Critical attitudes to the novels of Thomas Hardy 1870-1985
In this thesis an examination is made of criticism of Thomas Hardy's novels from the earliest comments of his publishers and reviewers in the late nineteenth century to the apparently more sophisticated studies of the mid-1980's. The thesis is organised chronologically with each chapter dealing with a specific historical period of not more than a few decades which marks a particular phase of criticism of Hardy's novels and which often reflects more general developments in critical attitudes to the novel as an art form. Thus, while much light is thrown on Hardy's own art as a novelist in the course of this study, its wider purpose has been to trace patterns of development in the theory and practice of novel criticism over the period 1870-1985 as a whole, and to examine the ideological assumptions which have informed it. In this sense criticism of Hardy's novels is a good subject for study because it reveals many features which may be said to be typical of the various phases of novel criticism; indeed, it often tells us far more about critical fashion and critical prejudice than it does about Hardy's art. Because this thesis traces general patterns of development in criticism, there has been no attempt to be all-inclusive in the coverage of Hardy's critics; books and articles have been chosen for their representativeness or their special merit. All the major critics have been discussed, however, and the study concludes that what criticism has gained in sophistication of technique ; and mode of expression appears to have been counterbalanced by its having lost the ability to respond directly to the impact of reading a novel and by the corresponding loss of a sense that literature (in this case Hardy's novels) has any value which can be related to life. It is suggested that recent critics might benefit from a study of the methods of their predecessors so that they might learn from their successes as well as from their mistakes.