A Brif History of English Literature


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Literary Terms and Criticism (third edition) Practical Criticism The Student's Guide to Writing Haw to Study a Shakespeare Play (second edition) A Brief History of English Literature John Peck and Martin Coyle Dickens: David Copperfield and Hard Times (New Casebook) Eliot: Middlemarch (New Casebook) Haw to Study a Navel (second edition) Haw to Study a Poet (second edition) Maritime Fiction War, the Army and Victorian Literature Shakespeare: Hamlet (New Casebook) Shakespeare: The Merchant of
  A Brief History of  English Literature  Literary Terms and Criticism (third edition) Practical CriticismThe Student's Guide to Writing Haw to Study a Shakespeare Play (second edition)  Dickens:David Copperfield and Hard Times (New Casebook) Eliot :Middlemarch (New Casebook)  Haw to Study a Navel (second edition)  Haw to Study a Poet  (second edition)  Maritime FictionWar, the Army and Victorian Literature John Peck and Martin Coyle Shakespeare:Hamlet  (New Casebook) Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice (New Casebook) ! Universitatea Lucian Blaga SIl:5I\J BIBUOTECA CENTRAL. . Nr.in . I t 8it Ot  20 Ot  ) pal rave  12  Victorian Literature, 1876-1901 l1tomas Hardy Thomas Hardywas the mostsignificant novelist in the last quarter of  the nineteenth century.He achieved fame with Far fromtheMadding Crowd  (1874), and went on to produce a series of novels, including The Return of the Native (1878), The Ma yor of Cast erbridge (1886), TheWoodlanders (1887), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) and Judethe Obscure (1895). Prompted in part bythe hostile reaction to thelast of these novels,Hardy then turned exclusively to poetry,which had always been his preferred medium.Hardy's novels are set almost exclusivelyin a tract of Southwest England that he calls Wessex.The choice of location is significant. George Eliotclearlyhas a finer and fairer mind than most of her read- ers,but the overallimpression in her novelS'is that she writes from the centre of a social and cultural consensus.Hardy,by contrast, making use of Wessex, writesfrom the margins;there is consistently a sense of standing outside and questioningestablished values.Other late Victorianauthorsadopt diff erentapproaches,but a similar effect is often achieved;there is a sense of disintegration, with a steadycen- trefalling apart.Bythe end of the centurythere is, again and again,an impression of social institutions- such asthe familyand marriage- crumbling,and of authors adoptingasceptical attitudetowards conventional morality.In the case of Hardy,such scepticism is apparent as early as F arfromthe Madding Crowd  , which tells the storyof Gabriel Oak and the woman he loves,Bathsheba Everdene. Bathsheba,however,marries the dash- ing Sergeant Troy,who has abandoned FannyRobin,the only woman he ever really loved;she dies, alongwith their new-born child,in the workhouse. Troy isnot a man tobe constrained bymarriage; atodds with his wife,he disappears. He is assumed to have drowned. Bathsheba is now pursued by a gentleman farmer, WilliamBoldwood. She promises Boldwood that, if in six years there is noindication of her husband being alive, she will marry him, but Troyreappears with the intention of reclaiming his wife. Boldwood mur-dershis rival.As for Bathsheba,she finally marries Oak .The novel, therefore, ends conventionally, with marriage and social renewal,butHardy's novels, including Farfrom the Madding Crowd  , actually place farmoreemphasis on the failure of relationships,the breakdown of  marriages,and even divorce. The implication is that the conventions and institutions societyhas established in order to promote the well-being of that society aresimply at odds with the reality of what people are like.It is an aware-nessthat extends to the novel form itself :the novel as a genre relies upon a number of plot conventions,such as a movement towardsmarriage as a device for resolving and concluding the story,butHardy,characteristically, is likely to indicate a gap between the neat-ness of a fictional convention and the untidiness of individualactions. For example, at one point in Far from the Madding Crowd  Bathsheba, as she starts to face up to the failure of her marriage,fleesfrom Troy and sleeps in the open air. The next morning, as she awak -ens,she sees a ploughboy on his way to work and a schoolboy on hisway to school.There is a similar moment in George Eliot's  Middlemarch as the heroine, Dorothea, after a sleepless night in whichshe examines her life, looks out of the window and sees people goingabout their daily business. It is a decisive moment in Dorothea's life:she realises that she mustaccept her part in the general scheme of things rather than focusing,selfishly, upon herself. The scene in Far  fromt he Madding Crowd  could almost be described as a parody of thismoment.Bathsheba goes through the motions of the kind of charac-ter-changing experience that heroines have in novels, but does notchange at all;she remains fickle, immature and self-absorbed. Thebasis of her attraction to Troy was emotional and sexual,and there isno indication that she is now going to start acting in a different, morerational way. All of Hardy's major characters are romantic, impractical or sim-ply disorganised in the management of their lives in the same kind of   way as Bathsheba. A great many English novels focus on anindivid-ual coming into collision with society. In an Eliot novel,even though the narrative is complex and has contradictory strands, thehero orheroine tends to adjust his or her behaviour to achieve a workingrelationship with society. Even Wilkie Collins, author of  TheWoman in White, who adopts a more sceptical attitude than Eliot andmost of hiscontemporaries, presents characters who by the end of thework  have usually established a secure, even conventional,nichein mid- dle-class society. The typical Hardy hero or heroine, by contrast,with actions dominated by the heart rather than the head, cannot establisha working compromise with society. It might be felt that this ismere-lyan individual quirk on the part of Hardy, that he is a novelistdrawnto romantic, emotionally driven characters. But more is involved than just the peculiar bias of Hardy's mind. Hardy's rejection of estab- lished patterns of social reconciliation in fiction is symptomatic of a wider collapse of a consensus, and even the collapse of a conf idence in rational debate,that becomes apparent at the end of the nine- teenth century. There is awidespread feeling that society cannot holdtogether; that larger, disruptive forces are at work that promote afundamental instability.Some of the ways in which Hardy establishes a different,late-cen- tury perspective involve nothing more than a minor adjustment of aliterary convention;the consequences,however,can jJe substantial. For example, Middlemarch starts with the name of the main character,Miss Brooke. Hardy nearly always holds back the names of hischar- acters; before being named, they are identified simply asmen orwomen engaged in some form of activity. The effect is to suggest that there is something elemental about people that is more fundamental than their social identity;a basic quality exists before, and quite sepa- rately from,the rather limiting social identity that is imposed upon them. In a rather similar way, Hardy frequently quibbles over thenaming of a place; often,as with Lower Longpuddle or Weatherbury, in Farfrom the Madding Crowd, he provides alternative place names. Th.e effect is to distance himself from the conventional social order;SOCI-ety names people and places,but in doing so brings them under its command. In Hardy's novels, there is consistently a sense that som~-thing more is in evidence than just the imposed order of society.ThISstance necessarily has implications for the manner in which Hardynarrates his novels. In distancing himself from the conventionalsocial order, he needs to stand outside the established discourse of that social order; that is to say,certain ways of seeing and judging areimplicit in the omniscient manner of narration that we witness inmany realistic novels, but Hardy, choosing to remove himself from astandard social outlook ,must also detach himself from a conven- tional narrative voice.There is,consequently,always a sense in a Hardynovel that the narrator's voice is self-conscious, turning onitself, drawing attention to itself and frequently drawing attention tothe fallibility or partiality of its judgements.Thiscombines with a story in which, most commonly, the charac-tersare not rebels by choice, but simply because their natures leadthem to be.Society,however,will not tolerate rebellion.Asthere is no possibility of social reconciliation - no possibility, that is, of thesecharacters finding a quiet and complaisant role in the villages ortowns where they live - Hardy's novels almost invariably end withthe death of the major characters. Right through to the very end of the novels in which they feature, they are estranged from society andits dominant values. Far from the Madding Crowd, ending with a mar-riage, is the exception. But it is still a novel that breaks with tradition.The most obvious way in which it does this is in its emphasis on sex-uality. The force of sexual desire is apparent everywhere in the novel,even,for example, in something as trifling as a description of the first dayof June: 'Every green was young,every pore was open, and every stalk was swollen with racing currents of juice.' It would be fair to saythat the most distinctive quality of  Farfrom the Madding Crowd, and thethingthat invests the novel with a joyous and exuberant energy, isthe way in which it rediscovers,and takes a delight in presenting, aspects of sexual experience and feeling that the novel has,perhapsthroughout the entire Victorian period up to this point,been deny-ing, sublimating or repressing. Sex in earlier Victorian novels is oftena dark and guilty secret;sex in Farfrom theMadding Crowd  is dangerousbut exciting.The freshness of  Far from the Madding Crowd  is,however,a quality that Hardy cannot maintain. As his career as a novelist continues hefocuses in a far more critical way on the discipline and conformity  The farmer's boy could sit under his barley-mow and pitch a stone into the office-window of the town-clerk; reapers at work nodded to acquain- tances standing on the pavement-comer; the red-robed judge, when he condemned a sheep-stealer, pronounced sentence to the tune of Baa, thatfloated in at the window from the remainder of the flock ,browsinghard by;and at executions the waiting crowd stood in a meadow immediately before the drop,out of which the cows had been temporarilydriven to give the spectators room. the law,and a lack of tolerance and understanding are all apparent as significant strands in the novel; Tess is the victim, and it is the societythat she lives in, together with the people, especially the men, in thatsociety who accept its conventionalattitudes and morality that destroy her life. As against the heavy hand of those who pursue,abuse and condemn her, there is a consistent emphasis on Tess as afree and natural spirit. But if Hardy presents Tess's sexuality as,essen- tially, innocent, he is also aware of a vicious side to human nature,something most apparent in the dark sexual instincts of AlecD'Urberville.Bythe time he wrote Jude the Obscure Hardy's outlook was very pes-simistic. In his other novels there is always an impression of the tra-ditional order of farm life, but in Jude the Obscure the hero, JudeFawley, begins his working life on a farm with a soul-destroying jobas a human scarecrow. Jude wants to advance in life, but his ambitionof attending university proves an impossible dream. He is trappedinto marriage by a farm-girl,Arabella, but then falls in love with his cousin, Sue Bridehead,a married woman. She and Jude set up hometogether and have two children, but Jude's child by Arabella, FatherTime, murders his half-brother and half-sister, and then kills himself.Sue returns to her former husband, and Jude lives alone. The mostobvious aspect of  Jude the Obscure is how the education system, classbarriers, religious and moral conventions and the divorce laws allconspire against Jude.The characters to a certain extent, however, also create their ownmisfortunes. At the centre of the novel are the nervous and highlystrung Jude and Sue,characters who do not belong in anyone place,and who, when they move,do not embark on a journey with anykind of clear goal.On the contrary,they move aimlessly from place to place. This is a plot device - also used in Tess of the D'Urbervilles - that works very effectively to convey a sense of alienated and dislo-cated people. It is an idea of character that Hardy uses to good effectin his poetry. Rather than focusing on a hero or heroine who can turnthe course of events, Hardy,as in his novels, focuses upon powerlessand defeated individuals in an enormous universe. In 'DrummerHodge', for example, a poem written in response to the Boer War,there is an effect of bafflement, with a small character encountering athat society imposes upon people; there is always a price that mustbe paid if characters overstep the mark or choose to defy society's rules. The Mayor -of Casterbridge is the story of Michael Henchard,a poor man who, having sold his wife at a country fair at the startof the novel,rises in the social hierarchy to become the mayor in hisadopt- ed community. There is, though, an extravagant and ferociousdimension to Henchard's personality, something that becomesapparent when he resumes drinking after abstaining for many years.This dangerous side to Henchard puts him in conflict with allthose around him, including his daughter. And, as there is no wayback for.him into the social order of Casterbridge,he dies,at the endof the novel,an alienated and angry man. At one point,Hardy describes a petty incident of vandalism:The passage conveys a sense of the compactness of the town of Casterbridge, and how the town and the surrounding countryside merge,but what is also conveyed is an altogether more disturbing idea: it is as if the vandal who throws the stone goes on to stealsheep, and is finallyexecuted.Such indiscipline seems natural,but the other side of the coin is that society has instituted a system oflaw andorder to regulate people,and this includes the ultimate sanction of taking the lives of those who step out of line.In Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure Hardy is far moreindignant about the way in which social regulations and conventionsruin people's lives. Tess of the D'Urbervilles is the story of a countrygirl who is raped by Alec D'Urberville, and then abandonedbyAngel Clare, the man she marries,when he discovers her sexualhistory. Eventually Tess murders Alec, and the novel ends with her execution.The aggressive nature of a male-dominated society, the harshness of 
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