“Books on Hardy are legion.” — Norman Page (ix)


Critical literature about Thomas Hardy’s fiction is diverse and vast in extent, and it has been changing gradually in emphasis and evaluation. It becomes apparent that every generation of critics sees something different in Hardy’s writing. This article surveys only some of the immense number of publications devoted to Hardy’s work.

Early criticism

Lionel Johnson’s The Art of Thomas Hardy (1894) is one of the earliest critical appraisals of Hardy’s fiction discussed in terms of the discrepancy between urban discord and rural order. The critic provides evidence of kinship between Hardy’s rural heroes and Shakespeare’s rustics. Of other early full-length studies on Hardy’s achievement a mention should be made of Annie Macdonnell’s Thomas Hardy (1894). Chapter X (Point of View) is of particular interest because it deals with Hardy’s pessimistic outlook.

Early criticism includes a few works which deal with the philosophical and psychological perspective in Hardy’s work. Lascelles Abercrombie’s Thomas Hardy: A Critical Study (1912) provides a blend of biographical information and critical analysis of Hardy’s tragic conception of the world. Abercrombie observed that:

The obvious quality of Hardy's tragedy is that it does not begin in the persons who are most concerned in it; it is invasion into human consciousness of the general tragedy of existence, which thereby puts in living symbols." [25]

Charles Duffin’s A Study of Wessex Novels (1916) contains mostly analyses of characters, synopses and evaluations of Hardy’s novels including their philosophical content. In Thomas Hardy's Universe (1924) Ernest Brennecke regards Hardy as a philosopher by nature. He compares Hardy’s philosophy to that of Schopenhauer because both writers view the universe as an automatic clockwork; man is a willing being rather than a thinking one. Man has an unlimited capacity for consciousness, but life is controlled by the blind forces of unconscious and indifferent nature.

Nearly every early book or article on Thomas Hardy at least alludes to the writer’s fatalism and pessimism. Hardy’s pessimism was studied by Helen Garwood in Thomas Hardy: An Illustration of the Philosophy of Schopenhauer (1911). Similarly, L. de Riddler-Barzin in Le Pessimisme de Thomas Hardy (1932) points to the affinity with Schopenhauer, but also emphasises that Hardy was primarily affected by 19th-century English philosophical development, particularly by the works of Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer. According to the critic, Hardy was influenced by Huxley’s view that nature is not ethical. In 1935, A. P. Elliott published a study, Fatalism in the Works of Thomas Hardy, in which he discussed the writer's idea of uncaring nature and manifestations of fatalism in his novels.

Criticism in the 1930s and 1940s

A number of critical studies on Hardy's fiction and poetry were published in the 1930s and 1940s. William R. Rutland's Thomas Hardy: A Study of His Writings and Their Background (1938) traces the impact on Hardy of the Bible, the Greek and Roman classics, the English poets (Crabbe, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley and Swinburne), and the work of Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Herbert Spencer, Leslie Stephen, John Stuart Mill and others. Two noteworthy critical studies appeared during World War II: Edmund Blunden’s Thomas Hardy (1941) and David Cecil’s Hardy the Novelist. An Essay in Criticism (1943). They contain biographical information, criticism and personal impressions about Hardy’s work. Blunden’s adulatory work is based on Hardy’s articles, speeches and the two volumes of autobiography published by his second wife. It concentrates on Hardy's appreciation of rural life. Only a very general discussion of the novels is offered. Blunden knew Hardy and was his ardent admirer. Cecil’s book provides a more detailed and critical analysis of the novels. The critic argues that Hardy created symbolic characters and settings which represent his philosophical outlook.

Some post-war critical studies on Hardy’s work concentrated on his pessimism, others tried to show his humanism. Harvey C. Webster claims in On a Darkling Plain: The Art and Thought of Thomas Hardy (1947) that Hardy’s pessimism was mainly shaped under the influence of Leslie Stephen’s determinism. He sees Hardy as an artist who combined successfully the function of a thinker with that of a writer. The main themes in Hardy’s novels, according to the scholar, are chance, social conditions and sexual determinism. Hardy's later novels are largely a critique of social ills.

Interestingly, Hardy’s novels are absent from the great canon of English fiction formulated in The Great Tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad (1948) by the critic F. R. Leavis, who dismissed him from the rank of “the great English novelists”. This influential critic even quoted Henry James’s famous malicious remark about Hardy.

The good little Thomas Hardy has scored a great success with Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which is chock-full of faults and falsity, and yet has a singular charm. [34]

Hardy’s novels were often misread and misinterpreted due, among others, to the fact that a number of early studies were based on bowdlerised versions and, therefore, their value is now questioned. One of the important works of postwar criticism is Albert J. Guerard’s Thomas Hardy: The Novels and Stories (1949), which is regarded as the first significant reassessment of Hardy’s literary achievement. However, the study depended on a truncated edition of Hardy’s writings and some of the opinions are not well-founded on the original text. Guerard regards Hardy as a forerunner of modern literary techniques, and he treats him as an antirealist in both form and technique.

Douglas Brown, in his monograph, Thomas Hardy (1954, repr. 1961), presents Hardy as a novelist of a vanishing way of life. He points out that Hardy revealed in his fiction a clash between agricultural and urban modes of life. Hardy is essentially a countryman strongly attached to rural simplicity, who has recreated successfully country voices and the idiom of local speech.

Guides and companions

Guides and companions, thanks to their essay format, offer not only essential reference information about Thomas Hardy's life and literary achievement, but also provide close readings of some of his novels, short stories and poems. A good introduction to Hardy studies is F. B. Pinion’s A Hardy Companion: A Guide to the Works of Thomas Hardy and Their Background (1968). The book offers a detailed account of Hardy’s life and career and provides discussions of the particular novels, short stories, poems and plays. Besides, the book contains chapters dealing with particular aspects of Hardy’s work, e.g. “The Wessex Tradition”, “Views on Art, Tragedy and Fiction”, etc., as well as a glossary of dialect and archaic words used by Hardy. This publication is accompanied by original illustrations and a directory of people and places in Hardy’s life and in his writings. Of great value and interest are also the subsequent companions which provide a wealth of background information on Hardy and his work: The Oxford Reader’s Companion to Hardy (2000) edited by Norman Page and Geoffrey Harvey’s The Complete Guide to Thomas Hardy (2003). The more recent companions include: The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hardy (1999) edited by Dale Kramer; A Student Companion to Thomas Hardy (2006) edited by Rosemary Morgan; A Companion to Thomas Hardy (2009) edited by Keith Wilson; and The Ashgate Research Companion to Thomas Hardy (2010) edited by Rosemarie Morgan. These companions, addressed to scholars and advanced students, provide a comprehensive discussion of various aspects of Hardy's life and work including gender, philosophy, music, popular culture, film adaptations, tragic vision, topography and critical response.

Autobiography and biographies

Hardy was an extremely private and introverted person. He was afraid that after his death biographers would speculate arbitrarily on his life and work. Hardy was particularly annoyed when he read Ernest Brennecke's early biography The Life of Thomas Hardy (1925) and decided to produce his own biography in order to dismiss speculations and errors. He authorised his second wife Florence Dugdale to publish The Early Life of Thomas Hardy (1840-1891) and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy (1892-1928) under her name, but in fact, the two-volume ‘biography’ was written mostly by Hardy himself. Florence made only some deletions and additions to the original text. The first volume of the 'biography' was published by Macmillan in 1928 and the second in 1930. Then the two volumes were published together as The Life of Thomas Hardy (1933). In 1985, Michael Millgate published The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, which is a revised and critical edition of Hardy's autobiography.

After the death of Hardy a number of full-length biographies were published. Evelyn Hardy in Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography (1954), emphasises that Greek tragedy was a greater influence on Hardy than the pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. Carl J. Weber’s Hardy of Wessex (1940 reissued in 1960) offers a comprehensive study of Hardy’s life and works against the background of his native Dorset. Other biographies worth mentioning are Irving Howe’s Thomas Hardy (1967) and Frank Ernest Halliday’s Thomas Hardy: His Life and Work (1972). Robert Gittings’ meticulously researched Young Thomas Hardy (1975), and The Older Hardy (1978), published later in one volume (2001), bring a lot of new and interesting facts about Hardy's life and his literary development. Michael Millgate’s Thomas Hardy: A Biography (1982), is generally regarded as most informative and reliable. Millgate's earlier study was Thomas Hardy: His Career As a Novelist (1972). In 1977, Norman Page published a short biographical study entitled Thomas Hardy, and in 1980 he edited Thomas Hardy: The Writer and His Background, a collection of essays relating to Hardy's work and some aspects of his background including social class, education, regionalism of his novels, his varied and extensive reading, the Darwinian influence, Hardy's use of language, and the traditionalism of his poetry. F. B. Pinion’s Hardy the Writer: Surveys and Assessments (1990) provides many unknown biographical details about Hardy’s life and topographical details about his Wessex.

The more recent biographies include F. B. Pinion’s Thomas Hardy: His Life and Friends (1992), Martin Seymour-Smith’s Hardy (1994), James Gibson’s Thomas Hardy: A Literary Life (1996) and Paul Turner’s The Life of Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography (1998). Addressed to young readers, Thomas Hardy (2000) by Nicola Barber and Patrick Lee-Browne, examines the writer's life in the context of the transition from the 19th to the 20th century. Michael Millgate’s Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited (2004) is an update of his classic biography first published in 1982. In this extensively revised and expanded edition Millgate draws on various aspects of Hardy's life, including his family background, self-education, his difficult relations with his first wife Emma, his infatuations and relations with aspiring women writers, and his secret contribution to his own official biography. The year 2006 saw the publication of two interesting and highly readable Hardy biographies presented in the context of the Victorian and modern social world: Ralph Pite's Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life and Claire Tomalin's Thomas Hardy. In Thomas Hardy Remembered (2007), edited by Martin Ray, Hardy's life is viewed through the first-hand accounts of his contemporaries.

Folklore and Hardy's Wessex

Critics have often emphasised Hardy's interest in folklore and superstitions. A few early studies concentrated on the role of environment and folk tradition in Hardy’s works. Herbert Borthwick Grimsditch, in Character and Environment in the Novels of Thomas Hardy (1925), presents, amongst others, Hardy's upbringing, description of country life and local landscapes, manners, customs and superstitions of Wessex peasants, intellectual and artistic influences. Ruth Anita Firor’s Folkways in Thomas Hardy (1931) describes Hardy's use of folklore and folk customs, omens, premonitions, magic, folk songs, medieval legends and Napoleonana in his writings.

Early criticism focused on Hardy's regionalism and his creation of imaginary Wessex. Bertram Windle's The Wessex of Thomas Hardy (1901), Wilkinson Sherren's The Wessex of Romance (1902), Charles G. Harper's The Hardy Country. Literary Landmarks of the Wessex Novels (1904), and Hermann Lea's Thomas Hardy's Wessex (1913), all emphasised Hardy's attempt to recreate the historical Wessex, which was not limited to the county of Dorset, but included the counties of Berkshire, Wilts, Somerset, Hampshire, Dorset, and Devon – either wholly or in part. F. Outwin Saxelby's A Thomas Hardy Dictionary (1911) contains apart from synopses of Hardy's novels and short stories a detailed alphabetical description of the characters and places in Hardy's works. R.T. Hopkins' Thomas Hardy's Dorset (1922) and D. Maxwell's The Landscape of Thomas Hardy (1928) provide detailed topographical descriptions of Hardy's country.

Later publications on Hardy's Wessex include Clive Holland's Thomas Hardy's Wessex Scene (1948 reprinted 1971), which describes Dorsetshire and the surrounding area that Hardy called "Wessex" in his novels. The book compares the actual places with the literary licence the author took in fictionalising them. A comprehensive guide to Hardy “places” is Denys Kay-Robinson's Hardy’s Wessex Reappraised (1972). Andrew Enstice's Thomas Hardy: Landscapes and Mind (1979) shows how Hardy modified the geography of Dorset to create imaginary Wessex. Thomas Hardy's England (1984) by John Fowles and Jo Draper, contains, apart from commentary, unique period photographs taken by Hardy's friend Hermann Lea. F. P. Pitfield's Hardy's Wessex Locations (1992) provides an illustrated account of the locations which form the settings for the Wessex novels. Michael Irwin's Reading Hardy's Landscapes (2000) focuses on Hardy's tragic vision and imagination of Wessex locales. Tom Howard's Hardy Country (2002) contains full-page colour illustrations of the West Country. In Representations of Culture: Thomas Hardy's Wessex & Victorian Anthropology (2007) Michael A. Zeitler discusses Hardy's representation of rural England, his interest in folklore, customs, local history and myth. J. B. Bullen's Thomas Hardy: The World of His Novels (2013) explains how Hardy used and modified real places and settings to serve the needs of his plots and characters.

D.H. Lawrence's The Study of Thomas Hardy

One of the early admirers and defenders of Hardy’s fiction was D. H. Lawrence. He wrote several essays on Hardy. Lawrence was also the first to point to the dichotomy between instinct and intellect in Hardy’s fiction. He considered Hardy to be a 'modern' writer because he believed that Hardy's vision of life did not belong to the 19th century in that Hardy created a modern metaphysics which reflected his awareness of the tragedy of human existence. In addition, Lawrence saw in Hardy’s fiction a valuable interpretation of human sexuality. Lawrence never completed The Study of Thomas Hardy, which was published posthumously in 1936 by Edward Mcdonald in Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence.

View of sexuality

In 1927, Arthur Symons, in A Study of Thomas Hardy, also emphasised the importance of sex as the principle of life in Hardy’s outlook. Sex is manifested in the world as Nature which is often in conflict with man-made laws. The problems of gender, male and female sexuality in Hardy's major fiction are treated by Hillel Matthew Daleski in Thomas Hardy and Paradoxes of Love (1997). Daleski argues that Hardy's treatment of sexual relations are at the centre of his work. In his treatment of sexuality Hardy went far beyond his Victorian predecessors. Daleski also points to Hardy's “strikingly modernist techniques which align him with the great modernists such as Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and D. H. Lawrence, and reveal him to be their inventive forerunner.” (5) Other studies devoted to Hardy's view of sexuality include Ruth Milberg-Kaye's Thomas Hardy: Myths of Sexuality (1983) and Terence R. Wright's Hardy and the Erotic (1989).

Feminist criticism

Within the range of approaches labelled “feminist criticism” and “gender studies” we can list a number of publications which refer directly or indirectly to Thomas Hardy’s view of sexuality and gender relations. A feminist reading of Thomas Hardy’s major and minor fiction has produced results quite different from the ones we have been accustomed to by traditional criticism. The difference consists in the centrality accorded to female characters, their status, roles and functions in society. Feminist criticism usually reveals the search for autonomy and selfhood of the female protagonist. Penny Boumelha’s Thomas Hardy and Women, Sexual Ideology and Narrative Form (1984) and Pamela Jekel’s Thomas Hardy’s Heroines (1986) are analytical studies of Hardy’s female characters. The thesis of both studies is that Hardy had a peculiar empathy with women. In a similar way Rosemarie Morgan in Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy (1988) discusses the treatment of female characters. Hardy’s portrayal of women, including the so-called 'fallen women', was generally sympathetic: “Hardy relished the company of women and expressed no reservations about their powers, mental, intellectual, sexual, emotional, psychic, but he was not drawn to the liberal feminism of the day” (xiv). Although traditional criticism generally saw Hardy women as passive victims of both men and circumstances, Morgan’s view is that they were quite strong physically and psychologically.

More recent publications from the feminist perspective include Patricia Ingham’s (ed.) Thomas Hardy. Feminist Readings (1989), Margaret R. Higonnet’s The Sense of Sex: Feminist Perspectives on Hardy (1991), Jane Thomas’ Thomas Hardy, Feminity and Dissent: Reassessing the Minor Novels (1999), Marjorie Garson's Hardy's Fables of Integrity: Woman, Body, Text (1991), and Shanta Dutta’s Ambivalence in Hardy: A Study of His Attitudes to Women (2000). Patricia Ingham’s more recent book, Thomas Hardy (2003), is written in the convention of gender studies. The critic analyses how the 'male' narrator and male characters try to understand and describe female characters who strive for autonomy. The book includes an extensive chronology of the major works and events of the writer's life as well as an extensive further reading section with a range of web sites. Margaret Elvy's Sexing Hardy: Thomas Hardy and Feminism (2007) offers a postmodern reappraisal of the discourses of sex, gender, class, and patriarchy in Hardy's fiction and poetry.

Affinities with existentialism

Hardy’s criticism has undergone a significant reorientation since the publication of Roy Morrell’s study Thomas Hardy, the Will and the Way (1965) in which it is argued persuasively that Hardy was not a fatalist and pessimist but could rather be called a pre-existentialist. According to Morrell, Hardy’s works are concerned with universal existential dilemmas and current social problems. The critic strongly objected to classifying Hardy as a fatalist. Instead he provided evidence that Hardy wanted to convey a view of life in which man is a puppet of fate by his own choice. Therefore, man has to rely on himself if he wants to overcome the forces of nature.

Rosemary Sumner’s Thomas Hardy, Psychological Novelist (1981) focuses on Hardy’s power of psychological insight, which has some affinities with the twentieth-century psychological theories of Freud, Jung and Adler. According to the critic, Hardy’s “sympathetic intuitive insight into human nature, gives the reader such a sense of involvement with the characters that the accompanying conscious understanding and formulation of psychological theory is to be overlooked or even condemned as being intrusive and spoiling a good story.” (4) Sumner emphasises that the situation in Hardy criticism has changed. She refers to Roy Morrell’s book, Thomas Hardy, The Will and The Way, which suggests that Hardy had affinities with existentialism. In The Human Predicament in Hardy’s Novels (1985), Jagdish Chandra Dave sees Hardy’s world as devoid of God and meaning. Man is left alone in an alien and hostile world. The only appropriate response to man’s predicament, according to Hardy’s meliorist ethics, is not apathy and resignation but growing self-awareness, love, compassion and human responsibility.

Philosophical, psychological and ethical views

Hardy's philosophical views are discussed in Joseph Hillis Miller's Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire (1970) and Frank R. Southerington's Hardy's Vision of Man (1971). Perry Meisel’s study The Return of the Repressed: A Study of the Major Fiction (1972) investigates the unconscious in Thomas Hardy’s novels. Hardy's psychological and social perspectives are analysed in Lennart A. Björk's Psychological Vision and Social Criticism in the Novels of Thomas Hardy (1987). Ethical views are discussed in Frank R. Giordano's The Modernity of Thomas Hardy's Ethical Vision (1968). Virginia Hyman’s Ethical Perspective in the Novels of Thomas Hardy (1975) traces the development of Hardy’s ethical views suggesting that Hardy was influenced by the theory of ethical evolution developed by Auguste Comte, J. S. Mill and Leslie Stephen. Hardy’s characters are distinguished by two opposing features: egotism and altruism.

Tragic vision

A number of studies in the 1970s have been devoted to the use of the tragic form in Hardy’s fiction, e.g. Dale Kramer’s Thomas Hardy: The Forms of Tragedy (1975) and Jeannette King’s Tragedy in the Victorian Novel, Theory of Practice in the Novels of George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and Henry James (1978). Kramer argues that The Mayor of Casterbridge exemplifies the most pure form of the Aristotelian notion of tragedy. The latter study examines the relationship between the modern concept of tragedy and Victorian fiction. The author emphasises that the four later novels of Hardy, The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, show the tragic dimension of man. King points out that each of Hardy’s major novels can be seen as a tragedy. Lance St John Butler's Thomas Hardy (1978), which provides a valuable introduction to his six major novels and poems, also emphasises similarity between Hardy's novels and Greek tragedy.

View of Christianity

Thomas Hardy admitted in his Autobiography that he was not ‘churchy’ and his novels seem to suggest that the old Christian religion practised in churches is redundant in the modern world. Hardy’s attitude to Christianity is discussed in Timothy Hands' Thomas Hardy: Distracted Preacher? Hardy's Religious Biography and Its Influence on His Novels (1989), Deborah L. Collins’ Thomas Hardy and His God (1990), and Jan Jędrzejewski’s Thomas Hardy and the Church (1996). Jędrzejewski draws from letters, notes and other biographical sources to trace Hardy’s view on the church and Christianity. The critic shows that Hardy’s attitude to the Christian religion and tradition was complex and ambiguous and points to a striking discrepancy between Hardy’s deep attachment to Christianity as tradition and his inability to accept it as a faith.

Although an agnostic, Hardy was a devout reader of the Bible. Biblical allusions infuse almost all his novels and many short stories and the Bible is a useful tool to explore their hidden meanings. Timothy Hands estimates that there are as many as 600 biblical allusions in Hardy’s novels, including over 60 in Far From the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native and Jude the Obscure; the highest number can be found in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. (Page, 2001, 28-29) Shuji Awano, in Paradox and Post-Christianity: Hardy’s Engagements with Religious Traditions and the Bible (1999), notes that:

In spite of his distrust of Christian theology and his attraction to contemporary scientific rationalism, the language of the King James Bible permeates his writings, not so much in direct quotations as in allusions and verbal echoes which critics have identified and commented on. Yet they have continuously misread them as a matter of peripheral interest. [1]


Thomas Hardy is better known as a novelist than a poet. However, Hardy was writing poetry all his adult life and considered himself primarily as a poet. Of a great number of studies devoted to Hardy's poetry a mention should be made of Samuel Hynes's The Pattern of Hardy's Poetry (1961), Kenneth Marsden's The Poems of Thomas Hardy: A Critical Introduction (1969), and J. O. Bailey's, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary (1970). Jean R. Brooks, in Thomas Hardy: The Poetic Structure (1971), argues that Hardy's vision of cosmos and human existence was 'poetic'. Donald Davie's Thomas Hardy and British Poetry (1972) is a seminal study on Hardy's poetry. Davie claims that "the most far-reaching influence in British poetry of the last fifty years, for good and ill, has been not Yeats, still less Eliot or Pound, not Lawrence but Hardy." (3) Other studies on Hardy's poetry, published in the 1970s, include Hugh Kenner's The Poetry of Thomas Hardy. A Handbook and Commentary (1970), Paul Zeitlow's Moments of Vision: The Poetry of Thomas Hardy (1974), Tom Paulin's Thomas Hardy: The Poetry of Perception (1975), F. B. Pinion's A Commentary on the Poems of Thomas Hardy (1976), and James Richardson's Thomas Hardy: The Poetry of Necessity (1977). Susan Dean's Hardy's Poetic Vision in 'The Dynasts': The Diorama of a Dream (1977) provides a new key to reading of this gigantic epic drama in verse in three parts, nineteen acts and one hundred and thirty scenes. The Poetry of Thomas Hardy (1980) by Patricia and Juliet Grindle (eds.). Katherine Kearney Maynard's Thomas Hardy's Tragic Poetry: The Lyrics and 'The Dynasts' (1991) focuses on Hardy as a major tragic poet. An Historical Evaluation of Thomas Hardy’s Poetry (2000), edited by Amitava Banerjee, contains a selection of critical essays on Hardy’s poetry from Edmund Gosse (1918) to Samuel Hynes (1997).


Hardy claimed that he was one of the most avid readers of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. The traditional teleological interpretation of the world lost sense for Hardy and he became vividly interested in the concept of evolution which goes beyond the realm of biology to include human society and its institutions. Hardy adapted Darwin’s ideas to his last two novels, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure to show that protagonists are at the mercy of their environment, heredity and adaptability. The influence of Darwinism on Hardy is discussed, amongst others, in Leo Henkin’s Darwinism in the English Novel (1940). More recent publications include R. Robinson's “Hardy and Darwin” in Norman Page's Thomas Hardy: The Writer and His Background (1980), S. D. Sharma's “Darwinism in the Novels of Thomas Hardy and George Meredith” in Victorian Fiction: Some New Approaches (2002), and Pamela Gossin's Thomas Hardy's Novel Universe: Astronomy, Cosmology, And Gender in the Post-Darwinian World (2007).

Marxist and neo-Marxist criticism

Marxist and neo-Marxist criticism, which focuses on the socio-historical context and the base that determine the content and form of literary works, has produced a number of studies dealing with social perspective in Thomas Hardy’s fiction. Arnold Kettle devoted an essay on Tess of the d’Urbervilles in An Introduction to the English Novel (1951). He argued rather unconvincingly that this novel has a quality of a social document whose chief aim was to present in fictional form the disintegration of the English peasantry. Another leading exponent of Marxist criticism, Raymond Williams, deals with Hardy in Chapter VI of his study The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence (1970). He does not share Kettle’s simplified view of the peasantry as one homogeneous class and argues that Hardy was rather preoccupied with the outcome of social forces that were based in the rural economy. He sees Hardy as a writer who showed the conflicts caused by social change and restrictions imposed by class and gender. For Williams Hardy is a clear link in literary tradition between George Eliot and D. H. Lawrence. Merryn Wiliams, in Thomas Hardy and Rural England (1972) maintains that Hardy should be read in the context of social change in rural England, and G. W. Sherman, in The Pessimism of Thomas Hardy (1976), argued that Hardy's pessimism expressed in all his major works is founded on his critique of bourgeois society and not on some timeless predicament. In the 1980s, Marxist literary theory underwent significant transformations bearing on the findings of structuralism. A neo-Marxist critic, George Wotton, in his Thomas Hardy: Towards a Materialist Criticism (1985), sees Hardy’s novels as a discourse which combines ideology and literariness. John Goode's Thomas Hardy: The Offensive Truth (1988) offers close study of Hardy's major and minor fiction from a neo-Marxist position.

Close reading and textual studies

Hardy revised his novels relentlessly throughout his life. The serialised publications suffered from extensive forced self censorship and editor’s interventions. Textual studies on Hardy’s fiction were begun as early as 1927, when Mary Ellen Chase published a pioneering work Thomas Hardy From Serial to Novel. Later sources of textual information include Martin Ray's Thomas Hardy: A Textual Study of the Short Stories (1997) and Simon Gatrell's Hardy the Creator: A Textual Biography (1988), which outlines the development of Hardy’s work from manuscript to final versions. The Making of “Return of the Native” (1960) by John Paterson was the first book-length textual study of Hardy’s single novel. Michael Millgate’s Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist (1971) provides close readings of individual novels and short stories in the biographical context. John T. Laird's The Shaping of “Tess of the d'Urbervilles” (1975) describes how the novel evolved and was modified from its first publication to the final version in 1912. Robert C. Schweik's edition of Far From the Madding Crowd (1986) contains interesting emendations of the original text and provides 'variant readings'. Rosemarie Morgan's Cancelled Words: Rediscovering Thomas Hardy (1992) presents a detailed study of the revisions of Far from the Madding Crowd. Norman Page’s Thomas Hardy: The Novels (2001) offers a close study of selected passages from four of Hardy’s major works: The Mayor of Casterbridge, Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure. The book is divided into two parts: “The Novels” and “The Context”. In Part One the critic discusses the recurring themes, devices and concerns in the four major novels. Page shows that Hardy went far beyond the confines of conventional nineteenth-century realism by incorporating non-realist elements, such as fable, allegory and myth into his fiction. Part Two is chiefly devoted to Hardy’s life and work and the context of his fiction. It also provides samples of criticism.

Reception studies

The reception of Hardy's fiction and poetry has been surveyed in Thomas Hardy: The Critical Heritage (1970, reissued 1995) edited by R. G. Cox. The reviews are arranged chronologically with individual chapters devoted to each of Hardy's major novels, The Dynasts (1908), and Satires of Circumstance (1914). The nature and scope of Hardy’s influence on the modern novel is presented in Peter J. Casagrande’s Hardy's Influence on the Modern Novel (1987). This study is an attempt to reassess Hardy’s influence on such diverse writers as D. H. Lawrence, Marcel Proust, John Powys and John Fowles. Casagrande believes that Hardy contributed to the formation of the Weltanschauung of those writers although they rejected his tragic sense of existence. A detailed reception of Thomas Hardy's work is discussed in Peter Widdowson's Hardy in History: A Study in Literary Sociology (1989). Other reception studies worth mentioning are Hardy and Contemporary Literary Studies (2004) edited by Tim Dolin and Peter Widdowson, and Rosemary Sumner's A Route to Modernism: Hardy, Lawrence, Woolf (2000). A more recent study, The Novels of Thomas Hardy as a Product of Nineteenth-Century Social, Economic and Cultural Change (2004) by Birgit Plietzsch, discusses Hardy's work as a product of socio-economic and cultural change in late Victorian England.

Hardy's language

Studies which deal with Thomas Hardy's language include Ralph W.V. Elliott's Thomas Hardy’s English (1984), F. B. Pinion's A Thomas Hardy Dictionary (1989), and Raymond Chapman's The Language of Thomas Hardy (1990). They focus on Hardy's language, diction, and regional lexical peculiarities. Thomas Hardy was often criticised for “awkwardness” of his language. Dennis Taylor's Hardy's Language and Victorian Philology (1993) shows that Hardy's language is a distinctive response to the philological and literary discourse of the late Victorian period.

Relationship to visual arts and music

Hardy's novels, short stories and poems are filled with visual imagery: landscapes, rural scenes, village buildings, country houses and interior settings. Hardy's style has often been compared to that of a draughtsman. Hardy's indebtedness to non-literary arts is examined, amongst others, in F.B. Pinion's Thomas Hardy: Art and Thought (1977), Joan Grundy's Thomas Hardy and Sister Arts (1979), and J. B. Bullen's The Expressive Eye: Fiction and Perception in the Works of Thomas Hardy (1986), and John Hughes' Ecstatic Sound: Music and Individuality in the Work of Thomas Hardy (2001).

Hardy on screen

Thomas Hardy is widely considered a cinematic novelist. Many of his novels have been adapted into movies and TV series. One of the first important essays about cinematic features of Hardy's fiction is David Lodge's “Thomas Hardy as a Cinematic Novelist” in Thomas Hardy After 50 Years, edited by Lance St. John Butler (1977). More recent publications include Paul Niemeyeer's Seeing Hardy: Film and Television Adaptations of the Fiction of Thomas Hardy (2003), and a collection of essays by various contributors, Thomas Hardy on Screen, edited by T. R. Wright (2005).


After World War II, Richard Purdy published Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study (1954), an extensively detailed bibliography with appendices. Helmut E. Gerber and W. Eugene Davis published a magisterial work, Thomas Hardy: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings About Him (in two volumes, 1973, 1983), which surveyed the one hundred years of Hardy criticism. In 1989, Ronald P. Draper and Martin S. Ray published An Annotated Critical Bibliography of Thomas Hardy (1989). In 1998, Julie Sherrick published Thomas Hardy’s Major Novels: An Annotated Bibliography, which provides a bibliographical update of contemporary criticism of the six novels, The Woodlanders, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. Richard Purdy's A Bibliographical Study (2002) is a more recent updated and extended bibliography containing Introduction and Supplement written by Charles C. S. Pettit.

Letters, prefaces, essays and notebooks

Thomas Hardy wrote hundreds of letters, including love letters to his first wife Emma and second wife Florence. In 1963, Carl J. Weber published 'Dearest Emmie': Thomas Hardy's Letters to His First Wife (1963). In 1972, Evelyn Hardy and F. B. Pinion published One Rare Fair 'Woman: Thomas Hardy's Letters to Florence Henniker 1893-1922. The book contains 153 letters by Hardy to Florence Henniker which are preceded by a brief biography of Florence Henniker and her relationship with Hardy. In the years 1978-1988, Richard Purdy and Michael Millgate published the authoritative seven-volume edition of The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy. The supplementary volume, Further Letters, edited by Michael Millgate and Keith Wilson, was published in 2012. In 1990, Michael Millgate published Thomas Hardy: Selected Letters, and in 1996, Letters of Emma and Florence Hardy.

Hardy's prefaces, literary essays, and reminiscences have been collected in Thomas Hardy's Personal Writings, edited by Harold Orel (1966). Hardy made a great number of notes and annotations which provide an interesting insight to his interests at various times in his life. They are published in Thomas Hardy. The Literary Notebooks of Thomas Hardy (1985) edited by Lennart A. Björk.

Recent criticism

Recent criticism demonstrates a reassessment of many core assumptions about Hardy's writing and represents new perspectives for critical studies. Andrew Radford's Thomas Hardy and the Survivals of Time (2003) discusses Thomas Hardy's reception of Victorian scientific and amateur antiquarian ideas. In his close readings of the novels, Radford examines Hardy's response to Victorian geological, archaeological and anthropological discoveries. In particular, he is concerned with Hardy's fascination with the doctrine of “survivals,” presented by E.B. Tylor in Primitive Culture (1871). Keith Wilson's Thomas Hardy Reappraised: Essays in Honour of Michael Millgate (2006), being a tribute to one of the foremost Hardy scholars, contains studies by fifteen outstanding contemporary Hardy scholars including Pamela Dalziel, Barbara Hardy, Marjorie Garson, Simon Gatrell, J. Hillis Miller, Samuel Hynes, and Norman Page. The most recent publication, Thomas Hardy in Context, edited by Phillip Mallett and Sarah E. Maier (2013) contains essays by forty-four scholars which provide a comprehensive introduction to Hardy's life and times and deal with social and intellectual contexts of Hardy's works.

Journals dedicated to Thomas Hardy

At least five scholarly journals dedicated to Thomas Hardy should be mentioned. The Thomas Hardy Society publishes The Hardy Society Journal andThe Thomas Hardy Journal. The Thomas Hardy Association publishes The Hardy Review, Thomas Hardy Annual, and The Thomas Hardy Yearbook. It should be noted that Thomas Hardy studies is thriving in Japan. The Thomas Hardy Society of Japan publishes The Bulletin of the Thomas Hardy Society of Japan.

Important articles discussing various aspects of Hardy's life and writings can also be found, amongst others, in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Victorian Studies, Victorian Poetry, Victorian Philology, Studies in the Novel, The Review of English Studies, The Modern Language Review, Modern Fiction Studies.

Important web sites

Apart from studies on Thomas Hardy’s life and literary achievement published in book form, one can find a plethora of bibliographic information, studies and analyses of almost every aspect of Hardy’s life and work on the Internet. A great asset for a Hardy student are electronic texts of Hardy’s writings and writings about Hardy which are usually not available in many libraries. The beginning student-reader eager to secure information about Hardy and his times has a few good sites to visit. Of the numerous web pages devoted to Hardy’s novels, short fiction and poetry a mention should be made of The Thomas Hardy Society: http://www.hardysociety.org/; The Thomas Hardy Association: http://www.yale.edu/hardysoc.htm/; and, last but not the least, The Victorian Web: http: www.victorianweb.org/.


For more than one hundred years, numerous studies on Thomas Hardy as a novelist and poet have shown that he continues to provoke an ongoing and lively debate which constantly re-examines important issues in his works. These studies help towards a fuller understanding of Hardy’s achievement and his unique literary vision.

Web Victorian authors Thomas Hardy

Last modified 29 July 2013