wrong. Whatever there may be in it of bitterness is generally repressed. For each page and paragraph and sentence, we can say, that we know the reason for its existence: the measured expression, one with another, each contributing its just service, compose an organic whole. There is integrity and balanced progress in his prose. It is a deliberate and grave style and the accent of stateliness and solemnity is maintained throughout, unsoftened by and unrelieved by the-entire spirit of sympathy. Moreover, it is a leisurely style, so to say. There is no hurry, none of that haste to be concise and tense, which makes a cluster of exited epigrams do the work of many rich and thoughtful pages. In his own style, he expresses his thoughts clearly and effectively. Thus it satisfies the first demand that all styles are called upon to fill—it perfectly corresponds with and expresses the most profound intention of the writer. One thing we should note particularly that the grave atmosphere in Hardy's novels is chiefly due to his style; it breathes in every paragraph and is as recognizable and characteristic as the scent of the salt ocean.

      After discussing the general features of his style, we can now dissect his style furthermore. For the general progress of narration, he employs a style that is undistinguished almost to baldness. It is capable of taking on an almost shocking degree of triteness, and banality at times.

      Tragic style predominates in his The Mayor and Jude. There it is in Tess as well. Purple patches were written in his tragic style, however, are legitimate objects of admiration, provided they are the outcome of a spontaneous rise in feeling. Many passages of a somber beauty are written in this style. In these, he maintains the accent of stateliness and of solemnity, unsoftened by and unrelieved by the gentler spirit of sympathy.

      His third variety is on a scarcely lower level than the tragic style, it is; used when Hardy gets absorbed in the details of Wessex's life. It is racy, of the soil, humorous, perfect without self-consciousness, and dialect flows into and out of it without disturbance.

      Another domain of his style we may name safely and correctly is "the pastoral style" which predominates in his Far from the Madding Crowd, The Woodlanders, Tess and The Return of the Native. In this style, Hardy the poet is reflected. It remains the prose of a poet in close contact with the objects of nature, a creature of tangibilities, even in the imaginative handling of abstract ideas. There is indeed a Keats like quality in Hardy. We think of Keats's description of Madeline unclasping her warmed jewels, one by one, when we read of Hardy's picture of Tess coming down, on a hot summer afternoon, from her nap, to the silent kitchen, and yawning "like a tunned cat." We feel his power of visualization. His creative power shows itself most continuously and most characteristically in its capacity to embody its inspiration in visible form. This power he achieves first by his sheer ability to picture his scene completely and secondly by his extensive use of arresting similes.

Factors Constituting His Style

      His words are simple appropriate, well-chosen and well consorted by the scholar's discrimination. These words are full of strength and beauty. They are expressive and effective in producing a sense of strangeness and wonder. But against his vocabulary, here and there, has been brought a charge of undue parade and pomp, in the use of erudite words: a fondness for the expressions of physical sciences, the phraseology of the arts, and the like.

      When he uses dialect, however, he uses it with the touch of a master hand. He makes but a sparing use of the local words of Wessex dialect because he rightly understands that a phonograph of Wessex dialect will spoil the dialogues. He successfully contrives to reconcile the demands of truth with those of art in a way which brings Wessex before our eyes and the echo of its speech into our ears.

      A minor matter is the question of the names of Hardy's characters. Few novelists like him have cared to label their characters with names distinctive of the qualities the reader is to find in them.

      Hardy sometimes makes use of quotations as well and an apt and unforced quotation gives great pleasure, partly intellectual and largely emotional. But notable is his skill in the use of similes. They attract attention and excite admiration. They have very felicitous and original illuminates in all parts of the comparison. But, certainly not all of Hardy's similes are beautiful.

      He has also made use of the epistolary form. His letters are much less ambitious, perfectly appropriate, and varied and much-detached pleasure can be derived from them. Some of his letters are profoundly revealing. And a letter ought to be revealing. After all, epistolary form is only a special kind of dramatic expression or projection that is required in a novel. Some of the best specimens of his letters are in the novel Tess.

      Hardy does not make much use of 'satire'. But whatever use he makes of it, it seems wasted on an impersonal Cause of Things i.e., Fate. Furthermore, although the whole Hardy world is founded on irony, irony as a figure is rare in his style.

      He seems to be incompetent in the ordinary mechanics of his trade. He often cannot manage the ordinary syntax and grammar of the English language. He finds it hard to make a plain statement plainly.


      The truth is, two elements go to make a good style. First, which Hardy is noticeably lacking, is the grasp of the nature of the English language which enables a writer to write it clearly, accurately, and economically; second, which Hardy has to the highest degree, is the feeling for the flavor of a word and the flow of a rhythm which enables him to write it eloquently and expressively. In fact, Hardy was not a born master of style like Thackeray nor a made one like Stevenson. But when his theme makes demands, as it does more than half the time he is writing he is inspired by it to heights and splendors not easily expelled.

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