Tag Archives: Thomas Hardy

Philip Larkin – Poems (1955-1974)

Larkin, along with Amis, Conquest, Gunn, and others, were a group post-war authors christened “The Movement.” Conquest described their mantra as “little more than a negative determination to avoid bad principles,” which is an obvious continuation of Auden’s project: the destruction of error. Larkin’s paired down lyricism–a lyric stunted by discontent and a hyper-active reality principle–is clear in the tight but flexible verse forms, often with minute variations that do not draw attention to themselves. Ironically, Kingsley Amis’s rollicking Lucky Jim  was partially inspired by Larkin’s life, which points to the forms of severe restraint imposed on the expression of emotion–not so much fro the sake of restraint (a la Eliot and Pound) but because of the realization that lyric expressiveness is hollow.

This marks out his difference with Auden. Auden never attempts the honest transparency of Larkin’s expressive attempts (failing not because, like Prufrock, he cannot find the words and take the action, but because he finds the words and they still fail to matter), but holds in secret an identity protected at all costs from systems that might otherwise subsume it. Auden puts the self in question, but in secret: Larkin’s self-deprecation stages this questioning as it central image.

“Church Going” (1955) is a poem about, the way churches (synecdoche for institutional religion) no longer function to unify the basic stages of human life–birth, marriage, death–but how humans till return to these hollowed out skeletons compelled by the sense of a lost unity that needs repair. The speaker stops as a tourist, and failing to be satisfied as a tourists, asks, “What remains when disbelief is gone?” What stands between belief and unbelief? A difference worthy of Hardy poem–the speaker, like the one in Hap, Darkling Thrush and Neutral Tones, yearns for a substantial system that he can negate….but to no avail. Yet something very much like an objective “neediness of the world” (Adorno) persists over and above individual loss of faith:

And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to  be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie around.

If Church Going is commenting on a contemporary lack, then “MCMXIV” (1964), which translates into 1914, pinpoints the loss of innocence as World War I: “Never such innocence again,” the poem closes. The opening line, “Those long uneven lines,” refers to the lines of men waiting to be conscripted, which doubles etymologically with the act of writing itself (script). Throughout Larkin, this sense of lost innocence is repeated again and again; it correlates with the loss of structures that would order everyday activity. So, for instance, “The Importance of Elsewhere,” comments on the difficulty of ascending to an objective viewpoint in relation to “customs and establishments.” In England, “no elsewhere underwrites my existence.” The impossibility of appeal to something beyond.

In “High Windows” (1974), Larkin attempts to link the current generation of youth’s attempts to mark out its own possibilities and opportunities (the sexual revolution of the sixties) to his generation’s attempt to escape the dread of religion. But the particularity of these two experiences, divided by thirty years, cannot be related, or sublated into a universal idea that would explain how each generation acts. The entrance of the lyric voice in the fifth stanza is empty:

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows,
The sun-comprehending grass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

The fiction of the lyric. The deep blue does not connect with broader network of religious symbolism, but merely signifies the lack of representation all together (shows nothing). “Sun-comprehending grass” marks out a pathetic fallacy for the 20th century.




Thomas Hardy – Jude the Obscure (1895-6)

Hardy’s last novel is also his most dense, sparse and brutal. Country bumpkin Jude Fawley (pun on folly) aspires to be an Oxford don, but because of liquor and a weakness for women, as he calls it, ends up marrying Arabella Donn (yes, pun intended), who snags him by lying about being pregnant. Their marriage breaks up over the slaughtering of a pig: Jude refuses to bleed it slowly because of his affection for animals.  Arabella moves to Australia, and Jude moves to Christminster, where he studies hard plies his trade of stone-cutting; he is refurbishing the inside of a cathedral, much like Hardy himself did. He meets Sue Bridehead, a cousin, whom is Aunt Drusilla has expressly told him to avoid. According to her, there is a curse ont he family that makes all wedlock something to be avoided. Jude unintentionally brings her together with his old idol Richard Phillottson, whom Sue agrees to marry. But not before she breaks out of her training school to meet Jude, etc. etc. She marries him but is immediately unhappy, as Jude knew she would be. She leaves with Phillottson’s consent and goes to Jude. But they don’t marry. Arabella has returned (a drunken night ended in Jude sleeping with her once again), and though she is married to a certain Cartell, she informs Jude that she had a child from him, whose name is Father Time. Sue and Jude raise him. They are happy for a while, but never get married (for a fear of the legal bond that would destroy their natural love). Cast out by society, they return eventually to Christminster, where they can’t fin lodging. Father Time (little Jude) kills Sue’s two children and hangs himself because they were “too menny.” Sue goes crazt and becomes religious. She remarries Richard. Jude eventually remarries Arabella. Jude dies, and Arabella is looking for a new man before he is cold.

Critique of the bildungsroman: In short, a systematic subversion of the meritocratic presumptions of the 19th-century bildungsroman.

The letter killeth: This is referring to the letter of the law, but it reverberates in two other significations: Jude carves letters, he etches things like the ten commandments in stone [not sure to connect this..perahps through ideas of permanence?]; Sue writes through letters that express her more free self…that is, her letters allow for the sort of split personality that gets their tragic romance off the ground.

Natural vs. Legal vs. Spiritual: The rather simple notion of a contract in Casterbridge is complicated here. According to the demands of the plot, it functions in one of these tree ways: it effectively empties marriage of its symbolic status and it becomes a device for refracting the various social and religious dogmas that exist in the text.

Fate/Tragic: Yes, Jude and Sue do seem to be beaten about by external circumstances, but they also have an awareness of the tragic from which the consciously draw to make sense of their circumstances. Locating the cause and effect is difficult (making this a proto-modernist text), because the textual allusiveness takes on a force that becomes constitutive of plot itself. Jude exclaims that Sue is “enslaved to forms,” and while that applies, the moment to her rigid adherence to religious forms, it could apply, also to the early moments in the text, when her unconventionality is precisely that which the 19th-century novel needs in order for it to grind along and grind down those excesses necessary for conclusion.

Architecture: The normal descriptions of the Wessex landscape give way, in this novel, to a focus on architecture–above all, architecture in transition. Most obviously, cathedrals are being retrofitted in gothic fashion (Sue wishes Jude had been trained in the classic way–can relate this Ruskin, how the democracy of the Gothic has itself become a form that can be imposed, artificially, on the crumbling remnants of a social order.) But domestic interiors also have an incongruous feel: oak wainscot contrasts with the brass bed stand and the birch furniture. The two styles “nod to each other across three centuries upon the shaking floor” (282).

The University: Needs to be contextualized within Hardy’s own personal history: an auto-didactic that could never quite shake off the image of the rustic…he would try to write urban novels only to be driven by the market to stay within the confines of his Wessex.

Animals: Both Sue and Jude are kind to animals (birds, pigs, rabbits), which distinguishes them most clearly from Arabella, and her father, who run a pork business. The obvious reading is that it demonstrates Jude and Sue’s desire to extricate themselves from the cycle of nature that characterize the “quite desperation” of all those that blithely accept the conventions foisted on them by “culture.” Yet, in so doing, they implicate themselves in a different cycle of literary reduplication that condemns them to misery–moral: resisting the cruelty inherent to man’s existence will just make you the object of that very cruelty. 

Loving-kindness: The term that Hardy associates with the sort of lowest common denominator of human sympathy–and capacity to narrate–in his 1922 poetic “Apology.” In the context of Jude,

Thomas Hardy – Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)

Gabriel Oak’s dog chases his herd of sheep off the side of a cliff. Oak goes on the road and happens to pass by a huge fire in hay-field. He helps and asks the owner if he can comeone as a shepherd. It happens to be the farm of Bathsheba Everdene, to whom Gabriel had proposed marriage before he lost his sheep. She hires him.  Meanwhile, Boldwood tries to court her, but she rebuffs his advances. When Oak chastises her for this, she fires him, but rehires him when she needs his help saving her flock from “the bloat.” The seducer Sergeant Troy comes to town and beings to court Bathsheba, who falls in love with him despite her better judgment. It turns out that he actually loved her old servant Fanny Robbins, to whom he had proposed marriage but through a mix-up she had stood him up at the altar. He doesn’t accept her apologies. Troy and Bathsheba fin her on the road, and Troy gives her money, promising more in a couple days. She barely makes it to town, with the help of a dog. She dies. Bathsheba suspects Troy (Oak knows about everything all along) and keeps the coffin, which contains Fanny and her infant, in her house. Troy returns and tells Bathsheba that he will never love her. He leaves. Bathsheba promises to marry Boldwood in six years of Troy does not appear, but on the eve of the promise’s consummation, Troy returns to interrupt Boldwood’s Christmas party. He shoots Troy and tries to kill himself, but is prevented. He is saved from hanging by his friends, and is just imprisoned. Gabriel tenders his resignation, but then decides to stay, proposes marriage to Bathsheba, and they marry.

Preliminary notes

Time: Hardy frequently contrasts rustic time with city time, granting the peasant a “Present” which can encompass “three-or-four-score years”: “The citizen’s Then is the Rustic’s Now” (127). Also, Gabriel’s watch is able to mark the minutes with precision, while the hour hand slips around. There is thus a middle zone between exactitude of a time that would extract a labor down to the second [see EP Thompson on time and labor], but also a radical relativity of those minutes in relation to the entirety of the day. [Can also see in this an adumbration of Murphy’s internal sense of time…the hour striking between 20 and 30, for example.] How can we also see this as a potential solution to the problems of timing in Hardy’s novels? At the same time, perhaps, such inattention is the condition for their emergence.

Labor vs. pleasure: The terms used for describing the “substantial” relationship between Gabriel and Bathsheba:

Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality, (348)

Curious when read in light of “realism” more generally, since the novel itself verges on the board of realism and fantasy. The melodramatic ending turns the novel into a thriller more than some “naturalist” or even Eliotic portrayal of authentic psyches. But it is also another moment in which manner and matter becomes a problematized binary.

The little Valentine: one of the many “weird scenes” in this novel. Bathsheba finds a post card and just randomly sends it to Boldwood without thinking: the tragedy ensures. Another weird scene is when Fanny is dragged to town on the back of a dog. Relate to te weirdness of the boots in Tess, or in the barn with the bull in Casterbridge.

“Thomas Hardy,” by Penny Boumelha (2005)

Hardy is the beginning and end of many different literary traditions: last Victorian and proto-modernist, rural idyllist or social-problem novelist, last bear of folk0tale or champion of feminist and working-class heros. Despite the variety, Boumelha discerns in Hardy a consistency which she labels the “multiplying eye,” which isn’t so much counter-focalization, multiple narrators or the Eliotic obtrusive narrator, but “the play of narratorial distance, between close focus on unique nature of the moment for the individual and the long view of cultural history…[the] sense of the individual human life as the meeting point of a set of intersecting histories: the slow proceses of evolution, family traits, social traditions, material inheritances of privilege and dispossession, community histories, legends and precepts, all come together in the complex and vivid particularity of the moment” (256).

Many of Hardy’s novel dramatize the failure of inherited wisdom (in the form of proverbs, liberal education, religious training) to successfully negotiate the complexity of reality. So Clym in Return of the Native finds that the progressive social ideas acquired in France (the possibility of life before luxury) fail to compel the fellow inhabitants on the death; Sue attempts to rewrite scripture in order to frame a social world that she can never quite control or shape, while Jude drunkenly quotes the Nicene Creed in a pub, etc. Jude as a whole is an overt critique of the meritocratic logic of the Bildungsroman.

That this “past” wisdom is always “past”–that is, too late or belated–plays out in the persistent belatedness that plagues and motivates the plot dynamics of his novels. Tess was originally called “Too Late Beloved.” Missed connection, delays, missed opportunities, etc. Many of the plots takes the form of a main character trying to leave behind or overcome a past that will not remain buried. Characters function within a law of eternal recurrence out of which they struggle to assert an identity that could strongly assert something more linear, progressive, accumulative, productive, safe. At best, novels like Tess and Far from Madding Crown end with muted satisfactions, exercises in qualified expectations and “impotentiality.” In Tess, therefore, the inherited past of “books” is not something that characters always attempt to take on; rather, Tess seems to be playing out the logic of older books, caught in a repetition of tropes and plot maneuverings that chip away at her uniqueness.

Stability of perception is withheld from the reader. Much like Eliot never allows the reader to sit in judgment for too long (cf. Causabon and Bulstrode), Hardy toggles between affective identification and detached judgment. This is because the characters themselves seem to elude the stability that would make a relationship of judgment possible. These novel shave room for the all of the shadows of former selves that compose any given character or place. Reducing a character to an object of scorn, desire, affection or admiration is therefore a complicated process rather than a definitive and timeless choice.

Nietzsche – Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

The counterthrow to all of Nietzsche’s affirmation, published one year after Zarathustra. Taking off from his theory of affirmation, he claims that “truth” is not best defined according to good and evil, but to what extent a “judgment” is “life-advancing, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps even species-breeding” (§4). This does not mean that we assimilate to nature (“live according to nature” like the Stoics), but rather participate in the aggressive, combative drives by which nature perpetuates itself (§9). For this reason, self-preservation is not primary, but a consequence of the animals desire to utilize (“vent”) its strength (§13). “Be aware of superfluous teleological principles.”

Style is defined as the byproduct of translation: “That which translates worst from one language to another is the tempo of its style,” which is linked to the “average tempo of [a race’s] metabolism” (§28)

He defines life as an organic process (and also the soul as a social composite-effect) coextensive with the will-to-power. He wonders whether that which is given–our desires and passions–might not suffice for an understanding of our material world: “as a kind of instinctual life in which all organic functions, together with self-regulation, assimilation, nourishment, excretion, metabolism, are still synthetically bound together” (§36).

Crucially, Nietzsche is not calling for laisser aller, but for a form of living that is concerted and artistic: “Every artist know how far from the feeling of letting himself go his ‘natural condition’ is, the free order, placing, disposing, forming in the moment of ‘inspiration'” (§188).

Everyday experience is a process of (artistic) invention, creation, deception. (§192). Herd instinct is the unfortunate outcome of “narrow” human evolution [Curious way of approaching pastoral] (§199). Connect this with History for Life, which talks about the need to turn away from becoming in order to create something eternal. This also connects with Jane Bennet’s ontology of resistance as the means by which the subject carves out a space for agency. 

Nietzsche does not believe in disinterestedness–the “aesthetics of disinterested contemplation through which the emasculation of art tries, seductively enough, to give itself a good consciensce” (§33)–but does not give a very good argument.: He who has sacrificed know he really wanted something in return, perhaps something of himself in exchange for himself…to feel himself more.” At the very least, he believes the aesthetic functions otherwise. Pursue this in relation to Kant and Hegel, and Deleuze. (§220)

For Nietzsche, historical sense resides in the palate, and is associated with mixing and inbreeding, etc. He condemns “tasting” as a sort of dilettantism,” a curiosity in everything that holds back from the investments of desire. Every once in a while, something infinite transcends the measuredness of good taste. (§224)

Man unites created and creator. (225)

Growth is the fundamental process by which humans, civilizations, and species progress….It is a frighteningly violent form of identity-thinking: “The power of the spirit to appropriate what is foreign to it is revealed in a strong inclination to assimilate the new to the old, to simplify the complex, to overlook or repel what is wholly contradictory.” (230)

Weird stuff about bad cooking being a root cause of cultural decline. Women take the hit, of course. (234)

Adaptation and Capital: N dreams of a supra-national nomad that slowly emerges above and beyond the mass of readily employable workers, praises such a dream-man, but also notes the necessary disparity between classes that would ensue. Interesting and important: flow of capital as growth, organic, etc. (242)

Nietzsche indulges in the stock stereotypes of Jews (greedy and smart, but deplorable) and English (stultifying but impressive).

In Hegelian fashion (but also working from his theses concerning adaptation and accumulation), N defines life as fundamentally an act of appropriation, even if this is an ugly idea. (259)

Nietzsche foresees a moment outliving the “old morality” in which the “individual stands there, reduced to his own law0giving, to his own arts and stratagems for self-preservation, self-enhancement, self-redemption.” Modernity if ruled, then, by the power of the average–the lowest common denominator. Nietzsche is both awed and scared of mediocrity (§268). Connect this with Thomas Hardy’s concept of loving-kindness.

After-dinner nausea (282)

Thomas Hardy Poems

Hap (1866)

A hybrid sonnet–half English, half Italian–that takes Hardy’s anxiety about the lack of meaning and extends it even to the certainty of there being no meaning–that is, even tragic irony is withheld from this poem. “If but some vengeful god would call to me / From up the sky, and laugh.” Indeed, the form is syllogistic (If…then..but not so) but causality is almost entirely absent.  The wish for a relinquishment of agency into the “Powerfuller than I” does not result in any sort of knowledge that can recuperate the “unmbloomed” hopes. Instead, “these purblin Doomsters has as readily strown / Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.” Formally, the sestet (ABABBA), manges to slip in a Spenserian quatrain, which might just be a way if indicating the amount of finagling poetry will go through in order to extract the meaning that is denied it. ??

Neutral Tones (1867)

16 line poem comprise of four In Memoriam quatrains. Here, memory is shown to be a perverting force that can only yield a peculiar type of knowing: realizing how one’s own making-sense is an act of perversion, or “graying.” The event recounted by the speaker is a meeting between him and another by a pond. Both subjects are nameless despite the intense intersubjectivity: “Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove / Over tedious riddles of years ago.” The speaker thus takes on the eyes of his interlocutor as the principle of mode of epistemology determining  the poem. Indeed, the vagueness of the scene bears out the inability of the speaker to remember much of anything: “And some words played between us to and fro / On which lost the more by our love.” The temporal distance that would render the immediate encounter intelligible (“Since then…”) merely give shape to a redundant “face,” “God-curst sun,” and a “tree”–that is, even less distinct generic properties that are no longer “gray” but “grayish.” One wonders, then, about the status of the recounted scene at all–was it gray or grayish? In what register of possibility does a phrase like this exist: “The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing / Alive enough to have strength to die” ? This move towards death, as the condition for representability and “aliveness” writes the power of poetry as the intervention into a time that can somehow “fix” the perpetual non-synchronicity of historical action–for instance, the sort of problematics we get in the novels. But this fix is merely a writing oneself back into a missed opportunity whose recession can only be gestured at. ….

Darkling Thrush (31st December 1900)

A rewriting of Keats’ “Ode to Nightingale”…but in this poem, the bird is seen and heard, and is therefore not the eternally exchangeable nightingale that can be substituted for every other Nightingale Keats has never seen:

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen this to fing his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

The melodramatic scene of poetic action causes the poetic speaker to be impressed with the certainty that some meaning must be around somewhere…inhering in the poetic object itself: “Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew / And I was unaware.” The inability to determine meaning is offset by the particular rawness of the poetic source of inspiration: “The tangled bine-stems scored the sky / Like strings of broken lyres.” Yet all of this song is ungrounded, disconnected from its referent: from one angle absurd, from another angle desiring-producing–not art to fill a hollow created by desire, but desire as the desiring of desire. Thus possibility. Read as possible counter-example or complication to “Hap” and “Neutral Tones.”

Poems 1912-1913

A collection reckoning with the death of his wife Emma. The latin epigraph opening the collection translates (the traces/signs/ashes of an old flame). The poems are “melancholic,” yes, but not in ways that easily fit the Freudian model of a memory that can’t be located–and is therefore productive of a symbolic regime of sorts. Instead, it seems that the memory (a presence from which the the loss of the presence can be gauged) was compromised form the very beginning. Emma’s forms of withholding are not only constructed within the framework of memory, but are are constructive of those frameworks.

“The Going” – “Why did you give no hint that night” the poem opens: already this is not a complaint about loss, but about the loss of not being able to participate in the scene of loss. As in “Hap,” Hardy is mourning the inability to engage in sorts of poetic relationships. “Unmoved, unknowing,” in the second stanza can refer both to the morning light hardening on the bedroom wall, or can refer to the epistemological stasis-emptiness of the speaking subject. The speaker is being excised form a relationship of possession that was never memorialized–because it was never present.

“The Walk” – Here Hardy plays with the idea of habituation to loss–he cannot tell the difference between the recurrent loss during Emma’s life and the permanent loss he suffers after her death. The question is how one carries over this sentiment: “Not thinking of you as left behind.” The difference in the two experiences, is that the present walk (post-death) is concluded by returning to an empty room. Curious analogy to Freud’s fort/da. “Only that underlying sense of the look of a room on returning thence.” How doe sone account for the difference between a proximity that was not an effort and a permanent absence? One could argue that the material traces of everyday existence is what signified Emma’s duration, existential capacities. Now, the room can only signify nothing, where as previously it could signify lack or desire, depending on the paradigm one chooses.


Apology (1922)

Opens up 1922 collection Later Lyrics and Earlier. He is conscious of his career stretching across two “time-periods”–the mid-Victorian to the neo-Georgian, as he calls them–a vocational longevity that allows him to quote himself: “If way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst.” He calls this progress towards human betterment “pessimism,” or “evolutionary meliorism.” This Darwinian fate/progress results in something very much like an affective steady-state:

And looking down the future these few hold fast to the same: that whether the human and kindred animal races survive till the exhaustion or destruction of the globe, or whether these races perish and are succeeded by others before that conclusion comes, pain to all upon it, tongued or dumb, shall be kept down to a minimum of loving-kindness, operating through scientific knowledge, and actuated by the modicum of free will conjecturally possessed by organic life when the mighty necessitating forces–unconscious or other–that have “the balancings of the clouds,” happen to be in equilibrium, which may or may not be often.

“Loving-kindness” stands in for that deathly/deathless moment from which one could narrate the workings of “these disordered years of our prematurely afflicted century.” But the price that must be paid for clarity of representation means reducing the capacity for human action to the amount of freewill which Drawing granted to organic beings under the name of instinct. By contrast, most art in 1922 is invested, at least in part, in resisting the idea of mechanical causality  extending to the domain of artistic creation. To this end, Hardy takes up Arnold’s definition of poetry as “the application of ideas to life” and thinks of it in terms of this Darwinian affectivity. Thus poetry is “the visible signs of mental and emotional life, [which] must like all other things keep moving, becoming.” Thus Hardy imagines, briefly, the becoming of a poetry that merges the stability of the church with Enlightenment rationality.

Thomas Hardy – Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891)

Boots – the reason (to disguise her laborer status) misinterpereted (as beggar trying to look poorer) and then it seems that they might actually be why…always something more depressing…

Does narrator participates in fetishizing Tess as object of nature/seductress/evil

Narrator interpellates the reader’s opinion

Novel: it’s wrong of us to project sin onto something

“Shameless nature” – wrong for us to think of shame as something than can happen NATURALLY…they are shamless but sinful…the judgment is on the social sphere which is itself creating sin

197 – complicity between Angel and the narrator

naturalization of women (as seductive power, etc.)

Rustic writer, not an urban writer (but only with much resentment…the country is the thing that he can never shed, and not the thing he wants to return to…which aligns him with Tess, which….Hardy: everybody wants me to be the rustic country gentle man…)

To say that Tess is guilty is to acknowledge that there is no vantage from which to posit a model of natural existence (in art)..and the only way to do it justice is to sacrifice Tess to that…Tess become figure for Hardy, b/c rustic writer (constantly seen as pure piece of nature) is also impossible (but constantly constructed by the social as true or existing)

387 – So does time destroy her own romances (it’s economic vs. imaginative)