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New light on Thomas Hardy,
This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The World of his Novels (Hardcover)
Thomas Hardy. The World of His Novels by Barrie Bullen is an excellent, fascinating book; the peak of a lifetime of research - starting with The Expressive Eye, 1986 - dedicated to the visual dimension of Hardy's extensive production, but now more specifically focused on landscapes and locations in the novels. The author not only provides plenty of illustrations, including Hardy's own sketches and beautiful original photographs, but also, and especially, compelling insight into Hardy's language, as the title of the book, "The World of His Novels", emphasizes. According to Bullen, Hardy's language problematically integrates the outdoor scene into the plot of each story. Bullen's study confirms the general opinion that Hardy is one of the greatest writers of place and landscape, but its original argument is that Hardy's Wessex landscape, rather than being used as a background or backcloth to the scenes, is deployed as a living, dialectic agent against the tragic lives of his characters. The study therefore sets Hardy's novels in a vital, positive light, in contrast with the traditional interpretation that stresses only the gloomy, tragic aspect of his world. The world of Hardy's novels, Professor Bullen claims, is rooted in life: the real, concrete historical life in which Hardy lived and wrote - and which the illustrations carefully depict: an immanent, rural world facing the challenge of the historical change and swift transformations of the late 19th century; but also a life that is effectively grafted onto the writer's vision. Hardy's intense depiction of the spirit of place bears an analogy with the Brontės' vision, which tends to undermine the realistic form of the Victorian novel. Like the Brontės, he experiments with a non-canonical language in which narration and vision interact in the universe of fiction. In this light Bullen's critical insight has a revisionary streak, which invites us to listen to Hardy's voice as we would the voice of a writer on the verge of modernism, owing to those "moments of vision" which will become constitutive of his poems after his break from his novelistic career; the book aptly ends with an important chapter on "The Poems". All in all, the perspective adopted in Bullen's latest work provides a valuable key for reappraising Hardy as one of the most challenging Victorian writers.
Rosy Colombo, Senior Professor of English, "Sapienza" University of Rome.