Philosophy of Thomas Hardy in His Novel

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Introduction

      'A man is what he is made' and it was true of Hardy as well. He was profoundly influenced by his age and his environment. His was the age when science and Industrial Revolution were making their influence felt. The Industrial Revolution was in the process of destroying the old agricultural England. Along with the disintegration of the old social and economic structure went the disintegration of ideas. Eighteenth-century rationalism had united with the new romantic spirit of rebellion against convention, to shake the fundamental basis of belief—religious, social, political—which the people of the old England had unquestionably accepted. So the mental atmosphere of reflective minds tended to be overcast by clouds of doubt On the other hand science was becoming prominent. Darwinism 'Theory of Evolution' came and it struck a smashing' blow at all religious and ideal interpretations of the universe: "If, as seemed possible, it (world) was only a mechanical process evolving from no one knew whither, what was the significance of those moral and spiritual values which man had learned to regard as the most precious things in life? If Christianity was not true, what became of the conception of Divine Justice bringing all to good in the end? The thoughtful person himself swept upwards from darkness to darkness, like a straw on a torrent, by a ruthless, mysterious and ignoble force. Artists, always peculiarly sensitive to the atmosphere of their environments, were affected by this atmosphere of doubt and apprehension. Some supported by personal religious experience still discovered fresh strength in the old faith. Others took refuge in the world of beauty conjured up by their imaginations. But there were those who could find no such consolation for themselves; and for the first time, pessimism conscious, considered pessimism found expression in English letters" (Lord David Cecil). And Hardy was under the sway of the ideas of his age.

His Environment

      His pessimism, for which he is too often blamed, is also simply an outcome of the impressions that he received of villagers, life, in his early life. There was plenty of tragedy in the life of the poverty-stricken Wessek folk. Dependent and ignorant, exposed alike to the oppression of the social system and the caprice of weather and 'The President of Immortals', at every moment of their life the people among whom Hardy lived and was brought up, were made conscious of man's helplessness in the face of circumstances. So he happened to entertain a perverse view of God and His ways. He believes firmly that circumstances are more powerful than human beings are and chance in its purely malevolent aspect enters our life so often and spoils its charm. So in this manner, he was influenced by his environment.

His Temperament

      Now Fate imposed upon him such a temperament and gave him such a bent of mind as to magnify the two factors discussed above. He was born under the Star of Melancholy and he was pessimist by his temperament. Hardy always asserted in so many words that "tragedy always underlies comedy". Only a born pessimist can lay such a forceful emphasis on the idea of tragedy by inserting 'always' in such a small summary sentence. Furthermore, he was a speculative mind, instinctively reasoning from particular observations to a general conclusion. Since the world he lived in and looked at seemed so full of pain and disappointment, then, he argued, pain and disappointment were outstanding characteristics of human existence. So he was influenced by his age and environment. He had his own temperament and the peculiar bent of mind. He said that he was simply recording sincerely faithfully and truly the impressions of life that he had received. But his so-called impressions are so numerous and so consistent that it is difficult to suppose that a considered philosophy was not at the bottom of them.

An Artist with a Philosophy

      Though Hardy is primarily an artist and his novels are mainly the artistic expressions of his ideas drawn from experience of life, we should call him an artist with a definite philosophy of life. How so many times ever he may say that he lays down no definite system to account for the constitution of the universe, he does so and does it constantly.

Development of His Philosophy in His Novels

      After his first essay in fiction, Desperate Remedies, which is immature and melodramatic, the philosophic attitude which has come to be associated with Hardy's name became more and more clearly defined. It strongly colors the fabric of his greater novels and it would be impossible to understand these without examining his philosophy.

His Philosophy

      Hardy's conception of life is essentially tragic. He is one of those who think life by no means a boon. For him 'Happiness is but an occasional episode in the general drama of pain'. His attitude to life is melancholic and depressive. He hates life inversely. He does not think it worth living. He perceives it in the grip of cruel, blind and oppressive Unknown Will.

"As flies to wanton boys, are we to the Gods-
They kill us for their sport"

      Chance in its purely malevolent aspect enters our life and spoils it, brings trials and tribulations, sorrows and sufferings, pain and agony in its train. What is the use of being a 'play thing', a toy, in the hands of the mischievous 'President of the Immortals.' As regards the dictum 'character is destiny', he thinks that man is what he is because of his environment and ancestry and these in turn are determined by our fate. Fate is overruling, overpowering and irrepressible so in his ideas 'Our destiny is our character.'

Sunny Side of Hardy's Philosophy

      So Hardy is a pessimist. But there is a dark, grimly dark and gloomy as well as a bright sunny side of his philosophy. He is not a pessimist—a misanthrope like Hobbes who thinks man is essentially a beast, mean, abject, low detestable and an odious creature. He is a pessimist like the classical writers who consider Man merely a puppet in the hands of mighty Fate. Simply Hardy is more gloomy than they are. He always sees and finds Fate unjust, cruel, blind and jealous of happiness of mankind. He considers the ways of that Unknown Will immoral, unjust and condemnable. In fact, throughout his creative work there is a latent philosophy of revolt and revenge.

Effect of His Philosophy on His Novels

      Hardy's philosophy has left its deep impression upon all the aspects of his creative work, (i) His subject is human life. He sees human beings less as individuals than as representatives of a species, and in relation to the ultimate conditioning force of their existence. His subject is not men but Man. (ii) His theme is man's predicament in the universe, (ii) In structure all his novels become moral dramas in which the conflicts of wills, impelled by passions, predominate. And in the plots of his novels (iv) invisible, undesirable, unexpected and inexplicable change plays an important role, (v) All his protagonists have family-likeness because almost all of them are moral, good, brave, bold and heroic in their fight against Fate, (vi) All the 'ends' and 'tails' of his novels are one and the same in spirit i.e., man is crushed by the irrepressible tyrant Fate. As grave is his philosophy so serious is the (vii) atmosphere of his novels.

Adverse Effects of His Philosophy on His Novels

      To be brief, his philosophy sometimes spoils his plots and limits his range of characters, themes and subjects. To be frank, sometimes we do feel that Hardy is excessive in his relentless flogging of the gods.

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