Thomas Hardy by Irving Howe (auth.)

By Irving Howe (auth.)

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For what is the good of knowing when the thing one knows BACKGROUND AND PROFILE 29 best is how little can be done with knowledge? Like Hardy himself, like Clym Yeobright and Jude Fawley, reßective men would be hopelessly committed to the life of ideas, and in time would learn to envy those country people rooted in the particulars of their existence and free from the torments and vanities of ratiocination. Among them happiness would find "its last re fuge on earth," since "among them . . a perfect insight into the conditions of existence" would be longest postponed.

The resuIt is a characteristic passage, in wh ich a mild irony reinforces the dominant note of affection. The more Hardy became aware of the thrust of sodal change, the more he feIt a need to turn back to those memories of the past wh ich could yield hirn a fund of stories, legends, superstitions, folk sayings and fragments of wisdom. Hardy came to this 20 THOMAS HARDY material with a doubleness of vision. He commanded it completely, it was inseparable from the store of impressions he had hoarded from his youth, and hardly a critic or reader would dare challenge its authenticity.

Hardy's experience was continuous and unified: the "advanced" thought of the 1860s which in effect became his lifelong persuasion allowed hirn to look back upon Dorset with a certain ironical distance, but this merely complicated and enriched his affections, it did not dissolve them. Hardy continued to love the country parsons long after he had ceased to believe what they kept repeating from generation to generation. He loved the old rituals and observances, though increasingly for their own esthetic sake.

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