Monday, 2 April 2012

Romanticism in Thomas Hardy

Stumbled upon this article, and I thought I would post it up. I actually wished to write about Darwinism in Thomas Hardy's novels, but this piece has neatly summed up something I ought to have but didn't notice before: Romanticism. Here is another one on Darwinism in The Woodlanders. Also, a review on Jude the Obscure.

If you have read Tess of the d'Urbervilles, you might have been struck by the sheer imagery and symbolism abounding throughout. Like some of Hardy's novels, it is full of legend and dreams, a very Romantic attribute, but unlike the genuine Romantics, it is full of Darwinism, shattering the ideal and putting forward the real.  Hardy seems to have been wistful about Romantic ideals but he wrote about reality - almost all his heroes and heroines suffer tragedy because of circumstances and their delicate natures. But let's stop and look out for Hardy's possible influences. I read Keats' Lamia and was struck by the similarity in that poem and this passage from Tess. See Chapter 27.
Taken from the Victorian Web, provided by Philip Allingham.
Not a human being was out of doors at the dairy. The denizens were all enjoying the usual afternoon nap of an hour or so which the exceedingly early hours kept in summer-time rendered a necessity. At the door the wood-hooped pails, sodden and bleached by infinite scrubbings, hung like hats on a stand upon the forked and peeled limb of an oak fixed there for that purpose; all of them ready and dry for the evening milking. Angel entered, and went through the silent passages of the house to the back quarters, where he listened for a moment. Sustained snores came from the cart-house, where some of the men were lying down; the grunt and squeal of sweltering pigs arose from the still further distance. The large-leaved rhubarb and cabbage plants slept too, their broad limp surfaces hanging in the sun like half-closed umbrellas....
She had not heard him enter, and hardly realized his presence there. She was yawning, and he saw the red interior of her mouth as if it had been a snake's. She had stretched one arm so high above her coiled-up cable of hair that he could see its satin delicacy above the sunburn; her face was flushed with sleep, and her eyelids hung heavy over their pupils. The brim-fulness of her nature breathed from her. It was a moment when a woman's soul is more incarnate than at any other time; when the most spiritual beautbespeaks itself flesh; and sex takes the outside place in the presentation.
 The first paragraph idealises the real and the natural, very pastoral like the early Romantics (think Wordsworth). You may see much of the real countryside too in George Eliot, though she isn't a Romantic. The next one pays tribute to the second generation of Romantics, the wild imaginers of fantasy and far lands (Shelley and Keats), the bold exaggerators of beauty and ethereal qualities. Yes, a snake is a natural thing, but making out a supposedly good woman as a snake is rather exotic, and it shows a deeper, darker feeling. I am speaking of Keats' Lamia, a snake who is turned into a beautiful woman. Like Tess, she is a temptress. In both cases, both woman understand something of the intimate relation (especially Tess), and yet depicted as sympathetic.

Angel placing Tess on a gravestone
Lamia is like a goddess, whereas the realistic philosopher is portrayed as harsh and cynical. Angel Clare, Tess's suitor and husband, initially sees Tess as unearthly - he calls her Artemis, some character in Greek mythology, elevating her to something she is not, and believing her to be pure and virginal (she is not, even though she is sympathetic.) It is an ideal of her he worships, just as Lycius the young philosophy student worships Lamia. The snake is a disturbing motif, possibly something out of Paradise Lost (I have never read the poem by the way), but I understand that the snake tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Lamia's spiritual beauty is somewhat fleshly, because it is her beauty that first attracts Lycius. But here realism sets in: while Lamia has to lower herself and act the woman, not the goddess, to attract Lycius, it is Tess's otherworldliness (her reserve) that attract Angel. She is to him a goddess rather than a real woman with a sexual instinct. And yet he is very much physically attracted to her, there is a great deal of description of her naturalness and her eyes and bare arms. Like Lamia, Tess resists marriage, seeing realistically that Angel sees in her what she is not, but Angel, like Lycius, forces his beloved to marry him. When Angel discovers Tess is not a virgin and let herself be seduced by a man still living, he lays her on a gravestone while sleepwalking, symbolising the death of his dream-woman. This is very Gothic, as it makes you think of gloomy churchyards. Lycius dies after Apollonius reveals Lamia to be a snake, and Lamia vanishes. There is probably more in Tess that speaks of Romanticism, but as I haven't got a copy of the book, I can't flick through it easily.

In case you're wondering, Hardy did write 2 poems to Keats.
Tess in Ophelia pose, after receiving Angel's proposal
What about Jude the Obscure? Now here is a Romantic figure - or should I say, two Romantic figures? Sue Bridehead may be very much a New Woman, but her sexual frigidity and ethereal qualities place her among her Romantic predecessors. The theme of passion and adultery is also a very Romantic thing (though it was to be prominent in late Victorian works, which is why I don't like late Victorian compared to early Victorian).

It is Jude Fawley, however, who is the main character. Isolated because he is well-read but a lowly stone-mason, he longs to educated himself at Christminster and become a clergyman, but due to his lack of education, cannot. This survival of the fittest theme (Jude is weak and dies at the end) is very Darwinian, but it is his Romanticism that is at fault - a dreaming man with sensitive ideals. Hardy is showing the death of Romanticism and how its principles cannot survive in an industrial Victorian world.  There is no true democracy, as Jude's noble mind cannot raise his status. I do not know which Romantic poem or poet Jude is based on, but he is reminiscent somewhat of Hamlet, who achieved great status in the Romantic era. I think Jude has some resemblance to Keats, though unlike Keats, he could not better himself, and Keats was born in better middle-class circumstances. Keats studied to become an apothecary and gave it up for poetry, just as Jude leaves his hometown to try to get a place at the University. Keats did not achieve success in his lifetime; neither did Keats, though he was noticeably more successful decades after his death. They were both men of vision and feeling. Jude's attempts to better himself looks forward to later democracy when it became possibly of poor men to go to school and college. Even Jude's out-of-wedlock relationship with the unattainable Sue has a Romantic precursor in Shelley's relationship with Mary Godwin, later his wife.

And what about Jude's son, Father Time? He is old-fashioned, a figure of the past in the present, who kills himself and his siblings, because they "are too menny" and eat on the Fawleys' scarce money. It is Darwinism  again killing the weak children, though the prophetic young soul speaks of the Romantic.

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