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Thomas Hardy.

Once in a blue moon a groundbreaking work arrives on the Hardy horizon blazing an open, unending trail. One such work is Albert Guerard's Thomas Hardy: the Novels and Stories (1949, rev. edn., 1964), still active and still in circulation today. Another would be J. Hillis Miller's Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire (1970), and more recently Gillian Beer's Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (1983, repr, 2009). Dale Kramer's Thomas Hardy: The Forms of Tragedy (1975) is yet another contender with his edited collections still having a foothold--notably his Critical Approaches to the Fiction of Thomas Hardy (1979) and The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hardy (1999).

Not only does every single one of these trailblazers enter the 21st century but also advances into a new, pathbreaking field of scholarship as does Suzanne Keen's Thomas Hardy's Brains: Psychology, Neurology, and Hardy's Imagination (Ohio State University Press: Columbus, 2014).

It is true that as early as 1883 Hardy was defined as a psychologist by the renowned physician-sexologist Havelock Ellis, who hailed him as "a psychologist who is also an artist." And, more recently, from Albert Guerard, who describes Hardy's protagonists as "neurotic voyagers" or "impotent spectators" (Guerard, 1949), to Rosemary Sumner (1981) and Claire Tomalin (2006), psychoanalytic terms derived from Freudian diagnostic schemas have been applied to Hardy's work. Keen, however, is not content to rest with mere schemas. Thomas Hardy's Brains, which travels an immense distance over time and space and maps a detailed course of scientific observation and sociological investigation every inch of the way, is nothing less than a mammoth diagnostic expedition.

Rarely losing sight of Ellis, whose own publications on matters ranging from medical science to eugenics approached 50 volumes and whose Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1897-1928) alone numbered six volumes, Keen covers as much contemporary material as Hardy, during his long lifetime, almost certainly encountered, whether by total immersion, critique, or reputation. Keen leaves no stone unturned. She breaks new ground at every venture into sidetracks and avenues Hardy might well have explored if only in the convivial society of the London clubland where we know he kept elite, professional company. In brief, to name but a few, at the Savile Club he would have met F. H. W Myers, founder of the Society for Psychical Research; at the Athenaeum scientists such as the naturalist George James Allman, the physician George Fielding Blandford, the linguist Thomas Spencer Baynes as well as leading surgeons of the day and, later (as recorded in the Life), the renowned James Crichton Browne (medical psychiatrist) and the neurologist Henry Mead who remained a lifelong devotee of Hardy's poetry.

Nor does Keen lose sight of relevant areas already researched and documented. With a lightness of touch that neither burdens the reader with elaborate directional markers nor jars the rhythmic ease of her narrative momentum, she gestures at landmarks here, signposts there, voices everywhere, allowing signifiers an autonomy free of glib assumptions or any implication that historical context can be reduced to its lowest common denominator--"that is the way things were." On the contrary, Thomas Hardy's Brains steadfastly points to inconsonant, variable background sources delivered in the unassuming voice of a messenger:
   Influence studies document Hardy's magpie gatherings of ideas, with
   some strands standing out: his agnosticism, his Darwinism, and his
   early interest in the systems of Charles Fourier and Comte's
   Positivism. Hardy denied he was a pessimist, preferring the label
   "evolutionary meliorist" ("Preface," LLv.2, 319); he also insisted
   that he was not a Positivist (Letters v.3, 53) though he certainly
   knew Comte's work. He was of no one school. The separate impact of
   John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, Charles Fourier,
   as well as Auguste Comte have frequently been noted by Hardy
   critics. (5)


Keen's deftness in balancing the bright pieces in the magpie's nest reflects a consideration for readers and allows for the exercise of their own discerning vision. For instance, Hardy may show an early interest in Fourier but much depends on the reader's own interests should this turn-- non-exclusively, of course--upon Fourier's particular brand of socialism or Hardy's self-confessed "revolutionary zeal." Likewise "Comte," balanced by Hardy's insistence that "he [himself] was not a Positivist," so do we advance instead towards Comte's philosophy of science perhaps, or to his religion of humanity? So too with Darwin: was the main impact upon Hardy the struggle for existence, the transmutation of species, natural selection, the expression of emotion in animals, or all that and beyond? And there is far more, of course. In sum, Keen may blaze the trail, but she doesn't rein us in.

Early influence studies are numerous and remain as permanent markers throughout the book but, as Keen points out, "Up until now, Hardy has been understood neither as a student of psychology nor as a reader of neurology, Victorian brain science" (5-6). Albeit imagined, intuited, contemplated, or envisioned by Victorians and their predecessors any informed understanding, or what we might like to call "proof' of "brain science" would require evidential support from empirical data. Until recently, however (the last half-century or so), scientific research into psycho-neurology has remained, for obvious technological reasons, relatively unexplored.

One significant exception to recent studies of influences on Hardy that "emphasize his reading in philosophy and science over his familiarity with psychology" is the seminal work of Lennart Bjork. Wending its way through Hardy's reading in psychology "Psychological Influences on Hardy" (ch 1: 17-52) follows a path "blazed by Lennart A Bjork, who edited Hardy's Literary Notebooks and wrote an important monograph about the influence of Hardy's reading on his psychological vision" (18).

The second project that Keen's study embraces can be termed, she says, "cognitive,"
   since cognitive literary studies should be understood as embracing
   affect as well as cognitive schemas. Three factors make my
   interdisciplinary approach to Hardy relevant to cognitivists.
   First, I engage with other scholars who share my conviction that
   historical and cultural contexts inflect expressions that may
   originate from our embodied consciousness. Thus I join a
   conversation going on in the new field of cognitive historicism
   [which] ... supplement contextual and historicist readings of
   literary texts with insights drawn from cognitive psychology and
   evolutionary psychology. Second, by writing a case study of a
   well-known individual author, I assess the worthiness of the new
   tools and techniques of literary cognitivism. (13)


Thus this venture into new terrain encompasses a broad exploration of Hardy's knowledge of the "psychology and neurology of his own time, observing the changing imagery of brain and nerves he employed in over half a century of writing," and the evaluation of some of the new tools and techniques of literary cognitivism with "regards to the works of a writer who was well aware of the psychology of his day" (13, 14).

The opening chapter, "Psychological Influences on Hardy," is followed by "The Minds of Hardy's Characters (ch. 2), "Emotion and Cognition in Hardy's Verse" (ch. 3), "The Neurological Turn" (ch. 4) and "Empathetic Hardy (ch. 5). Predictably, The Dynasts features centrally throughout:
   Although Hardy's last great work comes out between 1904 and 1908,
   its underpinning philosophy and imagery of a brain-like Will
   controlling human agency through its ejects preoccupied Hardy over
   two decades earlier. In the 1880s his notes frequently describe
   human beings as somnambulists, sleepwalkers hallucinating their
   idea of the world, acting automatically without realizing what
   their actions mean (Life and Work 190, 192). Though these Huxleyan
   views of automatism (combined with Hardy's narrative reticence
   about his characters' mind-stuff) discourage a naturalistic
   psychological reading of his fictional characters, they ground a
   study of the philosophical and scientific sources of The Dynasts as
   relevant to Hardy's fiction from the 1880s onwards. (9)


According to the stage directions, "the scene becomes anatomized and the living masses of humanity transparent"; with "preternatural clearness" the "controlling Immanent Will appears therein, as a brain-like network of currents and ejections, twitching, interpenetrating, entangling, and thrusting hither and thither the human forms" (Dynasts, v. 4, 160). Hardy projects the image of a living brain "through the agency of the Spirit of the Years, who in scientific showman's manner, visually demonstrates the Immanent Will's electric animation of human agents" (9). As Keen demonstrates, from the 1880s
   Hardy moved steadily towards realizing a more physiologically
   accurate rendering of brains and nerves. The philosophical and
   scientific sources of The Dynasts thus become pertinent to the
   major fiction from The Mayor of Casterbridge through Jude the
   Obscure ... and several of Hardy's important essays on the art of
   fiction. (9-10)


Moving on to "Emotion and Cognition in Hardy's Verse" (ch. 3) this particular "turning-point" must now take stock. Altogether, Keen cites approximately fifty Hardy poems in illustration of her points--"God's Funeral," "The Going," "Hap," "Heredity," "Nature's Questioning," "The Roman Road," "Life's Opportunity," "He Resolves to Say No More," "In a Eweleaze Near Weatherbury," "In Vision I Roamed," "The Pedigree," "Before Life and After," "Our Old Friend Dualism" and the "Poems of 1920-13," to name but some. The Dynasts remains, inevitably, at the core of the entire work. Opening chapter 3 with the subheading of "Emotive Subjects and Subjectivities" an overview of Hardy's thematic range--unmatched, in its sheer diversity, by the work of any of his contemporaries--extends "from the concerns of a striving young man of the Victorian period to those of an intellectual elder, confronting modernity" (99). In providing further thematic details Keen follows the beaten track (time, evolution, ageing, war, emotional loss, scientific rationalism, materialist psychology, etc), although some readers will query her assertion that Hardy experienced evolutionary "shock": "the shock of confronting the deep time of evolution" (99).

"Evolutionary shock" does not appear to have diminished Hardy's sanguine meliorism: "my pages show harmony of view with Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Comte, Hume, Mill, and others" (Letters, 6, 259). This may well have been a lifelong "harmony." For if he hadn't encountered the foundational elements of evolutionary theory in his early Greek studies, and if he hadn't read Huxley's favorable review of Origin in The Times, as early as 1859 when he was hotly debating doctrinal matters during his pupillage with Hicks at around this time, he would surely have heard something of the famous debate between Huxley and Wilberforce a year later in 1860, which advanced public understanding of the theory of evolution. Aside from his readings of contemporary writers in the field of science and philosophy, Hardy would also be meeting Huxley in person at the Savile Club, at the heart of literary London--and taking an instant and ever-increasing liking to this fellow agnostic and auto-didact.

In a similar manner, Keen's suggestion that Hardy's agnosticism resulted from the "bitterest consequences of the loss of Christian faith that makes his life-story so quintessentially Victorian" (99), might mislead unknowing readers into assuming that Hardy experienced the profound, sometimes deadly, spiritual crisis that so many of his peers suffered. Loss of faith presupposes earlier possession of it. However, Hardy had battled with belief systems from early youth. He had always enjoyed Sunday church services in his tiny Dorset village: "churchy; not in an intellectual sense, but in so far as instincts and emotions ruled" (Life and Work, 407), but certitude in Christian faith had eluded him from the outset despite his efforts at self-conviction.

Thomas Hardy's Brains restores the full force of its own convictions when it returns to matters of Hardy's "affective representation of the world" (101). As Keen emphasizes, Hardy was "an artist and student of the emotions, ideas, and aspirations that pass from person to person 'as a coin,' and he suggested, long before Foucauldian genealogies of knowledge, that one might write 'the biography' of such transactions" (103: 'Poetical' Notebook, 21).

Of such transactions Keen points to Hardy's journey into solitariness, moving "towards an embrace of nescience (the condition of not knowing) and affirming his monist perspective on the universe's organization" (104). He also "chased down the expression" of strange feelings, discomfiture, awkward sensations and "gave them to his creations. He imagined the pride of the hangman in his handiwork ('The Stranger's Song'), the lethal desire of 'The Ivy Wife'" (104-5), and the sequel, "The Slow Nature" (105). "Hardy's verse documents his emotion-saturated Theory of Mind and its relation to a cosmos without a Creator" (102).

Antagonized by those who claimed to find autobiographical leaks in his fiction, Hardy retorted: "there is more autobiography in a hundred lines of Mr Hardy's poetry than in all the novels" (Life, 425). With her customary acuity, Keen picks up on this defensive posture and notes that critics have sympathetically discerned that he wrote about "other" people "even when he thought he wrote about himself' (104); while Keen does not, of course, attempt to read the life from the work, motif-tracing is necessary to interpret
   image schemas, and close analysis of a necessarily limited number
   of lyric poems to document Hardy's inward journey into
   solitariness, moving towards an embrace of nescience (the condition
   of not knowing) and affirming his monist perspective on the
   universe's organization. (104)


This vision, says Keen, was the work of many decades as "In the Seventies" illustrates (104). This poem roots a position, a perception of "philosophical difference,"
   [the] psychological methodology of introspection and the lyric
   poet's training of attention on his or her own subjective
   experience have a great deal in common, including their
   vulnerability to shaping pressures that would present experience
   according to acceptable social or generic norms. (104)


In its courageous diagnostic expedition Hardy's Brains opens up exciting new terrain for scholars embarking on interdisciplinary studies, from the vast field of cognitive sciences to qualia to memory (declarative and procedural), and even to perception which, in days of yore, would yield the simplified examination topic of "Illusion and Reality: Discuss." Post-Keen this will possibly delve into psychophysics, cognitive neuroscience, and beyond. Keen has forged new frontiers and Thomas Hardy's Brains: Psychology, Neurology, and Hardy's Imagination carries the banner.

Another attempt to reclaim Hardy for orthodox belief arises in Kirstie Blair's Form and Faith in Victorian Poetry and Religion (2012). This examines, under the classic trope of form and meaning, the canonical poets, Arnold, Clough, Tennyson, the Brownings and the Rossettis among others born into the age of Tractarianism and Victorian Catholicism: "when Victorian poetry speaks of faith it tends to do so in steady and regular rhythms; when it speaks of doubt, it is correspondingly more likely to deploy irregular, unsteady, unbalanced rhythms" (1). The two forms, Blair claims, are the rituals of worship and the structures of poesis, which mutually reinforce each other. In the chapter devoted to "'Familiar Rhythms': Poetry and the Liturgy," Hardy, with Morris and Tennyson, "lost neither their affection for Anglican forms nor their faith" (121). Of Hardy's "affection" for Anglican forms--what he calls his "instincts and feelings"--there is no doubt. But fondness and goodwill (affection) coupled with certain responses to stimuli (instinct) are distinct entities not only from each other but also from religious faith that belongs to the ontological domain of constructs, concepts, and abstractions that do not depend on logical proof or evidence. There is not, or should not be, any assumption that an affection for Anglican forms presupposes a belief in Anglican dogma. However, in fairness to Blair, she does later modify her words: "Almost every poet discussed here--with Hardy as the possible exception--believed in God and experienced that belief as a strongly felt if often indescribable part of their personal and professional lives" (17). Keith Wilson is not in the least ambivalent: "There is, of course, nothing merely 'possible' about Hardy's being the exception to this claim. 'I have been looking for God for fifty years and I think if he had existed I should have discovered him'" (Life and Work, 234). This is his most quoted observation on his own faith position, one that the evidence of both his fiction and his poetry relentlessly reinforces" (The Hardy Review, 16:1, 2014:102-5).

It would be true to say that much of Hardy's anti-God verse shares several of the metrical bumps and "weetlessnesses" of certain Victorian poetic modalities, notably (and paradoxically) those formal structures that locate "an insistent religious force in the interlinked discourses of architecture, music, and poetics" (53). It would also be true to say that Hardy's emphases and cadences can also be found in modern works such as Phillip Larkin's "Church Going," where skepticism and the desire for conviction wait together in:
   Another church; matting, seats, and stone,
   And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
   For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff.


In Tractarian poetics John Keble's The Christian Year (1827) had been undoubtedly the star performer, the most popular volume of verse in the nineteenth century according to some critics. Blair is one such in her admiration of the "Dedication" poem of The Christian Year to which she adjoins Augustus Pugin, Benjamin Webb, John Mason Neale, the Cambridge Camden Society, John Ruskin, and Isaac Williams's The Cathedral.

Form and Faith's basic premise aims to "recover a historical context in which, for a great many people of all denominations and classes, form had an immediate relation to religion" (17). To borrow Wilson's words, "The breadth of reading, interpretative subtlety, and argumentative conviction that have gone into Blair's exploration of her fascinating subject make this book essential reading for all those interested in Victorian poetry and poetics" (17).

The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, Volume Eight-Further Letters: 1861-1927, edited by Michael Millgate and Keith Wilson deserves all the accolades lavished upon it. Supplementary to the seven existing volumes edited by Richard L. Purdy and Michael Millgate Volume Eight extends over Hardy's entire career, ranging from letters to his beloved sisters and brother to A. E. Housman, Arthur Symons, Lady Ritchie (Thackeray's daughter, and Leslie Stephen's sister-in-law), Ezra Pound, and the Princess Marie Louise (Queen Victoria's last grandchild). Having already declined a knighthood two years earlier Hardy writes, in 1910, to Prime Minister H. H. Asquith in acceptance of the Order of Merit "with a deep sense of the distinction it conveys." Hardy also corresponds with the British humorist Sir Max Beerbohm, whose famous caricatures include Asquith ("Ex Forti Dulcedo," 1920), King George V (from whom Hardy received the Order of Merit), and a noticeably curmudgeonly Thomas Hardy himself (1926). On reading Beerbohm's parodies of notable writers and poets, in which Hardy shares the parodied company of Henry James, Meredith, Kipling, Conrad, Gosse, Hewlitt, Belloc, H. G Wells and Galsworthy--to name but some--Hardy quips, "I shall be sorry when he grows up." Volume Eight also features Hardy's correspondence with Dr. Marie Stopes, campaigner for women's rights and a pioneer for birth control, and the Dorset folklorist, John Symonds Udal, who was firm friends with William Barnes. Not only did Udal share his love of dialect with Barnes, even using a copy of Barnes's Grammar and Glossary of the Dorset Dialect (1863) for recording new dialect words, but also, like Hardy, noted down a rendition of a Dorset Mummers Play based on local folklore traditions.

In Thomas Hardy and Empire: The Representation of Imperial Themes in the Work of Thomas Hardy (2012) Jane Bownas divides her study into five chapters: "Colonies and Colonizers; Roman Invaders: The Rise and Fall of Imperial Powers," "The Dynasts: Hardy and the Napoleonic Wars," "The Primitive and the Civilized: Pagans and Colonizers in Woodland and Heath," and "The Crossing of Boundaries: Race, Class and Gender as Articulated Categories." Hardy is not generally recognized as an imperial writer, engaged with "The Rise and Fall of Imperial Powers," in spite of the allusions, in his work, to the Roman Empire and Napoleonic Wars, notably in The Dynasts. He was, as is well known, an antiestablishment, iconoclastic poet, and Bownas proposes that his challenge to the status quo interrogates the very notion of empire. That Hardy opposes all forms of oppression--patriarchal, class and cultural--is nowadays a given, although Thomas Hardy and Empire does take this one step further, evaluating Hardy's interest in the Western nations' polarization of "primitive" and "civilized" peoples, and the role played by outsiders including their influence upon the communities they frequent.

Peter McDonald's Sound Intentions: The Workings of Rhyme in Nineteenth Century Poetry (2012), focuses on the work of major Victorian poets, including Hardy; Steven Croft's Thomas Hardy: Selected Poems offers an accessible route into the study of texts for A-Level, including line-by-line notes and detailed sections covering key themes, issues, and contexts; Anna Henchman's The Starry Sky Within: Astronomy and the Reach of the Mind in Victorian Literature (2014) features Victorian writers and poets, including Hardy, who used distances to dislodge their readers from the earth, setting human perception against views from above and then telescoping back to earth again.

Other recent titles of short works include Indy Clark,"Sing Ballad Singer, Raise a Hearty Tune"; "Bucolic Voices in A Set of Country Songs"; Emile Loriaux, "From 'Zome Other Geame' to 'Another Joy' in William Barnes' Poetry: Composing, Translating and/or Re-Writing"; Louisa Hall, "An Alternative to the Architectural Elegy: Hardy's Unhoused Poems"; Rodney Stenning Edgecombe, "Hawthorne and Hardy: 'The Darkling Thrush'"; Isabelle Gadoin, "The Poet in the Museum: Lost in a Chamber of Echoes--Sight and Sign in Thomas Hardy's Poetry."

Finally, it is worth noting that the BBC "Poetry" series frequently produces items relating to Hardy, most recently Geoffrey Palmer's reading of "Beeny Cliff," Afterwards," "Drummer Hodge" and "The Darkling Thrush."
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Title Annotation:Guide to the Year's Work
Author:Morgan, Rosemarie
Publication:Victorian Poetry
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2014
Words:3558
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