Cover image for Trial by ordeal : Thomas Hardy and the critics
Trial by ordeal : Thomas Hardy and the critics
Neill, Edward, 1941-2009.
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Publication Information:
Columbia, SC : Camden House, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 146 pages ; 24 cm.
Sitting in judgement: the biographical assize -- Convergence of the Twain? Hardy and the forms of critical appropriation -- Smock-frock'd boor, bricoleur, or engineer? Hardy's poetry assayed -- Jude the obscure: the "Untimely text".
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PR4754 .N39 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This book demonstrates how critical appropriations of Hardy's work often promote a simplifying, conventional, or conservative image that a sophisticated view of his creative intentions by no means confirms. Neill shows how tendentious and traditional approaches that diminish or even traduce Hardy's literary achievement have achieved a cultural prominence that still gives a false impression of the nature of those achievements. The first chapter discusses the biographical tradition, such a powerful aspect of Hardy's critical reception, defining the problems presented by biographically-based criticism in general and by Hardy, one of the slipperiest of literary practitioners, in particular. The second chapter offers a map of critical misreadings, suggesting how a certain "ideology" of critical reproduction emphasizes limited aspects of Hardy in a cult of nostalgic reaction, ignoring disconcertingly "subversive" or "interrogative" aspects of this intellectually progressive writer. The third chapter concentrates on the response to Hardy's poetry, persistently misrepresented as a series of essays in innocuous or eccentric rusticity; the fourth examines Jude the Obscure, the most provocative and controversial of Hardy's works, which still moves critics to howls of execration or considered, complex mediation. The bibliography includes in addition to more well-known critical works on Hardy a range of unusual and little-consulted items.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

O'Neill's brief critical survey of Hardy criticism adds to the mounting body of weighty scholarship on this depressed, pessimistic author. With chapter footnotes, an extensive chronological bibliography of works cited, and other scholarly aids, the book may help scholars in areas where recent Hardy studies do not offer sufficient information--that is, such works as Martin Seymour-Smith's monumental biography Hardy (1994), Martin Ray's Thomas Hardy: A Textual Study of the Short Stories (CH, Apr'98), and Paul Turner's analytical study of individual works, The Life of Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography (CH, Jun'98). The problem with the present volume is O'Neill's writing style. The author (Middlesex Univ., UK) crams cumbersome sentences to the bursting point with arcane references to the critics' quirky or otherwise provocative judgments--reported (by O'Neill) in a flippant, idiomatic jargon seemingly designed more for "show" than for "tell." Chapter 1 deals with Hardy's biographers--the author concludes that readers now need less biography, more intertextuality (on others as well as Hardy); chapter 2, with "forms of critical appropriation" (romanticism, modernism, etc.); chapter 3, with Hardy's poetry; and chapter 4, with Jude the Obscure as "untimely text." Recommended for graduate students, researchers, and faculty specializing in Hardy. S. I. Bellman California State Polytechnic University, Pomona