Analysis and Innovation in the Novels of Thomas Hardy

Sumner, Rosemary (1978). Analysis and Innovation in the Novels of Thomas Hardy. PhD thesis The Open University.



Hardy considered it important for a writer to be "fifty years ahead of his time". One of his aims was to change people's attitudes to make them more understanding, more tolerant and less prejudiced. This desire arose largely from his profound insight into psychological complexities. Much of his exploration of character, especially of psychologically disturbed personalities, anticipates the work of twentieth century psychological writers. It also affects the method of presenting character. He is moving away from the comparative certitude of his predecessors towards a realisation that however profoundly and sensitively a personality is analysed, there is always an area which recedes beyond scrutiny. This leads to the stress in the later novels on the "conjectural", "unstateable" nature of character; in this, he anticipates Lawrence. Like Lawrence, too, he insisted that an 'honest portrayal' of life must be "largely concerned with, for one thing, the relations of the sexes". In this treatment of this subject, he is both challenging the conventions of the novel of his day and anticipating twentieth century novelists, and Freud's emphasis on the significance of sexuality; he felt that dishonesty and immaturity in contemporary novels sprang from an unwillingness to acknowledge this, The structure of the novels, with their stress on the variousness of human responses and choices conveys Hardy's tolerance and willingness to accept the diversity of human nature. These qualities are evident throughout his novels and by the time of Tess and Jude he is moving towards suggesting that "animal" instincts need not be suppressed, that "the war between flesh and spirit" could cease. His perception of the importance of unconscious, instinctive drives and his awareness of people's fear of them underlies the creation of his most complex and innovatory character - Sue Bridehead.

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