Deep South v.3 n.3 (Spring 1997)
The following article is a work in progress, taken from my thesis on the Romantic influence on selected novels of Thomas Hardy. It takes one of the chapters from my thesis and draws out the two main points from this chapter, to provide an abbreviated discussion of Hardy's affinity with Wordsworth and Shelley. In my thesis I argue that Hardy was influenced by Romantic poets to varying degrees throughout his novel-writing career (which spanned from rougly 1870-1897): the influence was not static. So in the earlier novels, the Romantic influence was strong, but it was also largely imitative. By this I mean that Hardy did not challenge Romantic ideals in the way he did in his later novels. In the novel I discuss in this article (The Woodlanders, written at about the mid-point of his career) the Romantic influence is complex: Hardy has, by this stage of his life, become disillusioned with Victorian society, and observed the inability of Romantic ideals to survive in this world; and yet his disillusionment inspires an impulse towards Romanticism, as a solace in the face of an unfamiliar world.
In my chapter on The Woodlanders I deal with four Romantic elements: Hardy's vision of nature which combines a Romantic view with a Darwinian view; the rural characters, Marty South and Giles Winterborne, who represent the simple and honest values which Wordsworth applauded in his Lyrical Ballads; the strong influence of Shelley in the character of Dr Edred Fitzpiers; and the character of Grace Melbury, in whose person Hardy explores the issue of whether natural education, or school-based learning is more beneficial, a question of importance to the Romantics. But here, I will consider only two elements: Hardy's view of the landscape, and the character of Fitzpiers, the Shelleyan idealist. Each of the six novels I have chosen for my thesis are Romantic in these two respects, and so I consider these the unifying elements of my argument.
Throughout my thesis I consider Hardy's view of nature as combining a Romantic view of the natural world with a Darwinian view, and it is important to explain this distinction now. By a Romantic view of nature, I mean one in which the person viewing the landscape sees "glory" in nature. This glory, seen by the Romantic poets, led them to believe that God was immanent in the landscape, because they had no other explanation for the strong positive feelings they gained from interaction with the natural world. As a young man, this was Hardy's view of nature because not only was he strongly drawn to this view, but the remnants of Romanticism still lingered in the early Victorian era, the society into which he was born. The Darwinian view of nature comes from Charles Darwin's theory (published in The Origin of Species, 1859) that nature evolved over time. This idea, combined with the idea of natural selection (that only the strong in a given species will survive), makes up Hardy's Darwinian view of nature, in which the natural world is characterised by pain, harshness, decay, change, and the brutal struggle for survival. The two ideas seem opposite, but Hardy draws them together as the integral part of his vision: sometimes nature seems Romantic and glorious, but at other times all that can be seen is the ruthless struggle. In the earlier novels, the Romantic view of nature predominated; but in The Woodlanders, the fourth of Hardy's novels which I discuss in my thesis, it is Darwinism which is prevalent.
By the time Hardy came to write The Woodlanders (1887 -- his eleventh novel) his emotional impulse towards Romanticism, hitherto strongly expressed in his fiction, had been replaced with the acceptance that Romanticism had failed to survive in the second half of the nineteenth century. Paradoxically, though, as Hardy matured, Romanticism became increasingly important to him, as a touchstone in the midst of a society in which rural values were declining. In The Woodlanders, even though Romanticism generally has become more important to Hardy, it is the Darwinian elements in nature which seem more visible - harsh proof that Romanticism has had its day. So in The Woodlanders the tone is one of gloom, in keeping with Hardy's melancholy vision, a vision in which Darwinism was becoming more prominent than Romanticism.
Extracts from The Life of Thomas Hardy (published under his second wife's name, but written by Hardy himself) bear testimony to this despondency and depression. The entry for November 17 1885 reads, "In a fit of depression, as if enveloped in a leaden cloud" (F. E. Hardy 1: 230). Other entries made around this time are portents of gloom, including a "sick headache" on November 21-22; "'Everything looks so little - so ghastly little'" (December 9); "The Hypocrisy of things. Nature is an arch-dissembler" (December 21); sadness (December 31); fears for the reception of The Mayor of Casterbridge (January 2). And upon finishing The Woodlanders, Hardy writes: "February 4  8.20 p.m. Finished The Woodlanders. Thought I should feel glad, but I do not particularly, -- though relieved."
So it is no wonder that The Woodlanders is enveloped in gloom and despondency, and is often described as elegiac. Aside from Hardy's sombre journal entries, which help explain the tone of the novel, there are several entries concerning art which are useful in ascertaining Hardy's intention in writing The Woodlanders. Hardy writes, "January 3 : My art is to intensify the expression of things...so that the heart and inner meaning is made visibly visible." One year later (January 1887), as he neared the end of writing The Woodlanders, he wrote,
After looking at the landscape ascribed to Bonington in our drawing-room I feel that Nature is played out as a Beauty, but not as a Mystery. I don't want to see landscapes, ie., scenic paintings of them, because I don't want to see the original realities -- as optical effects, that is. I want to see the deeper reality underlying the scenic, the expression of what are called abstract imaginings. (F. E. Hardy 1: 242)These passages are revealing, as they show that Hardy is now less interested in re-creating Romantic beauty in the landscape than in searching for the "intention" within nature. This "intention," which Hardy is most explicit about in the famous "Unfulfilled Intention" passage in The Woodlanders, incorporates a Romantic and a Darwinian meaning: the word intention (in this context) suggests the Darwinian impulse for change and progression, as well as implying the Romantic sense of the word, the hidden meaning at the heart of nature. So even though Hardy is no longer attempting a re-creation of a Romantic landscape, his intention still lies within the Romantic tradition, because like the Romantic poets, he is seeking a presence within the landscape, as opposed to merely trying to describe nature itself. I will argue, then, that Hardy's depiction of nature in The Woodlanders relies upon him discovering this "intention," either Romantic or Darwinian, within nature.
Bound up in this division between the Darwinian and the Romantic in Hardy's view of nature, is the division, so overt in The Woodlanders, between Hardy's nostalgic love of the past, and his acceptance that change is inevitable. From this split comes Hardy's affection for the Romantic view of nature, yet his acceptance of change and progress dictated by Darwin's evolutionary theory of nature, and loss of faith in an anthropomorphic God. Hardy's 1883 essay "The Dorsetshire Labourer" (written only three years prior to the serialisation of The Woodlanders is evidence of how keenly Hardy felt the eroding of traditional rural societies. The Dorsetshire labourers, argues Hardy, "are losing their peculiarities as a class" because of their increasing mobility which results in "a less intimate and kindly relationship with the land [the labourer] tills" (Hardy 35-36). So this new nomadic tendency is resulting in less individuality, less stability, and a weaker relationship with the land and with the labourer's employer. Hardy argues that such changes are leading to the loss of the previously strong morality typical of the labouring class.
Many critics have recognised this elegy for a past age, including Dale Kramer who argues that Hardy "was at odds with the way of life he saw developing around him. ... The world of rural Dorset, which he loved, was eroding" (Kramer 1975, 105). Kramer continues, arguing that "disillusionment raised in Hardy a discontent with what seemed to be the causes for the unsatisfactory conditions of existence and the imbalance between what ought to have been and what were the possibilities of achieving happiness" (Kramer 1975, 105). Glenn Irvin describes Hardy's love for the past as appearing strongly throughout The Woodlanders. He argues that in this novel, Hardy presents the new order as "malignant and depraved," and that "Even with its limitations and inflexibility, the old order is preferable to the new, but impossible, of course, to preserve" (Irvin 88). Peter Casagrande captures well the painful tension within Hardy between past and present: "There is simply no way to reconcile the conflict between loving loyalty to the past and obedience to the heartless ongoingness of things. What the novel invites in its powerful close is that the reader contemplates the beauty of the sad truth that things decay" (Casagrande 153). Perhaps Mary Jacobus sums up Hardy's position most forcefully and concisely, in her statement, "Hardy laments ... the rape of the woods by rootless predators from the modern world" (Jacobus 116).
The characters in the novel are divided along the lines Jacobus suggests, between the woodland characters, who are closely connected to the land, and the "rootless predators," who irrevocably change the lives of the land characters. Edred Fitzpiers is the central "rootless predator" in the novel, and I believe the power of, and interest in, his character results from him being created in a Shelleyan mould. It is an obligatory feature of Hardy's novels to include a Shelleyan-influenced character, a character who idealises his (or her) beloved rather than loving the beloved directly, for what she (or he) is. In previous novels, these Shelleyan lovers have been portrayed sympathetically, as tragic figures whose ideals are out of place in their hostile environment. But Hardy's portrait of Fitzpiers is unsympathetic: proof of the strength of Hardy's disillusionment with the practical application of Romantic ideals. Although his portrait is unsympathetic, it is, nonetheless, strongly Shelleyan: Fitzpiers quotes Shelley at length on several occasions; Fitzpiers idealises the women in the novel, attributing to them the ethereal qualities of Shelley's women in poems such as "Epipsychidion;" and Fitzpiers' interests, ideas, and even appearance resemble Shelley's.
The influence of Wordsworth is also important in The Woodlanders. Wordsworth's poetry was powerful for Hardy because it served as a monument to the past, as a guarantor of the memory of previous feeling. As William Buckler suggests, towards the end of Hardy's novel-writing career Hardy used Wordsworth "as a sort of critical correspondent, testing his own way of looking at creative problems with Wordsworth's way." Like Wordsworth, Hardy's motive was poetic, and also like Wordsworth, Hardy drew on the "dense fabric of details" maintained "in the storehouse of memory." So Buckler sees Hardy's fictional world as "a created, not a copied world" (Buckler 328-29). Buckler's ideas tie in with the thoughts of other critics, that for Hardy, The Woodlanders was an act of memory. Ian Gregor writes that The Woodlanders is based on "recollection, the remembrance of things past, a concern to render a consciousness increasingly susceptible to the tensions of the present" (Gregor 142). Hardy had the idea for the story in mind after completing Far from the Madding Crowd, but put it aside. So over a period of twelve years the story had time to develop. Michael Millgate, in his biography of Hardy, adds weight to the idea that The Woodlanders was an "act of memory," explaining that Hardy did not visit North-west Dorset (the setting for The Woodlanders) while he was writing it: "he wrote at a deliberate distance from the scenes being recreated in fictional terms, chiefly in order to preserve the freshness and vitality of the emotionally charged impressions already fixed on his imagination" (Millgate 278).
The two main ways, then, in which I see The Woodlanders as a Romantic novel are as follows. Firstly, Hardy's vision of nature combines a Romantic with a Darwinian view. In this novel Hardy searches primarily for the intention behind nature, whether this intention be beautiful or grotesque, Romantic or Darwinian. As such, nature comes across as both Romantic and Darwinian, although the Darwinian predominates, perhaps owing to Hardy's despondency at the time of writing. And secondly, the character of Fitzpiers is strongly influenced by Shelley, although as I mentioned earlier, this Shelleyan character is crueler and more self-seeking than characters in the earlier novels, causing misery in the lives of all around him, in his pursuit of the elusive ideal. My concluding comments will briefly consider the novel as an elegy, which I also see as aligning the novel to Romantic poetry, remembering that an elegy is typically a mode of poetry.
As I suggested in my introductory comments, the lasting impression one takes away from The Woodlanders is the gloom and decay which exist in the natural world, and which is mirrored in the lives of the woodland characters. This overwhelming feeling of pain and decay results from Hardy's insistence on the Darwinian struggle for survival within the woods, built up through numerous references throughout the novel. At times, this sombre view gives way to a real celebration of the beauties in nature, particularly in the progression of the seasons and their influence on the productivity of the natural world. But this jubilee is not to last: just as Grace's joy and discovery of her love for Giles will not come to fruition, so the Darwinian element in nature remains dominant. Another way in which I believe Hardy's depiction of nature is most powerful, and most Romantic in The Woodlanders, is in his creation of a close relationship between the woodland characters and the natural world. There are many examples of unity between character and landscape, as well as times when a character's feelings are imitated by nature. By examining Hardy's natural world in this novel, I will show the presence of both Romanticism and Darwinism, as well as the interdependence of character and natural world.
The most obvious reason why the Darwinian aspects of nature dominate the Romantic occurrences in The Woodlanders, is that the characters, with the exception of Fitzpiers, are doomed to unhappiness, and Hardy translates their unhappiness into pain in the natural world. From the outset, we are overwhelmed with images of decay and destruction in the woods, and this unconsciously prepares us for the similar struggle in the world of the characters (in particular I have in mind the conflict between the aggressive, modern Fitzpiers, and the passive, traditionalist Giles, who recognises his weakness and gives in to his stronger opponent). Hardy's use of ivy, the plant notorious for its poisonous and parasitic qualities (its habit of winding itself around other plants), quickly comes to symbolise the brutal struggle for survival between plants in the woodlands: "In the hollow shades of the roof could be seen dangling and etiolated arms of ivy which had crept through the joints of the tiles and were groping in vain for some support, their leaves being dwarfed and sickly for want of sunlight" (iv 20). In the famous Unfulfilled Intention passage we learn that, "the ivy slowly strangled to death the promising sapling" (vii 41), a succinct and poignant evocation of the struggle between the plants. And further on, the points of the ivy leaves "scratch [their] underlying neighbour restlessly" (xii 65). These references capture exactly the nature of the ivy plant, fighting ruthlessly for survival.
Often the decay and struggle in the woods is explained by the sounds of the struggle between two trees, and their pain is shown by the wounds resulting from this battle. For example, Marty's three a.m. excursion to deliver her spars is made fearful by "the creaking sound of two over-crowded branches ... rubbing each other into wounds" (iii 13). Similarly, towards the end of the novel, Grace views the woods as being in a battle: There were "trees close together, wrestling for existence, their branches disfigured with wounds resulting from their mutual rubbings and blows" (xlii 234). Hardy also pays attention to the decay and disfigurement in the woods. The grotesque description of the walking sticks is a striking image: "the chief [pattern] being corkscrew shapes in black and white thorn, brought to that pattern by the slow torture of an encircling woodbine during their growth, as the Chinese have been said to mould human beings into grotesque toys by continued compression in infancy" (vii 41). The human comparison makes the description all the more disturbing. Much later in the novel Hardy gives us a magnificent image of the decayed woods: "Dead boughs were scattered about like ichthyosauri in a museum, and beyond them were perishing woodbine stems resembling old ropes" (xlii 234). Also present in this grotesque description are "rotting stumps ... rising from their mossy setting like black teeth from green gums" (xlii 234). With all of these descriptions, it is the personification of the woods which makes the images so vivid and hideous. And the ichthyosauri fossils in the museum cannot but invoke Darwin.
This connection between the human and the natural world emphasises the point Peter Casagrande makes that things inevitably decay, including the hopes and lives of the characters (Casagrande 153). This idea is marvellously made by Hardy himself, in the card-playing scene at Giles' Christmas party:
Each card had a great stain in the middle of its back, produced by the touch of generations of damp and excited thumbs, now fleshless in the grave; and the kings and queens wore a decayed expression of feature, as if they were rather an impecunious dethroned dynasty hiding in obscure slums than real regal characters. (x 58 - - my emphasis)Elsewhere personification is taken even further, perhaps, as Wiliam Matchett suggests, "as a means of extending throughout the universe the same sufferings [Hardy] sees in man" (Matchett 257). Marty feels akin to the fir trees she plants because "'It seems to me...they sigh because they are very sorry to begin life in earnest - just as we be'" (viii 50). Lost in the woods, Grace and Felice hold each other, "while the funereal trees rocked and chanted dirges unceasingly" (xxxiii 183). And most disturbing of all is Hardy's description of the victims of the barking process: "Each tree doomed to the flaying process was first attacked by Upjohn ... an operation comparable to the 'little toilette' of the executioner's victim." The trees "stood naked-legged ... as if ashamed" (xix 103). By describing the trees as preparing for execution Hardy evokes powerful images of human sacrifice, making the fate of the trees human and universal. Kramer sums up well this connection between the natural and the human world, explaining that "The sufferings that the trees of the title inflict upon each other in their natural setting parallel those inflicted by one well-meaning human on others in the story" (Kramer 1985, xx).
Hardy's view of the Darwinian struggle does not stop at nature, but extends into the human and the animal world. The best image to show the chain of being in the animal kingdom comes in the fourth chapter. The chapter begins with an ominous and distinctly un-Romantic description of morning: "the bleared white visage of a sunless winter day emerged like a dead-born child." With the coming of morning, "Owls that had been catching mice in the outhouses, and stoats that had been sucking the blood of the rabbits" (iv 19) cease their activities. The animals and plants also interact in struggle and this is demonstrated by the rabbits nibbling bare the bases of some of the small woodland trees (vii 41). And in the human world, the strong and arrogant Fitzpiers dominates and destroys the weaker (both in terms of will and physical endurance) Giles, who abandons his suit for Grace with the coming of a rival.
The intense struggle in the natural (and animal) world seems to sap energy from the earth, and Hardy portrays this exhaustion several times in the novel. One example is Grace's observation of a sunrise: "It was even now day out-of-doors, though the tones of morning were feeble and wan. ... The tree-trunks, the road, the out-buildings, the garden, every object, wore that aspect of mesmeric passivity. ... Helpless immobility seemed to be combined with intense consciousness; a meditative inertness possessed all things" (xxiv 126). Gregor identifies this passivity as a new condition of Hardy's natural world. He goes on to say that the woods emphasise "a sense of passive exhaustion and melancholy ... there is a mood operative in [The Woodlanders] more deeply pessimistic than anything else in Hardy's fiction" (Gregor 165). And this pessimism can be easily attributed to a man whose need for solace in an increasingly unfamiliar world, is matched with his acceptance that solace cannot come from Romanticism, which has no place in this new world.
By showing the helplessness and inertness of the landscape, and by describing so vividly the violent struggle endured by plants in the woodlands, and animals in the Melbury homestead, Hardy insists upon the unpleasantness in nature. This point is reinforced by Hardy's juxtaposition of elements of beauty (descriptions which at times come close to a Romantic view of nature) which temporarily bring hope, but are often destroyed by brutal reality. At times in The Woodlanders, Hardy presents the Darwinian and Romantic elements of his vision simultaneously. For example, when Melbury and Grace drive away from the woods, "their wheels silently crush ... delicate-patterned mosses, hyacinths, primroses, lord-and-ladies, and other strange and common plants" (xix 106). The description of the plants is fine and detailed, but ultimately pointless because the gig destroys them. And so here, as is usual in The Woodlanders, the Darwinian element in the woods dominates and the surface beauty of the landscape is destroyed.
Another example of the dominance of Darwinism occurs when Grace and her father walk through the woods to the auction. Hardy gives a beautiful description of nature's bounty in some of the sheltered hollows, their sheltered nature giving the idea of a "mixture of the seasons ... in some of the dells they passed by holly-berries in full red growing beside oak and hazel ... and brambles whose verdure was rich and deep as in the month of August" (vii 40). The landscape then changes "from the handsome to the curious," and then leads into one of decay:
On older trees ... huge lobes of fungi grew like lungs. Here, as everywhere, the Unfulfilled Intention, which makes life what it is, was as obvious as it could be among the depraved crowds of a city slum. The leaf was deformed, the curve was crippled, the taper was interrupted, the lichen ate the vigour of the stalk, and the ivy slowly strangled to death the promising sapling. (vii 41)Here, the power of the description overrides the beauty previously described, leaving the reader with the image of destruction in mind. It is also interesting to note in this passage that the decay and deformity is purposely linked to the human world (the city-slum), pre-empting the ruin that will befall the characters (Giles, for instance).
These descriptions mark a turn in vision. In previous novels, Hardy saw more readily the beauties in the landscape. Now, in The Woodlanders, most of his descriptions of nature are full of decay, disease, and Darwinian struggle. Hardy is so unable to abandon the Darwinian view that his attempts to describe beauty are overshadowed by his new admission that all things will pass. Only when Grace's love for Giles awakens does Hardy see, unadulterated, the beauty of the season. Having said this, however, there are other instances of Hardy's Romantic view of nature to be found in The Woodlanders.
A Romantic view of nature is, in fact, presented in the opening pages of the novel, from Barber Percomb's perspective as he is travelling to Little Hintock: "though there might be a sombre beauty in the scenery, music in the breeze, and a wan procession of coaching ghosts in the sentiment of this old turnpike road, he was mainly puzzled about the way" (i 5). These ideas are unmistakably Romantic -- Wordsworth's idea of sombre beauty features in many poems (The Prelude is full of the darker side of beauty), while the music in the breeze may be a reference to the Aeolian harp, an instrument symbolising inspiration in many Romantic poems (Coleridge's "Aeolian Harp" and "Dejection," for instance). And Percomb's being "puzzled about the way" of finding these beauties in Little Hintock is surely Hardy's view: where and how can one enjoy the Romantic glory of nature when so much is changed, when all around is struggle and ruin? The Woodlanders, then, from the opening pages, seeks to explore this puzzle, and Hardy reaches no real conclusion. That the book ends with an elegy, however, suggests that Hardy has accepted that nature must struggle for survival as Darwin claimed, and that we must look beyond the surface to find beauty. This is what the Romantics themselves did, in landmark poems such as "Tintern Abbey," where Wordsworth couples imagination and memory with the landscape in order to find meaning.
With the change in the seasons, from Summer to Autumn, comes Hardy's most Romantic description of the glory of nature. Melbury's excursion to Highstoy Hill lends him a Keatsian view of the cider district showing "the miles of appletrees in bloom. All was now deep green" (xxiii 121). At the beginning of the cider season Hardy unsparingly describes the orchards of Little Hintock: "beyond the yard were to be seen gardens and orchards now bossed, nay encrusted, with scarlet and gold fruit, stretching to infinite distance under a luminous lavender mist" (xxv 132). Hardy then quotes the marvellous Autumn description from Chatterton's "Song to Aella," the source for Keats' later description:
When the fair apples, red as evening sky, Do bend the tree unto the fruitful ground, When juicy pears, and berries of black dye Do dance in air, and call the eyes around.Everything in these pages reverts back to the beauty of the season. There are lengthy descriptions of Giles and the process of his cider-making, and Grace's thoughts of Giles and his cider press. The power of Autumn is captured in the description of "the blue stagnant air of autumn which hung over everything [and] was heavy with a sweet cidery smell" (xxv 133).
Even the villainous Fitzpiers, on his way to see Felice, is immersed in the beautiful Autumn landscape, travelling "through the gorgeous autumn landscape of White-Hart Vale, surrounded by orchards lustrous with the reds of apple-crops, berries, and foliage, the whole intensified by the gilding of the declining sun" (xxviii 155). All in the natural world is burgeoning, and nature is at its most bountiful. The narrator explains that, "The earth this year had been prodigally bountiful, and now was the supreme moment of her bounty" (xxviii 155). Grace also thinks along these lines, but embellishes the meaning of nature to include Giles, her fertility God, within it, as shown in these thoughts: "Nature was bountiful. ...No sooner had she been cast aside by Edred Fitzpiers than another being ... had arisen out of the earth ready to her hand" (xxviii 156).
With Grace's realisation of her love for Giles comes Hardy's most exquisite and Romantic description of nature in the novel. Giles, coming along the road, is seen by Grace in the following way:
He looked and smelt like Autumn's very brother, his face being sunburnt to wheat-colour, his eyes blue as corn-flowers, his sleeves and leggings dyed with fruit stains, his hands clammy with the sweet juice of apples, his hat sprinkled with pips, and everywhere about him that atmosphere of cider which at its first return each season has such an indescribable fascination for those who have been born and bred among the orchards. (xxviii 156)The similarities between Hardy's description of Autumn, and Keats' description in his Ode to that season, are obvious. Both include the natural bounties of Autumn (apples, pips, kernels, juices, cider) in their descriptions; both imagine the sweet juices from the Autumn fruit and so use adjectives such as clammy, sticky, sweet, juicy, swell, plump; and both figure Autumn as a person -- while Keats' personification is general, Hardy describes Giles himself as the season. The tone and atmosphere of both pieces of writing are also similar. Keats evokes a feeling of drowsy calm with his long vowel sounds and sibilance, while Hardy's adjectives prolong the description, and add a gentleness to the scene.
In his description of Autumn, Hardy is writing in a Romantic mode, focussing on the sensuality of the scene -- the smell of the ripened apples, the sweet taste of cider, the sticky, clammy residue left on the hands, the feeling of the warm sun ripening the Autumn fruit -- as well as the glorious spectacle of Giles as a fruit God. The union (although brief) between Grace and Giles is confirmed in Romantic language: Giles and Grace "could see far into the recesses of heaven as they mused and walked, the eye journeying on under a species of golden arcades" (xxviii 156). And as if to affirm the legitimacy of the union, Grace's senses are finally awoken, and she abandons herself "to the seductive hour and scene," "her senses revelled in the sudden lapse back to nature unadorned," and she experiences "revolt for the nonce against social law" and a "passionate desire for primitive life" (xviii 156-57). For a moment, we (and Hardy) are convinced that the power and the beauty of a Romanticised nature can win; but this is not so, as Grace cannot undo her marriage to Fitzpiers, and the Darwinian struggle in nature, though Hardy showed it as being temporarily outweighed by harmony, must return. There is also the pragmatic reason why Grace cannot live by her feelings and consummate her love for Giles: the reaction to the slight sexual content of Hardy's previous novels had been hostile, showing that Victorian England was not ready for moral or sexual liberation.
The close connection between the natural world and human nature has been seen in this great Autumn scene. Just as the natural world burgeons and blossoms, so too do Grace's feelings and senses unfold, and Hardy makes this link obvious in the simile that Grace applies to her own situation of unhappiness in marriage. Contemplating the bounty of the season, Grace realises that "some kernels were unsound as her own situation, and she wondered if there were one world in the universe where the fruit had no worm, and marriage no sorrow" (xxviii 155). Grace's aspiration is towards an impossible, pre-Lapsarian world -- but Hardy's writing here is again Romantic, recognising the close connection between human feeling and the natural world that the Romantic poets sought.
The emotional state of the other woodland characters, too, is mirrored by the woods, which again reveals Hardy's debt to the Romantics and their mode, the pathetic fallacy (here I will take the pathetic fallacy to mean the attribution of human emotions to inanimate objects). When Melbury goes to solicit Giles' advice on Fitzpiers' infidelities, Hardy's description of the evening is symbolic of the illness Giles has been plagued by, and which will eventually kill him: Melbury "set out to look for Giles on a rimy evening when the woods seemed to be in a cold sweat; beads of perspiration hung from every base twig; the sky had no colour, and the trees rose before him as haggard, grey phantoms whose days of substantiality were passed" (xxxi 170 -- my emphases). A similar parallel is made on one of Fitzpiers' visits to Felice. Felice has shut herself up in her boudoir, with the curtains closed and candles burning, ostensibly to shut out the gloom of the outside world: "'the world is so dreary outside!'" Felice's exclamation arguably echoes the early Tennyson poem "Mariana," with its refrain of "'My life is dreary,'" for "Mariana" is a meditation on Romantic loss. And Felice goes on to speak of "'Sorrow and bitterness in the sky, and floods of agonised tears beating against the panes'" (xxvii 149). But we learn that these emotions, attributed to the weather, are in fact the feelings of Felice herself, since Hardy's subsequent description makes clear that she is mingling the weather and her emotions: "her constitutional cloud of misery, the sorrowful drops that still hung upon her eyelashes" (xxvii 152). Fitzpiers presently draws the curtains to let in "the flood of late autumn sunlight," confirming that Felice's picture of the storm outside is really a portrait of her emotions.
So in Hardy's depiction of the natural world in The Woodlanders, he is both writing in a Romantic tradition, and also rebelling against it. His view of nature is Romantic in that he is resolute on seeing the intention behind nature, as the Romantic poets were. And yet this propensity for "truth" often reveals a Darwinian struggle, not a Romantic gleam. His recognition of a declining rural society also contributes to the despondent way in which he sees the natural world in this novel. His union of character with landscape, however, is quite Romantic, and his two main woodland characters, Marty South and Giles Winterborne, are Hardy's outstanding figures of the goodness of rural values in a world gone wrong because of progress. Despite their goodness, however, they are not rewarded, and by the end of the novel Giles has died, and Marty is broken-hearted. It is, ironically, the villainous urban-invader Fitzpiers who reaps the rewards at the end of the novel.
In his portrait of Edred Fitzpiers, Hardy's debt to Shelley is obvious. This influence extends beyond the abundance of Shelleyan quotations Hardy provides him with to aspects of his character. Fitzpiers is given Romantic characteristics: his carrying of an eyeglass to spy on Grace symbolises Romantic vision; and later on in the novel he is explicitly compared to Prometheus. Even his appearance is Shelleyan (or Byronic), particularly the description of his eyes, which are "dark and impressive, and beamed with the light either of energy, or of susceptivity." There is a hint here, though, that Fitzpiers is not a thoroughly good character, as the narrator wonders "whether his apparent depth of vision were real, or only an artistic accident of his corporeal moulding" (xiv 77-78). The narrator says, "nothing but his deeds could reveal" whether this depth of vision is real, and Fitzpiers' deeds confirm the falsity of his character. This falsity is connected with his selfishness, which David Lodge alludes to when describing Fitzpiers as a "third-rate Shelley ... an idealist, a dabbler in science, philosophy, literature; [but one who is] idle, fickle, egocentric, selfish as a child" (Lodge 16). Fitzpiers' cruelty is shown, for example, after discovering Grace's social status: "Instead of treasuring her image as a rarity he would at most have played with her as a toy. He was that kind of man" (xvii 95). He is thus a study in the extremes of Shelleyan tendencies, and in his character are to be found the attributes of idealising and egocentricity, without the goodness of some of Shelley's heroes.
It is appropriate that Hardy should create a villainous Romantic character at this point in his career, as The Woodlanders was written at the height of Hardy's distress (yet acceptance) that Romantic values, in this society, no longer had merit. Jacobus argues that Hardy's portrayal of Fitzpiers is "ambivalent," and that this ambivalence "lies in [Hardy's] involvement with the ideas he parodies" (Jacobus 128). Hardy was personally attached to poems such as "Epipsychidion," and "The Revolt of Islam," which instilled in him a desire to be faithful to his vision and pursue the truth of any experience. In The Woodlanders, however, these poems are used ironically because they are quoted by the selfish and egotistical Fitzpiers.
Several critics see Fitzpiers as moulded on Shelleys "Alastor," the Spirit of Solitude. The hero of "Alastor," however, is disappointed in his search and dies an early death, whereas Fitzpiers, although failing to discover the ideal (which he chases from Grace to Felice), marries and lives on at the novel's conclusion. The ending clearly shows the author's post-Romantic gaze. By the time he wrote The Woodlanders Hardy had become all too aware that the likes of Fitzpiers would not die during their search for the ideal, but corrupt their values, in typical evolutionary style, in order to survive and dominate. Fitzpiers' initial optimism at his belief that "'Nature has at last recovered her lost union with the Idea!'" (xviii 99) is proven to be false, but this issue, rather than leading to Fitzpiers' demise, is abandoned and Fitzpiers remains dominant. Fitzpiers' chameleon-like quality, his ability to adapt to different circumstances, is how Hardy perceived life in the new Darwinian society, a society in which faithfulness to one's vision would no longer be rewarded.
Fitzpiers combines his interest in science, with a desire for philosophy and romantic poetry: "Fitzpiers was in a distinct degree scientific, being ready and zealous to interrogate all physical manifestations; but primarily he was an idealist" (xix 101). His interest lies largely in this combination: his scientific investigations into, among other things, John South's brain, his readings of metaphysics and transcendental philosophy (particularly the works of Kant and Spinoza) and his pursuit of Romantic idealism which vents itself in his obsessive quoting of Romantic poetry. Fitzpiers' scientific and philosophical interests are conveyed by the narrator as passionate, and yet pretentious, adding to the ambiguity of his character. Fitzpiers "had lately plunged into abstract philosophy with much zest" (xvii 94), but this passion is combined with self-importance, as evidenced when he tries to explain idealism to the illiterate Grammer Oliver. Grammer reports this to Grace: "'Ah Grammer,' he said at another time 'let me tell you that Everything is Nothing. There's only Me and Not Me in the whole world'"(vi 38). Grammer would find such ideas nonsensical, and Fitzpiers should have realised how inappropriate it was to talk philosophically to the old woman.
It is significant that Fitzpiers should be so influenced by Spinoza's ideas, because Wordsworth and Coleridge discussed Spinoza too. Spinoza's system of God and Nature was similar to the views of the Romantics: Spinoza writes, "By the government of God I understand the fixed and unalterable order of nature and the interconnectedness of natural things" (Oxford Companion to English Literature 939), and the Romantics constantly sought to see life as interconnected (for example, Wordsworth writes in "Tintern Abbey" of the all-pervading "presence" which "rolls through all things"). But it is in keeping with Hardy's ambiguous portrayal that Fitzpiers' actions are in complete opposition to Spinoza's recommendation for happiness, that "It is by goodness and piety that man reaches perfect happiness: virtue is its own reward" (Oxford Companion 939). We have only to think of Fitzpiers' initial insistence that his and Grace's wedding take place at a registry office, to see his lack of piety and his unkindness to Grace, who reacts "with real distress" to this idea (xxiii 125). Ironically enough, Giles and Marty unwittingly live their lives according to Spinoza's creed, but their virtue goes unrewarded.
Platos influence on Fitzpiers is also readily observed, especially in his exclamation to Grace that "'Nature has at last recovered her lost union with the Idea!'" (xviii 99), which refers to Plato's belief that an idea was a perfect and eternal pattern of which reality is no more than an imperfect copy. Bruce Johnson describes Fitzpiers as a Platonic idealist, one who addresses the relationship between the ideal and the material in a way "characteristic of his sentimentalism and Romanticism in general" (Johnson 86). The second generation of Romantics were particularly interested in this idea, seeking transcendence of the real world in favour of an ideal realm of immortality. They longed to discover the ideal forms, as evidenced in poems such as "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode to a Nightingale," and Wordsworth's explicitly Platonic "Intimations Ode."
Fitzpiers philosophical musings relate directly to what I see as his Romantic idealism. This idealism is first revealed in the narrator's description of him as a "dreamy 'ist of some sort, or too deeply steeped in some false kind of 'ism" (xiv 78). That Fitzpiers "much preferred the ideal world to the real, and the discovery of principles to their application" (xvi 162) not only reveals his idealism, but also reveals Hardy's view of him as impractical: his preference for principles over their application is surely absurd.
His ideas about the subjectivity of love, although presented pompously, are, however, quite close to the Romantics' ideas. Fitzpiers reveals his belief that love is a subjective projection while talking to Giles, and so Fitzpiers seems pretentious because Giles, like Grammer Oliver, is ignorant of such an idea. Fitzpiers contradicts Giles's supposition that he is in love with Grace:
'Human love is a subjective thing -- the essence itself of man, as that great thinker Spinoza says -- ipsa hominis essentia; it is a joy accompanied by an idea which we project against any suitable object in the line of our vision, just as the rainbow iris is projected against an oak, ash, or elm tree indifferently. So that if any other young lady had appeared instead of the one who did appear, I should have felt just the same interest in her, and have quoted precisely the same lines from Shelley about her, as about this one I saw.' (xvi 89)What Fitzpiers describes here is his pursuit of the essence of love, or the ideal, which he believed resided within one woman. Shelley's influence is again present here, as his protagonist's pursuit of the ideal is the subject of both "Epipsychidion" and "Alastor." Hardy enlarges this theme in his final novel, The Well Beloved, which presents Jocelyn Pierston's pursuit of the ideal in three generations of women. Fitzpiers also pursues the ideal, for it does not remain with Grace, but moves from her to Felice Charmond.
The first meeting between Grace and Fitzpiers furthers Fitzpiers' interest in Grace, since he believes that she has visited him in a dream. He explains to her that owing to the "dose of Idealism" he received, from reading transcendental philosophy the previous evening, he was "scarcely able to distinguish between reality and fancy" (xviii 100). After this meeting, Fitzpiers fancies himself more in love with Grace than ever, although his "love" of Grace is not an individualised desire to be with her alone, but a manifestation of his need to project his feelings onto another. Fitzpiers' humorous explanation of this to Giles indicates that Hardy is critical of Fitzpiers' indistinct love: "'people living insulated, as I do by the solitude of the place, get charged with emotive fluid like a Leyden jar [an apparatus for storing and discharging electricity] with electric, for want of some conductor at hand to disperse it'" (xvi 89).
In line with his view that love is subjective, is the idea (hinted at here, but given a little more attention in The Well-Beloved) that Fitzpiers' love is a form of narcissism: Fitzpiers admits that "'I am in love with something in my own head, and no thing-in-itself outside it at all'" (xvi 89). Because he is pursuing the "ideal," Fitzpiers never views Grace as herself, but always as part of an ideal form. She is "a piece of live statuary" (xviii 99), or a shrine: Fitzpiers says to her, "'God forbid that I should kneel in another's place at any shrine unfairly'" (xix 108). Initially, Fitzpiers has no intention of marrying Grace because of her lower social standing, and is merely using her "as an object of contemplation for the present ... to keep his soul alive, and to relieve the monotony of his days" (xix 102). Perhaps because of the presence of a rival, though, Fitzpiers' feelings for Grace last longer than they would have ordinarily. At times, for example, he is under the impression that "the Idea had for once completely fulfilled itself in the objective substance - which he had hitherto deemed an impossibility" (xx 109).
This is, however, not the case. He is soon thrown into the path of Felice Charmond, and, as her name suggests, he is immediately charmed by her, feeling the same emotions as when he first saw Grace: "While the scene and the moment were new to him and unanticipated, the sentiment and essence of the moment were indescribably familiar. What could be the cause of it? Probably a dream" (xxvi 142). Indeed it was a dream, the dream induced by the study of transcendental philosophers at the time of his first meeting with Grace. He is quickly enamoured with Felice Charmond, who he recognises as his psychidion, his soul mate: "He gazed at her in undisguised admiration. Here was a soul of souls!" (xxvi 144). The language used to convey this new interest suggests Fitzpiers' Romantic, and also philosophic and scientific, interest: "The intersection of his temporal orbit with Mrs Charmond's for a day or two in the past had created a sentimental interest in her at the time." But finding her now, "in these somewhat romantic circumstances, magnified that bygone and transitory tenderness to indescribable proportions" (xxvi 145). That the ideal has moved from Grace to Felice is confirmed when Fitzpiers, on his way to see Felice (xxviii 155), quotes the following lines from "Epipsychidion:"
Toward the load-star of my one desire I flitted, like a dizzy moth, whose flight Is as a dead leaf's in the owlet light. (ll. 219-21)At this point in Shelley's poem, the poet is excitedly tracking the ideal figure, oblivious to the fact that he will soon lose sight of the ideal: "But she ... Past ... Into the dreary cone of our life's shade" ("Epipsychidion" ll. 225-228). So Hardy makes it apparent that Fitzpiers' idealised love for Felice will also pass -- what he sees as the essence of love, is not permanently housed in Felice Charmond. This is why Fitzpiers is so easily able to resume his marriage to Grace at the end of the novel.
Fitzpiers idles away much of his time in dreamy contemplation. This is hardly surprising, as we are early told that he prefers the ideal world to the real, and he has little to do in Little Hintock. He is, therefore, strongly imaginative, but in keeping with Hardy's somewhat negative presentation of him, his imagination is more fanciful than imaginative in a Romantic sense. After learning Grace's identity, "his whole attention was given to objects of the inner eye, all outer regard being quite disdainful" and "he constructed dialogues and scenes in which Grace had turned out to be the mistress of Hintock Manor-house, the mysterious Mrs Charmond, particularly ready and willing to be wooed by himself and nobody else" (xvii 95). The fact of her social class, however, means for Fitzpiers that "personal intercourse" could only take place in "the world of fancy" (xix 102). After he has tired of Grace and become infatuated with Felice, Fitzpiers indulges in similar fanciful musings: "the two or three days that they had spent ... above the Neckar were stretched out in retrospect to the length and importance of years; made to form a canvas for infinite fancies, idle dreams, luxurious melancholies, and pretty alluring assertions which could neither be proved nor disproved" (xxvii 147).
One very humorous, and distinctly Romantic episode occurs when Fitzpiers, after visiting Felice, has been thrown from his horse. Melbury offers him a lift, and Fitzpiers, not recognising his father-in-law, accepts the ride, as well as the proffered rum, which "flew to the young man's head and loosened his tongue" (xxxv 191). His monologue is both revealing and insulting to Melbury, who eventually throws him from the horse. But not before Hardy has thrown in several Shelleyan allusions. Fitzpiers begins by alluding to himself and his education, "'the poets and I are familiar friends; I used to read more in metaphysics than anybody within fifty miles'" (xxxv 191). He then describes Felice in lyrical terms "'A passionate soul, as warm as she is clever, as beautiful as she is warm, and as rich as she is beautiful'" (xxxv 191). Then comes the reference to Shelley: Melbury, angry at Fitzpiers, has begun to clasp him too firmly and Fitzpiers complains: "'I say, old fellow, those claws of yours clutch me rather tight - rather like the eagle's, you know, that ate out the liver of Pro- Pre- the man on Mount Caucasus'" (xxxv 191). The reference, although to Prometheus generally, is most likely to be to Shelley's verse drama Prometheus Unbound in light of Fitzpiers' close knowledge of other of Shelley's poems: upon seeing Grace he is able to quote nine lines of "The Revolt of Islam" (xvi 89).
So what does Hardy intend by this eclectic mix of characteristics, and the ambivalent, half-mocking, half-earnest, presentation of them? Clearly, as a follower of Shelley, Hardy does not encourage us to accept Fitzpiers as a Shelleyan figure. By filling him with quotations, with philosophical ideas, and then making him a thoroughly selfish, unlikeable character, Hardy seems to suggest that the Romantics were flawed. But this is not the case. A more committed Romantic would have pursued his vision, even if unpractical, rather than compromise in the way Fitzpiers does. Fitzpiers' faults lie in his anti-Romantic qualities -- his changeability and his nonchalance. He cannot sustain his ideals, and abandons them when they are no longer practical or profitable. His marriage to Grace owes much to her dowry and the convenience of living off the Melbury family. His abandonment of Grace is easy when he finds a better object, and his return to her is just as convenient when this object is no longer available.
While creating Fitzpiers largely in order to comment on his flawed Romantic qualities, Hardy also uses Fitzpiers as a type-character, the urban invader, showing how this type perceived rural life. The rest of the novel, however, shows that Fitzpiers' perception is far from accurate. A good example of Fitzpiers' idealised view of rural life occurs in the incident where he observes the woodlanders barking the trees. Fitzpiers is enchanted by their activities, thinking of them in terms of his own entertainment, rather than as people earning a living. Hardy makes this point explicit, at one point having Fitzpiers look up from his book "to observe the scene and the actors" (xix 103). This line of thought continues, and Fitzpiers imagines "that he might settle here and become welded in with this sylvan life by marrying Grace Melbury" (xiv 103). Once the woodlanders have departed, Fitzpiers lingers: "He dreamed and mused till his consciousness seemed to occupy the whole space of the woodland round, so little was there of jarring sight or sound to hinder perfect mental unity with the sentiment of the place" (xix 106). He again ponders settling in Little Hintock, referring to the "calm contentment" and the "quiet domesticity according to oldest and homeliest notions." His immersion within, and meditation upon, the natural landscape seems Wordsworthian, in that both men are lost in thought while observing the beauty and power of the natural world. But there are grave ironies present in Fitzpiers' meditations: Fitzpiers is blind to the reality of the woods, the violence and struggle going on around him, which everyone but he is aware of. His preconceptions dictate the calm, sylvan appearance of the woods, but as the narrator is at pains to point out, this is not the reality.
To conclude this discussion of The Woodlanders, I will now discuss the elegiac nature of the novel, and why I think this elegiac note contributes to its Romanticism. As I have just shown, Fitzpiers' effect on Little Hintock is largely negative, and is one factor which contributes to the elegiac feeling of the novel. In marrying Grace, he not only ends her hopes of happiness (Hardy makes it clear that she is happiest when following her natural instincts), but also destroys the hopes of Giles (by forcing him to abandon his own suit for Grace), and Marty (whose love for Giles can never come to fruition because of Giles' death, for which Fitzpiers is partially responsible). It is appropriate that Hardy should choose to write an elegy at this point of his career. Not only is The Woodlanders written at a time when Hardy's Romantic faith is at its lowest ebb, but his previous novels (A Pair of Blue Eyes and The Return of the Native in particular) have hinted at elegy, and his later novels will reinforce it in a more overt way than this. The elegiac strands of The Woodlanders are a natural progression in Hardy's career as a novelist.
There are many elements of elegy in The Woodlanders, including the tone, the "funereal dirges" sounded by the trees in the woods, and the poetic quality of the language. The opening paragraph, which sounds the note of nostalgia with mention of the rambler travelling near Hintock "for old association's sake," and the closing scene of Marty's poignant elegy over Giles' grave, frame the tale. Marty's elegy is particularly important. As the final word in the novel, it makes a lasting impression. It also encapsulates Hardy's position, that Giles was "'a good man, and did good things'" (xlviii 439), but that such goodness is no longer esteemed in modern society.
The mournful goings on in the woods also contribute to the sombreness of mood. In The Woodlanders, Hardy clearly shows that nature can no longer be seen as an idyllic retreat from the urban world (which is the way nature is depicted in Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight," in which Coleridge describes himself as having grown up "in the great city pent 'mid cloisters dim"). Hardy's poem "In a Wood," which he describes as a companion piece to The Woodlanders, clearly contrasts this Romantic view with the Darwinian view. In the poem, Hardy firstly presents the idea of nature as Romantic idyll. He comes to the wood,
As to a nest; Dreaming that sylvan peace Offered the harrowed ease - Nature a soft release From men's unrest.
This Romantic view gives way to the actuality, that nature can no longer promise a refuge from the city. The trees, far from content, jostle and destroy each other:
Sycamore shoulders oak, Bines the slim sapling yoke, Ivy-spun halters choke Elms stout and tall.
Another poem, also written for The Woodlanders, again strikes an elegiac note. "The Pine-Planters," subtitled "Marty South's Elegy," presents Hardy's despair both for the human condition and the condition in the natural world. The newly planted tree,
In this bleak spot, ...will grieve here Throughout its time Unable to leave here, Or change its clime; Or tell the story, Of us to-day When, halt and hoary, We pass away.
But the most important sense in which I see the novel as an elegy is in its highly poetic quality (an elegy, remember, is generally thought of as a mode of poetry, not prose). William Buckler's article describes the poetics of The Woodlanders, drawing attention to its "organic, verifiable, critical" nature (Buckler 327). The poetic quality of Hardy's language and his poetic vision, not to mention the novel's organicism, its symmetry, and Hardy's impressionistic view of characters, all add weight to the argument for elegy. As Hardy neared the end of his novel-writing career and prepared himself for a life of poetry, it makes sense for him to have thought in increasingly poetic terms, and to have relied more on tone and mood to create atmosphere in his story-telling. The move towards elegy was perhaps initiated by Hardy's increasing disability, in the face of a Darwinian and highly industrialised world, to recapture his early Romantic views of nature. I have earlier demonstrated just how keenly Hardy felt the pain of industrialisation, in my discussion of his essay "The Dorsetshire Labourer." Not only was Hardy troubled by industrialisation, but the more mature Hardy refused to compromise his poetic vision, and insisted upon revealing the "heart and inner meaning" of whatever he was describing. This "heart and inner meaning" was to become even more intensely elegiac in his final tragic novels, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and in particular Jude the Obscure.
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