[Thanks to James Heffernan, founder and editor-in-chief of Review 19 for sharing this review with readers of the Victorian Web. — George P. Landow.]

Illuminated initial L

iterary companions to Hardy seem ubiquitous of late. One may wonder why, on the heels of Keith Wilson's Companion to Thomas Hardy (2009), we would need another one on him the following year. But even the title of this new collection justifies it, and it is further justified by Rosemarie Morgan's introduction. If Wilson's book prompts us to return to the texts, Morgan's sends us further into the scholarship. First and foremost, as the title suggests, this collection of essays is a research companion. Like Wilson's, it includes a bevy of essays covering a broad spectrum--twenty-seven plus a seventy-page bibliography, to be exact. Like Wilson again, Morgan has carved up her book into sections. But there the similarities end, for many of her sections are designed for the Hardy scholar. While her book examines the familiar categories of historical and cultural contexts and influence, researchers will find gold in sections such as "Bibliographical Studies," "Historical and Cultural Context," "Early Literary Influence and a Late Topographical Construct," "Bodies of Knowledge and Belief," "Critical Approaches," "Genre and Case Studies," "Illustrators and Biographers," and "The Millennium: Sage Writers in Tribute to Their Muse." Since her Student Companion to Thomas Hardy (Greenwood) appeared in 2006, Morgan is no stranger to such specialized studies. Here as in her recent book she often anticipates what the researcher will need in order to begin to "know" Hardy, if that is, indeed, possible.

Morgan assembles an impressive team of Hardy scholars to achieve her stated objective: creating "a comprehensive and authoritative state-of-the-art review of current scholarship in particular areas" (12). Instead of analyzing Hardy's texts for readers unfamiliar with them, most of the essays survey critical studies of Hardy with the purpose of directing the reader to further research. But Hardy scholars will find fresh "jumping-off points" in the few essays that do venture into textual exegesis, for they make discrete arguments and explore topics and genres that have been frequently neglected or not yet thoroughly and rigorously examined. Morgan also carefully defines her concept of a companion, warning that her volume will not attempt to acquaint the reader with Hardy's successes, recount his life, or justify his rightful position in the prominent genres he chose to occupy (1, n1). Yet given a compilation that documents the extensiveness of what has been written about Hardy, one cannot read it without absorbing a sense of Hardy's achievement or his due place in the canon. Each contributor's laborious effort in tracking the scholarship or forging a new area of interest attests to the magnitude of Hardy's importance in the literary world.

While other companions to Hardy have relegated his poetry to a corner, this one gives it ample space. Using a variety of approaches, at least eight of its twenty-seven chapters treat the poetry substantially. In one of several that treat the verse exclusively, DeSales Harrison reads a sequence of commemorative poems that he considers forms of anti-elegy. According to Harrison, Hardy's struggle to represent what refuses to be represented results in a kind of encryption that creates a "crease in the representational field of the poem" (422). In this "crease," he asserts, lies the commemoration, and in its refusal to perform the integrative function characteristic of elegy, Harrison suggests, Hardy's poetry thwarts attempts to locate him and his writing historically.

Also treating memory and loss in relation to the poetry, specifically in the poems of Moments of Vision, Gillian Beer shows how time affected Hardy's composition of them. Comparing Hardy's manuscripts to his published versions, Beer finds him returning to "old notes"--when fair copies were lost or destroyed--in order to recreate the lost poem and re-record the moment of first creative impulse as well as the moment memorialized by the poem. The lapse in time, Beer asserts, between the initiating moment and the recording of the poem "opens up a typical and eerie distance between the manifest present of the poem's time and the implied falling away from that time's happiness even as we read" (502). Unlike Harrison, however, Beer recognizes the unconcealed in Hardy's poetry as well as the unifying and transformative propensity of it. These two essays thus resonate with each other.

Another oft neglected genre in which Hardy worked is drama. Addressing this deficit in a chapter on The Dynasts, which he finds lamentably slighted by both modern and contemporary critics, Harold Orel names it, perhaps, Hardy's "crowning achievement as a poet" (370). In The Dynasts, Orel contends, Hardy felt the need to address charges that he was a philosophical pessimist whose universe was determined by an "Immanent Will." In buttressing this philosophy, Orel argues, he aimed to develop a new literary tradition incorporating celestial machinery, and finally, he sought to justify British involvement in the Napoleonic Wars. No small feat here, and because Hardy's agenda was quite ambitious, Orel admits that he may not have fully realized it. Nevertheless, Orel maintains that he still achieved a surprising degree of success. In his provocative elaboration of Hardy's philosophy and vision, Orel nearly aligns them with a Christian belief system: in responding to a review, he notes, a disgruntled Hardy expounded the determinism linked with his "Immanent Will" and identified the various Christian churches that embrace this concept in the form of Predestination.

If Orel finds The Dynasts neglected, Ian Rogerson studies a component of Hardy's published fiction that seems even more often overlooked: its illustrations. Contending that Hardy was well served by his illustrators, Rogerson provides a collection of illustrations from Hardy's novels spanning Hardy's lifetime and beyond. Comparing the work of diverse illustrators of the same texts, Rogerson observes interpretive differences among the images that shed light, or darkness as the case may be, on Hardy's characters, landscapes, and stories. For instance, in Hubert von Herkomer's "Return from the dance," an illustration for the 1891 Tess in The Graphic (see below), Rogerson notes the "social realism, expertly reproduced yet yielding no hint of what was about to unfold" (456). He also includes detailed information on the illustrated editions of Hardy's work.

Probably what best defines this volume as a research tool, however, are the sections that contain bibliographical and archival information and that analyze relevant biographies. In one of two invaluable chapters, Charles P. C. Pettit examines significant collections of editions of Hardy's work and of secondary resources. Since much archival material has been reproduced elsewhere, some have questioned the necessity of archives for Hardy research. But the archives remain vital, Pettit maintains, because a wealth of information has yet to be made broadly available. Surveying several archives, he analyzes their contents and usefulness, and details their locations and contact information, essential documentation required to gain access to them, and their hours of operation. Provided none of this information alters over time, it will be most welcome to scholars for the convenience it affords. Pettit's other chapter considers the related area of bibliographical studies on Hardy, crediting Purdy's Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study as foundational. He surveys and critiques other bibliographies collated prior to Purdy's work, giving context for the culmination of it, and he also includes more recent bibliographies--some found online. Though he recognizes that the future of bibliographical studies lies in electronic publication, he echoes what has been frequently said about the vigilance needed to ensure the quality of content published online.

As a perfect complement to Pettit's chapters, Phillip Mallett writes on biographies of Hardy. Giving Millgate due pride of place as Hardy's authoritative biographer, Mallet also identifies the shortcomings as well as the strengths of his and others' biographies. He not only salutes the work of Gittings as "the first life based on original research, and written by a professional biographer rather than an admirer" (472); he also--curiously enough--treats Martin Seymour-Smith more generously than other reviewers have, finding some value in Seymour-Smith's tendency to see Hardy as "intelligent, warm, canny and critically self-aware, a writer who knew what he was about, not an untutored genius who occasionally stumbled into greatness" (478). Nevertheless, Mallett sharply criticizes Seymour-Smith for his presumption and for his negligence in contextualizing Hardy. On the other hand, he finds Ralph Pite's Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life, "critically more alert" than Claire Tomalin's book, but ultimately "less like a biography than the sketch for a novel, albeit one that might have been written by Hardy" (480). This essay, along with the two by Pettit, lays out the most expedient inroads for getting acquainted with an author who, at times, carefully crafted for public consumption an identity that may have masked his private self.

While Morgan's contributors often critically examine what has been written about Hardy up to now, they also spend a fair amount of time looking forward. Essays that explore previously researched areas do so by applying unique interdisciplinary approaches. In his chapter on Hardy's transition into modernity, Richard Nemesvari argues that attempts to confine him to a specific rural geographical region are reductive; according to Nemesvari, Hardy's time spent in London's urban areas--in particular, its music halls--influenced his writing. Suzanne Keen probes Hardy's conception of the mind, establishing his familiarity with neuropsychology and showing how he used it in his texts. Certainly her essay will speak to more recently developed schools of criticism, such as Happiness Studies and Disability Studies.

No companion would be complete, of course, without addressing at least one or two of the enduring debates. Documenting Hardy's awareness of the law, which was based on his work as a magistrate and his interest in civil and criminal proceedings, W. A. Davis examines "legal characters, plots based upon law-related incidents and themes calling for legal reform" (119) in Hardy's fiction. Among the several texts Davis treats, certainly the most provocative is Tess. His discussion of it crystallizes the polarized positions in what has become a quite contentious debate surrounding questions of rape versus seduction. Against James Heffernan's argument that Tess is seduced by Alec, Davis contends that Tess's experience with him in the woods is non-consensual and that Victorian readers would have recognized it as such from their knowledge of trials occurring near the time the novel was published. Given the nature of the debate, Davis's chapter surely will not end it, but he does shed legal light on a persistently controversial topic.

This collection will be suitable in the main for Hardy scholars. The bibliography at the end of the book is extensive, including sections that cover musical settings, film studies, and journals specific to Hardy studies. A handful of the individual chapters in the volume also include select bibliographies in their concluding pages. While these bibliographies sometimes overlap with the more comprehensive one at the end, the select bibliographies are most useful in charting a course of research through an ocean of previous scholarship. Since the mass of criticism written on Hardy can be overwhelming, as indicated in the length of the comprehensive bibliography, this book would have been even more valuable if most of its chapters had been followed by select bibliographies. But even without such bibliographies, the chapters include many notes directing researchers to foundational resources. Additionally, Morgan has wisely allowed lengthier chapters for areas that have yet to be developed, and the variety of authors, the diversity of perspectives and areas covered, and the tools she provides in this book make it a necessary addition for anyone embarking on Hardy research.


The Ashgate Research Companion to Thomas Hardy. Ed. Rosemarie Morgan. Ashgate, 2010) xii + 603.

Victorian Web Overview Victorian authors Thomas Hardy Book Reviews

Last modified 22 June 2014