AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

"The convergence of the twain": Romanticism and Naturalism in Thomas Hardy's tragic novels

by Elizabeth Anne Easton

Institution: University of Newcastle
Degree: PhD
Year: 2014
Keywords: Thomas Hardy; Romanticism; Naturalism; tragedy
Record ID: 1059780
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1959.13/1055235


Research Doctorate - Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Hardy considered Romanticism essential to human nature in every age. His admiration for the English Romantic poets never wavered, and the influence of Shelley and Keats on his fiction is overdue for reassessment. At the same time, Hardy maintained a predilection for French fiction in general, and Zola’s Naturalism in particular, which has been underestimated. Hardy was openly envious of the greater freedom enjoyed by his French counterparts when portraying sexual relationships and lower-class mores. The convergence of English Romanticism and French Naturalism gives rise to Hardy’s “original treatment” of tragedy, one which integrates his considered engagement with the philosophical and literary climate of the late nineteenth century. The five tragic novels under review belong to the “Novels of Character and Environment”, a title which summarises the interaction between Hardy’s Romantic idealists and what Hardy called the “opposing environment”. Far from the Madding Crowd is a mixed-genre novel in which Hardy makes his first excursion into tragedy with the portrayal of the maddened idealist, Boldwood. The Return of the Native takes Hardy’s developing vision one step further, with its allusions to great tragedies of the past, Greek and Shakespearean, and its questioning whether Eustacia’s despair or Clym’s misery affords them tragic status. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy succeeds in creating a tragic protagonist of Shakespearean stature, whose crime against family unleashes forces of retribution which resemble the supernatural powers of Greek tragedy. Despite the innocence of her intentions, the heroine of Tess of the d’Urbervilles is pursued by a torturing destiny, crushed by a naturalistic conjunction of upbringing and ancestry. Finally, Jude the Obscure portrays a working-class protagonist who prefigures the anti-heroes of modern tragedy, yet is also an unobserved pioneer of a new ethic of loving-kindness. Whether tragedy arises due to a character flaw, the forces of Nature and social determinism, or a sinister “Immanent Will” reminiscent of Greek tragedy, these novels run the gamut of Hardy’s tragic vision, from tragi-comedy through to a novel which anticipates modernist nihilism, pushing the tragic genre to its limits.