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Hardy's Literary Language and Victorian Philology.

As its title suggests, this extremely detailed and scholarly book attempts to find connections between Thomas Hardy's literary language, particularly that of his poetry, and contemporary philological issues, symbolized by that great Victorian monument, the Oxford English Dictionary. Taylor's thesis is that in his literary diction history meets the present, just as the editors of the OED emphasized the importance of word history for an appreciation of current meaning.

His book is implicitly, and occasionally explicitly, a defence of Hardy's literary language against the charge of awkwardness, a charge levelled from the first reviews until the 1980s, when critics like Ralph Elliot (Thomas Hardy's English (Oxford, 1984)) and Raymond Chapman (The Language of Thomas Hardy (New York, 1990)) attempted also to defend it. Taylor, like these writers, is sensitive to nuances of connotation and appropriateness, particularly for Hardy's novels (Chapter 3); but his defence comes from a different perspective from that of other modern critics. He plays down the Bakhtinian 'heteroglossic' and ahistorical in favour of the diachronic, in order to stress, quite plausibly, the essential difference between Hardy and, for example, T. S. Eliot, Joyce, and Hopkins, these latter writers hovering like ghosts throughout the book.

But in placing Hardy's poetry in particular at the end of a tradition rather than at the beginning of a new one (modernism), and in parallel to the transition from a diachronic linguistics to a Saussurean, Taylor's defence becomes something of an apology, and even he cannot avoid calling Hardy's language, by the end of the book, a 'Frankensteinian creation' (p. 306). As he says himself, Hardy's paradoxical conservative neologizing arises because he chooses 'to change the standard language from within', by reviving archaisms and incorporating dialectisms, Latinisms, and coinages, all devices favoured by the historical philologists, and indeed part of the 'standard' poetic diction from Spenser onwards, which Taylor describes in general terms in his first chapter. Not for Hardy was the poetic voice composed of the slang and colloquial language of the masses that marks twentieth-century poetic diction; again, registers that the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary also largely chose to ignore.

Taylor misses this connection, but his book is full of many others, sometimes perceptive, sometimes strained, between Hardy's style and ideas about language and the OED's techniques and ideology; and between Hardy himself and the OED's first editor James Murray. In making this connection he actually affords, without realizing it, a possible clue to the hostility of Hardy's contemporary reviewers towards his style, and a clue to Hardy's philological conservatism, namely intellectual snobbery. (Read the comment of one of the first reviewers of Tess of the d'Urbervilles on p. 29, for instance.) This could well make another topic to add to his list of thirteen in his Introduction of those 'which still need to be explored and which are briefly touched on in this book' (p. 20). As Taylor himself says (p. 112), both Hardy and Murray were from working-class families, self-educated and 'felt like outsiders to the Oxbridge establishment'. Murray, in fact, as his granddaughter K. M. Elisabeth Murray tells us in her biography (Caught in the Web of Words (Oxford, 1979)), which usefully complements this book, was only belatedly and begrudgingly acknowledged by Oxbridge for his labours. Murray and Hardy were not the only 'outsiders'; there was Henry Sweet for one. And as Taylor himself acknowledges (p. 105), poor William Barnes was never made a member of the Philological Society. As the study of a highbrow classical cultural tradition was replaced by an interest in English literature and philology, beloved by these same self-educated, and as red-brick universities grew up alongside Oxbridge, the upholder of a 'Received Pronunciation', so 'us' v. 'them' attitudes become rife in matters of language. A.E. Housman apparently disliked Hardy's 'dreadful' vocabulary (p. 296), which in its self-consciousness no doubt lacked the urbanity that comes from 'high' cultural ease, this same urbanity producing a surety of allusiveness which again Hardy appears to lack (p. 293). According to Taylor, Hardy was always conscious of grammar because he was not taught it (pp. 8 and 291); and Hardy may have resisted the colloquial idiom because it had 'sub-standard' connotations.

One of the most interesting chapters of Taylor's book (Chapter 2) charts the close relations between the OED and Hardy's works. As Taylor puts it dramatically (p. 117), 'while Hardy snatched up the volumes of the dictionary as they appeared, Murray's readers snatched up the volumes of Hardy as they appeared, in order to incorporate their distinctive words into their dictionary'. Hardy's poems, for example, are first quoted in the 'G' volume of 1901. Murray often wrote to Hardy about his words, and Hardy sent in lexical items for inclusion. Taylor is at his best in his painstaking statistical analysis of Hardy's contribution to the history of the English language as represented by the successive volumes and supplements of the OED up to the present day, aided by the OED on CD ROM (1987) and the pre-computerized research of Professor Yoshinoshin Goto. Taylor now clearly reveals which of Hardy's dialect words, for instance, are first recorded in his works, or represent the first 'modern' instances of the Dorset dialect. As Taylor himself suggests in his Introduction (pp. 21-2), similar profiles of writers in relation to the OED are now rendered easier by the advent of computerization. What his analysis also shows in the process is a second edition of the OED (1989) which is a crude conflation of a (literary) 'standard' language in 1888, and a (broader) standard of the 1970s, with conflicting models of word labelling.

In this chapter also as elsewhere Taylor reveals a scrupulous concern for detail, relying considerably throughout on Hardy's own marginalia in his books and unpublished notebooks and letters. Occasionally the detail is in danger of overwhelming his argument. It is not easy to see, for example, the relevance of the history of the OED's approach to labelling (pp. 132f.), or of the OED's treatment of Jabberwocky (pp. 137 f.), or of Hardy's use of rhyme and puns (Chapter 6). Nor is it always easy to unpack his long footnotes, assign quotations therein, since they are characteristically a summary of references in whole paragraphs. None the less, Taylor's evident enthusiasm for his subject is never in doubt, even if the uneasy image of Hardy crafting his poetry in a 'philological laboratory' (p. 48) never really disappears.

KATIE WALES Royal Holloway University of London
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Author:Wales, Katie
Publication:The Review of English Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1996
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