Challenging previous biographical portraits that label Thomas Hardy as a deeply troubled person, a study of the great English novelist examines his alleged affairs, personal stories, and reputation as a woman-hater.
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Most biographers portray novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) as an awkward rustic who rose above his class. In this dense, overwritten but important biography, Seymour-Smith, by contrast, presents Hardy as a determined, confident literary man, a deep thinker who drew inspiration from Arthur Schopenhauer, Edmund Burke and Charles Fourier. Quoting liberally from poems, diaries and letters, Seymour-Smith (Guide to Modern World Literature) demolishes the image of Hardy as a sexually impotent misogynist fostered by biographers Michael Millgate and Robert Gittings. Hardy's first marriage, to Emma Gifford, was "much less disastrous" than is commonly believed, the author argues. He further maintains that Hardy loved both his wives and that, contrary to his previous biographers, Emma did not become insane after their breakup. Providing detailed critiques of the novels and of Hardy's epic Napoleonic drama The Dynasts (1901-1908), Seymour-Smith gives us a multifaceted Hardy-a novelist of feminist and comic sensibilities, anti-imperialist war poet, animal lover and pessimist-whose concept of a flawed Creator-God has parallels in gnosticism. Photos.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
British author Seymour-Smith's (Rudyard Kipling, LJ 2/1/90) focus is not so much on the critical evaluation of Hardy's works as on his life, especially his relations with his lovers and his not-always-happy marriages. This is not a Freudian or psychoanalytic biography but a revisionist one that argues, often acidly, against the portraits drawn by previous biographers (most notably Gittings and Millgate) to make its points. The author presents Hardy as a pessimistic thinker and communicating member of the established church whose highly complex creative and emotional life brought forth novelistic explorations of male and female sexuality that subverted the pieties of the time. Far from being naive, passive, impotent, or a misogynist, he was canny in managing his literary and business affairs and possessed a robust and healthy sexuality as well as a sense of humor. There is plenty of information and plausible interpretations here, but the argumentative tone (sometimes with little more than intuition as evidence) can be intrusive. For informed readers.
Richard Kuczkowski, Dominican Coll., Blauvelt, N.Y.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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