Thomas Hardy and his reviewers : concepts of the art of the novel in the criticism of Hardy's novels from 1871 to 1912
There is a tradition that Hardy's reception as a novelist was primarily characterized by attacks on the morality and philosophy of his novels or on his failure to produce works which conformed to the conventional popular novel of the day. This belief is most detrimental when it is argued that Hardy indiscriminately bowdlerized his novels to counteract these attacks and to appease editors, readers, and critics. This narrow approach to the critical reception of Hardy's novels ignores the broader artistic considerations, the concern with various concepts of the art of the novel, in the criticism of his novels from the time of the publication of his first novel in 1871 until that of his last major revisions for the Wessex Edition in 1912.To arrive at a precise understanding of criticism of Hardy's novels during the time he was writing and of the nature of Hardy's reaction, this study begins with a discussion of Hardy's response to criticism. The second chapter defines the critical climate into which Hardy's novels were first introduced through an examination of the status of the novel and its functions. The remaining chapters analyze various areas of concern in the criticism of Hardy's novels, indicating to what extent specific criticism reflects or deviates from tendencies in general criticism. Concepts of representation and the controversy over realism and idealism, discussed in the third and fourth chapters, greatly influenced considerations of the relationship of art and morality, the relationship of art and philosophy, and concepts of tragedy. They also formed the basis of many discussions of artistic and technical questions concerning plot, character and characterization, use of setting, point of view, and style. This study thus illustrates the importance of various concepts of the art of the novel which governed the critical reception of Hardy's novels as well as the intimate relationship between this reception and the transitional nature of novel criticism in the late nineteenth century.