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Thomas Hardy
1840-1928

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The Hardy universe is neither ruled by God the Father nor informed by a divine spirit. Men are part of the great network of cause and effect which makes them, almost always, a prey to the chance ordering of the things over which they have no control. The creator of this hostile universe is called the Imminent Will, the Spinner of the Years, Fate, Doom, sometimes God; but whatever the name, it is this primal force which determines all things -- and not well. Happiness is only an interlude in a drama of pain. Not that Fate is thought of as consciously cruel and malignant; it is an automaton, acting blindly, pulling the strings without knowing what happens to the human puppets, a "sleep-worker" who someday may awake -- to destroy the whole firmament? or to "adjust, amend, and heal"?

"My pessimism," Hardy said, "if pessimism it be, does not involve the assumption that the world is going to the dogs.... On the contrary my practical philosophy is distinctly meliorist." But the melioration had to start from an honest facing of human suffering. "If way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst" ("In Tenebris"). Only when the fact and the character of social evils are recognized (and optimistic illusions stripped off) can we hope to study scientifically, and therefore partly control, their causes. And only when the fact of suffering for every creature, "tongued or dumb," is consciously realized and felt with pity can we hope to lessen the pain of existence by greater loving kindness.

This strand of hope complements a strand of nostalgic longing for the old religious faith. He longed to believe in what he knew was not true.... Hardy represents the point of transition between the mid-Victorian world and our own, when the optimism and the struggle to save Christian faith had passed into a somber pessimism which still retained, as it now no longer does, both real hope for amendment and a nostalgic looking for old assurances.

 

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