Thomas Hardy: as A Great Novelist

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Introduction

      The novel aims at presenting to us developed characters. If we read the masters of fiction, we can safely conclude that their works give us chiefly certain characters which we can never forget. One who reads Hardy will ever carry in his memory, the great characters like Henchard, Tess, and Eustacia. The characters of Fielding, Walter Scott, Dickens, Thackery, Hardy have become immortal. Every reader of English literature remembers them forever.

       Thus, the most important part of the novel is character drawing. On comparing the novel with the drama, we find the art of drama aims at providing us with action which purges us of our baser feelings with intense emotions. The art of the novel is a bit different from the art of the drama. "The novel is a kind of compromise between epic and drama—epic in its mode of presentation; but tending towards the dramatic in its closer unity and exclusion of the episode. It is intended not for vivid stabbing representation on the stage, but for the thoughtful serenity of the fireside; its purpose is not to bring about sudden earthquake up heavings of the moral nature, but rather to inspire processes of grave reflection: meditative not purgative, less divine but more human".

      Thus, the novel differs from the drama. It is more reflective. It gives us the complete picture of man. It leaves us thinking about the problems of life. This aim of the novelist is fulfilled thorough placing before the readers, certain outstanding specimens of humanity. These characters are shown to pass through various phases. Just as in Tess, the novelist has shown us seven phases of the development of Tess. The first is the 'Maiden' phase when Tess is quite pure, innocent living in the domestic world. The second phase is 'Maiden no more'. This phase shows striking change in the personality of Tess. She has been seduced by Alec, which has created a gulf in her character. The third phase is 'The Rally'. Here the industrious and emotional qualities of Tess have been vividly brought out by the novelist. She has been shown as the hardest worker in the Talbothays dairy. The fourth phase is 'The consequence'. Here the novelist shows us the marriage of Tess with Angel Clare, which again puts into broad relief some of the hidden qualities of Tess. The fifth phase is 'The Woman Pays'. Here the novelist brings about quite clearly the constructive qualities of Tess. Here we have the sleep walking scene wherein Tess plays the notable part of saving the life of Angel Clare. Her sense of loyalty and chastity has been very nicely depicted in this phase. The sixth phase is "The Convert". Here again the torch light is turned on Tess. Angel Clare's realization of his past mistakes has been very vividly described. The frustration of Tess again throws light on the character and motives of Tess. The seventh and last phase is 'fulfillment'. Here Tess murders Alec and is reunited with Angel Clare only to die on the gallows after a short time. This is the destiny of Tess. The novelist has been successful in probing into the emotional instructive forces working in, Tess. Hence we can say "the novelist places before us typical or significant specimens of humanity passing through turbulent or otherwise revealing phases of life, and exhibits the swirl and surge of their souls."

Characterization

      The first quality of Hardy as a novelist is his wonderful gift of developing characters in his novels. No critic has doubted the greatness of Hardy in this respect. The reader of Hardy can never forget the long list of great characters which ever remain fresh in his memory. We have Jude Fawley, Gabriel Oak, Angel Clare, Michael Henchard, Clym Yeobright, Giles Winterbore who are some of the chief male characters. They make deep impression on the minds of the readers. They have their own whims, impulses, and philosophies. Among the male characters, we have unforgettable secondary characters such as, Boldwood, Farfrae, Philloston, Troy, Alec d'Urberville and Jocelyn Pustin. They are the finest examples of human weaknesses and virtues. Then we have female characters—Tess, Sue, Bathsheba, Elizabeth Jane, Grace and Marty. Hardy has shown wonderful grasp of womanly 'nature'. The above names are really 'a symphony'.

      In the presentation of these characters, Hardy delves deep into human nature. "He places the crystals of human souls in his crucibles and subjects them to the awful test of a white enduring heat". We can pick up less and analyze the method of Hardy in the creation of characters. He has seen agony and innocence in the heart of Tess. From beginning to the end, Hardy has wonderfully entered into the hidden parts of Tess's heart.

      We find the same Shakespearan tragic treatment in Tess. Tess not only dies but her soul is clearly ruined. This stark tragedy is similar to some of the great tragedies of Shakespeare like Lear, Macbeth and Hamlet "now not in the rest of Elizabethan drama, not in the rest of English literature till you find another soul's tragedy until you reach Hardy and this supreme feature of Shakespeare's tragedy is born again in the novels of pure modern."

      Considered from this point of view Tess is the greatest creation of Hardy. Here he has shown, the desertion, the struggle for bread and the terrible death of Tess. She is crushed by the weight of circumstances. Hence Tess is the finest character ever written by Hardy.

      One of the qualities of character-drawing is his grasp of soul's tragedy. "In all his great novels—in the sad antagonisms of Angel Clare and Tess; in the strange, half comprehended comradeship of Jude and Sue and their despairs in the grim struggles and ups and downs of the Mayor of Casterbridge, in the southern splendor of the love of Eustacia, in the glooms of Boldwood and the magnanimity of Gabriel Oak—in all these we are concerned with less transcendent, fussy, and mundane emotion, mote spontaneous, illogical, almighty than reason." Through characters, Hardy has presented to us the conflict between the spirit and the flesh. He has shown us the pervading agony of life through his characters.

      The contemporary critics pointed out that all characters of Hardy are common people, villagers, rustics, peasants and laborers. But he was not the only novelist who did this. Even before him, we have Tom Jones whose characters are purely plebeian. No doubt the predecessors of Hardy had followed the Aristotelian law in character creation that 'The hero must be a man of high rank.' But all tragic heroes of Hardy are common people. Tess is a milkmaid and the daughter of a haggler. Jude Fawley is a stone-mason. Oak is a shepherd. Sue is a primary school teacher. Henchard is a tramping hay-trusser. The five, the greatest Hardean heroes are selected from the lowest position in life. There is no romantic glow round them. They do not shine because of their station or high descent. "The milk-maid and the shepherd, of a dainty China kind are not unknown to poetry; even the stone-mason has points of contact with literature, but few before dared to credit the school teacher or the haytrusser with the possession of a soul, much less dreamed of going to the trouble of dissecting it and showing its grandeur and beauty."

      The real greatness of Hardy is that he selects characters from ordinary walks of life and makes them so impressive. They become more universal. Out of prosaic incidents of life, he is able to weave a poetic pattern of life which is so appealing to the readers. Life is as interesting among ordinary people as it is in palaces and luxurious drawing rooms. Hardy has disproved that Hamlet's feelings are not present among common people. By presenting common people, Hardy has really responded to the spirit of democracy. "It is this type of dim unapprehended personality that Hardy, for the first time in literature has definitely taken up and made his own. In a sense it is Hardy's special contribution to the spirit of the age—Democracy."

      Many critics and writers including R.L. Stevenson were of the opinion that characters must come from ordinary life. In all characters of Hardy, we have some special aspect which attracts our notice by its simple beauty. "One can point to Tess, with her natural refinement, Oak with his natural dignity, Henchard with his natural grandeur." These characters spring from the very soil of Wessex. We have a new presentation of man where nature forms the background.

      The method of character-drawing followed by Hardy is set and his own. This is exemplified by—Henchard and Tess. In the creation of character, his eyes are always on the formation of human personality. For example, in Henchard, he studies the growth of his mind and heart. "The essential substance of a man is manifested to the main currents of his career. But in addition to this, there are a host of incidental touches of portraiture—vivid descriptive phrases, metaphor illuminations and revealing comparisons, chance utterances of man himself that are Hardy's means of building up a personality of extraordinary consistency, probability, warmth and reality."

      We find all these qualities in the character of Tess. The various phases of the career of Tess give us an idea how she has developed from a sensitive girl into a perfect passionate woman. He has used other ways to throw light on the character of Tess. There are vivid descriptions. As an artist the various colors and contours of characters are described in detail by Hardy. Through metaphors and similes, all his qualities have been sought to be brought out. There is a certain touch of realism in the presentation of Tess. We often find the sun and the moon shedding their lights on the innermost feelings of Tess. "Hardy is a student of the effects of time and circumstance upon the human form. Tess's importance of age, heredity and environment are never forgotten. He reminds the readers of the basic instincts that work through man inspite of himself. But the social customs, traditions are to a great extent responsible in molding human personality. All through the novel Tess of the d'Urberuilles we have the consciousness that the novelist is trying to drive home the lesson that heredity and environment are both very strong factors in the constitution of human character.

Realistic Touch in his Characterization

      The characters of Hardy are true to life. He has not painted the idealistic aspects of life through his characters. We find both virtues and vices, weaving the pattern of life. "The members of the Hardy's world, in short, present such compounds of evil with good as their prototypes on the wider stage of earth. There is however even a broader ground of judgment. It is not sufficient that his characters should be human; they must also be what is called universal. All characters that are not unreal, impossible, are either realistic, typical or universal. The designer of realistic figures works from keen but superficial observation of men. He has an eye like a camera, and produces vivid photographs; he presents only an outside view of his creations, and his art needs no plumbing of human nature." We find many characters of Hardy conforming to the pattern so clearly analyzed by the critic here.

      In the rustics drawn by Hardy although realistically drawn, there is imaginative or romantic coloring. They have been idealized by the novelist. Hardy becomes poetic when he describes laborers, plebeians, or villagers. Hardy shows marvelous power in describing the typical. The types are multiple, distinct and exclusive. Typical characters cannot show us the depth of human nature. Hardy's characters are not types. "But most of the characters of Hardy's novels are neither types not mere individuals but universals. Each comprehends within himself the whole of human nature which is one and indivisible. They have their varied casings of the colored glass of individuality, but the light at the center is white. To call Hardy a 'fearless realist', is to misunderstand him, to abuse the term. In the matter of incident he is certainly neither romanticist nor prude: but in character, his eye and hand are those of the idealist—the idealist who rises above the accidents and distinctions of external show, and looks deep down into human nature itself."

The Importance of Plot, Scene and Event in His Novels

      Another quality of Hardy as a novelist is his supreme mastery in plot construction. In the history of English novel, we have a very strong tradition of a plot in a novel. The idea is that a novel must have a moral idea running throughout the story. Even characterization becomes secondary. "A novel must have a plot. There must be central unity and purpose in the action. It must be possible to discern a line or lines, of progress towards consummation of some sort in all great dramas, and in most great novels. The action is the logical outcome of the central characters. But even when character is most tyrannical in its control, the plot is also an expression of idea." No doubt in Hardy we find the domination of character. His characters are more impressive than his stories. It seems that his heart lies in the creation of fully developed characters. Even then we find that there is no plotlessness in his novels. He is the follower of the old traditions. There is the superb blending of the idea with the character. For example, the idea in Tess is the discussion of the central question—Is Tess a pure woman? Hardy seems to give the reply that the basic instincts of Tess are hard work, chastity, innocence, vitality, and so on. The circumstances are responsible for her degradation. Destiny is responsible for her doom. No doubt the idea behind the novel Tess is moral. "The work of art should give us not only delight but it should also give us aesthetic or imaginative pleasure. In spite of the charge of obscurity, we find a strong moral fiber in the novels of Hardy. It is quite correct to say, 'Hardy is among those who have given us works of art wherein, having grasped the central idea of each, we find it to be not only a tiling of beauty but a grand moral lesson." But he is not so didactic as to destroy his artistic sensibilities. Really according to Shaw, he is an artist-philosopher. He is first an artist, then a novelist. We have in his novels the consciousness of beauty, color, poetry and form. Then comes his philosophy or the idea.

      If we study his plots we find that most of them are love stories. This has been all along the English tradition. There are exceptions to thd rule. Stevenson, Conrad, Bennett and H.G. Wells do not always give us love stories. But "the Wessex novels are almost without exception built solidly round the erotic situation generally of a highly complicated nature". The only exception in Hardy to the above statement seems to be Mayor of Casterbridge; although it has one or two love stories. In almost all his novels the plot is based on the fact "of two or more men loving one woman, or two or more women loving one man or the combination of the two varieties of complication."

      In Tess we have simple triangular love. Here Tess is loved by two rivals Angel Clare and Alec. In A Pair of Blue Eyes the erotic situation can be represented through the following diagram.

Smith—Efride

Knight — Luxellian

      In Far From the Madding Crowd, Oak and Boldwood love Bathesheba. Bathesheba loves Troy, but Troy loves Fanny. The situation can be represented through the following diagram.

Oak—Bold wood

Bathesheba

Troy—Fanny

      In The Trumpet Major Anne loves Job, Bob Festus and Bob loves Mabida.

      Thus almost all the novels of Hardy have love stories. They can be represented through Rhombus. Throughout these novels the same pattern of love has been followed. This is the simple law of Hardy's plots. The action proceeds in direct lines. There are no digressions or sub plots or excess of characters. "In adopting this method of the broad simple outline Hardy departed from the practice of his immediate predecessors." He is not like Dickens or Thackeray whose novel have a very big population. He established the tradition of simplicity of plot, and fewer characters. We can observe this simplicity in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. There are few characters who are all prime characters. "Clare is the hero and of great interest, but he is rather portrayed definitely than studied and allowed to destroy his presence. He is chiefly necessary as part of Tess’s environment. Now is there any complexity in the action? Tess meets Alec and is seduced. She meets Clare and is wooed and won, the two facts clash with infinite ruin. This is a very simple plot. Nothing could be simpler than this. A Pair of Blue Eyes, again consists of showing of the souk of few characters in 'few tense and revealing situations'. Similarly in The Return of the Native, the simplicity is characteristic of the plot where Eustacia is shown torn between two lovers. 'The Mayor of Carterbridge' is again quite simple. It is one figure story. The novelist is chiefly concerned with the conflict in the mind of Henchard.

      Thus we can say, "For the most part Hardy's plots are self-supporting organic wholes and however great the play of external fate, the life or motive which is at the center of each is essentially psychological. Every novel is an answer to the question. Given certain characters in certain situations and allowing for the irony of fate what will happen, what will become of them?"

      The plots are realistic. They represent life as it is. There is no exaggeration there. They observe the principle ''willing suspension of disbelief." In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, how cleverly the novelist has divided the novel into seven phases. The first phase describes Tess when she is a maiden. The clear image of Tess has been reflected here.

      The second phase is 'Maiden no more'. The novelist shows how Tess has been seduced by Alec d'Urberville. The phase adds to the portrayal of Tess's character. The third phase is 'Rally'. Through the subsequent phases, the Rally, The Consequence, The Woman Pays, The Convert and The Last Fulfilment, the novelist has been successful in developing his chief characters, and in preserving the unity of the plot. The reader can remember various scenes separately and still see the unifying spirit running through them. Thus we find that the plots of Hardy are simple. A single idea governs them throughout.

Hardy's Use of the Marvellous

      Another characteristic of Hardy, the novelist is that he makes excessive use of the mysterious and the inscrutable. There is no structural element in his novels, but his references to the marvelous and the mysterious make his novels verge on the borders of the supernatural.

      In the age of science, ghosts, apparitions and evil spirits are not liked by general readers. But in the subconscious, there is still some fear of the dark forces. Superstition still governs the minds of the Rustics and Hardy has presented highly charged atmosphere—noon, dawn, twilight. We can see many scenes in the novel 'Tess of the d'Urbeville' where the novelist has woven a dark web of the mysterious and marvelous. Tess looks at many places ghostly and wizard. The house at Well-bridge, where they stay after Tess and Clare marry, is mysterious and ghostly. In the morning time the chimney top seems to be the head of a big demon.

      He has followed the Wordsworthian method of describing nature in vivid colors but at the same time imparting to it the idea of strangeness and mystery. "This then is one example of Hardy's method of using natural objects and occurrences in a perfectly natural way, and yet so as to invest" them with an air of mystery."

      Another example of appealing to superstitious nature of man is the crowing of the cock at the time of departure from the Talbothay's dairy. As soon as Tess and Clare enter the carriage, the cock crows twice or thrice at a very odd time in the afternoon.

      Coincidences in Hardy are a regular feature. Duffin rightly observes, "coincidence is so frequent in Hardy that there is some danger of its being regarded as a mannerism or even as a pusillanimous device for bringing about crisis or denouement. The method is however quite deliberately employed and is well-rooted in Hardy's philosophy."

      Tess of the d'Urberuilles is full of coincidences. One very glaring example of coincidence in Hardy is Tess's accidental meeting with Alec d'Urberville. Coming towards her village Marlott in the most distressed period of her life, Tess meets Alec when he is delivering a sermon. The meeting is probable. This accidental meeting changes the whole action and pattern of the novel. Without the meeting, there could never be such a tragic end to the novel.

      From the belief in the dark and demonic forces ruling the universe follows the last characteristic of Hardy. Irony is the chief weapon in the hands of the novelist. Some other instances in Tess of a especially ironic nature may be easily cited. The marriage of Tess and Clare takes place. They are on the third day to separate from each other. The parents send a parcel containing ornaments and jewels. This is sheer irony. Durbeyfield is an ironic figure; Tess is an ironic figure. Alec plays with his stars when he loves Tess. In an attempt to get the beloved, he meets his death. Angel is also an ironic figure. He has married Tess only to divorce her. This later repentance is the proof of the reversal of his hopes and desires.

      The natural background and love for animals are also the qualities of Hardy. Throughout the novels of Hardy we can discern his great concern for painting natural background in dark, dismal or idyllic colors. He seems to be a great lover of nature. He has painted the broad landscapes of valleys, hills, woods, rivers and rivulets. Egdon is a living entity.

His Place in English Literature

      English fiction had seen so many masters before Hardy but no one had given her such sober gravity as he did. Under Hardy's canopy, she enjoyed a kind of delight that can be named as spiritual. Happiness has two aspects: visible and invisible. That which is visible is often named as joy and which is comprised of loud or low laughter and smile. The latter which is invisible remains at the soul and never comes up on the lips. This is sober in temperament and profound in feeling. And this is the delight that Hardy gave English fiction because comedy gives delight to the mind, a tragedy gives delight to the soul.

      But it is not only the tragic temperament that wins a high place for him. He has so many other qualities which we do not find in his contemporaries. George Meredith who had returned his first novel with very bitter remarks said about him afterward that Hardy was the leader of his contemporaries. His contribution to the English Novel has much significance. Pessimism, Regionalism, Meliorism, and Realism are some elements for which he is prominent. No doubt everybody before him tried these things, but in abundance and in superiority everyone lagged behind. In Hardy, often we meet a countryman of simple habits, and a woman of pure ideas, but it is the psychologist who governs his narration keeping his mind quite melancholic, as Hardy wants the psychologist inside him reads all the actions of men.

His Pattern

      As far as Hardy's plot construction is concerned he stands very high. He is perhaps greatest in this respect. In this comparison Meredith, Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Thackery, George Eliot, all were less perfect in architectonics. Thomas Hardy was an architect, and the same skill he applied in his novels. George Meredith is also a good plot constructor but the complexity and the pactness which Hardy has, is matchless. Both have no doubt, set up standards for the coming writers. Both give very precious jewels to the reader but their methods of presentation are different. The mode of their writings is different and the patterns of life which they follow are different. Hardy chooses countrymen and their simplicity. Meredith chooses city men and their refined manned Hardy likes rusticity and purity and Meredith likes urbanity and hypocrisy; Hardy sees Nature as the devastating element and Meredith ignores her altogether. One is pessimist, the other is optimist. One writes about the works and jobs of the farmers and laborers, other deals with the habits and works of the aristocrats. Meredith's writing has the glow and color of a spring landscape when the orchards are in blossom, Hardy has all the gloom and impressiveness of the greythes the and upland. Meredith possesses brilliance, fire and versatility of which Mr. Hardy shows scarcity. Despite this scarcity rules over the hearts of the readers till today.

His Realism

      When we come to the realism in his novels, we are surprised to see that he has given a name to every loose stone of the road. All the tracks, roads, ruins, fields, trees, groves, countries, crossings and men whom we come across are taken from the real Dorset. Many of them are placed with their actual names. The vale of Blackmoor, Hambledon Hill, Bulbarrow, Nettle comb tout, Dogbury Hill, High Story, Bubb-Down Hill, The Devil's Kitchen, Cross-in-Hand, Benville Lane and the river Froom etc. are the existing names of Dorchestshire district. He is a pioneer in this respect. So many after him tried to tread on his footmarks but failed. He is supreme in the narrative description of the natural beauty of his Wessex.

His Art

      As an artist—real artist, he is unrivaled. He rightly remarks in the preface to Tess that novelist should be an impressionist and not a pleader. A novel should be an impression and not an argument. Every novelist is a story-teller at bottom—and therefore the novel must remain a story and should not become a thesis. We see that he is fit when seen through his own criterion. The stories that he heard from his mother in childhood helped him much. He always called himself a story-teller and never gave to himself the name of a novelist.

His Temperament

      Music which he inherited from his father, rendered him a temperament that made him a poet He tried in the field of poetry but could not succeed. Then with the same poetic heart, he jumped into the field of prose and his novels became ballads in prose. He gave tales which had poetic themes, as intense love, high emotions, simplicity, purity of mind rather than of physique, innocence, and the love of Nature. As a poet in prose, who can match him? This was a strange quality in Hardy that nobody possessed. His prose which is blamed as grammatically wrong-prose, is full of poetic thoughts and despite its incorrectness impresses the readers. He never tries to come near the readers as Fielding did, yet he seems to be a great friend of the readers.

His Superiority

      That dignity and sobriety which Hardy's novels have, can be found nowhere where in the works of his contemporaries. He gave pessimism and meliorism to the English Novel, he is the first man who showed the horrible side of Nature. Compton Rickett has showered upon him the greatest praise which is his due. He says, "All qualifications notwithstanding, there is a dignity and beauty about Mr. Hardy's best works, for which all lovers of literature may be grateful; to accuse him as some have done, of lax morality in his presentation of life, is ludicrously beside the mark. Errors, of taste there are, no doubt; he has the blunt outspokenness of the countrymen, and there is about his works something of the coarseness of Nature herself; but though sometimes coarse, he is never trivial or debasing. The furtive prurience that mars some fiction, the juggling with moral values that mars other fiction today, is absolutely alien to his stern and austerely noble attitude towards human life. Differences of opinion must naturally be held by Hardy as a critic of life; but as an artist, a painter of certain concrete aspects of that life, he is among the greatest in English literature." No doubt there are persons for whom Hardy is the tiny Hardy surrounded by his small number of friends and his faults are in their notice. His plots creak, his villains are the villains of melodrama, his prose is clumsy and uncouth; yet the true index of Hardy's stature is that he is almost the only tragic novelist in our literature and that when we consider him we ultimately do so in relation to Shakespeare or to the Great Greek dramatist. He may be the latest of his race but he is not the least. He could not produce a number of drolls as Dickens did, he could not confine himself to the silken beauty of the aristocratic maidens as Meredith did, he could not give air to the burning passion as D.H. Lawrence did, but he surely adopted a way that led him to the Shakespearean gravity. He will remain shining like a star on the firmament of literature.

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