The gravity of oppositions: the life and art of Thomas Hardy
Fleming, Patrick Albert
MetadataShow full item record
A narrative derived from the life and work of a writer can offer deeper insight than looking at his work as a separate study. To concentrate biographically on the superficial details of Hardy’s life and times without considering the external influences of Victorian values and attitudes does not attempt to engage with his interiority. A psychoanalytic study of an individual so complex and multi-faceted as Hardy was would be too narrow a focus. Therefore, it is probably more beneficial to take Carl Jung’s holistic approach to the exploration of the human psyche, rather than a narrower Freudian scientific and medically based case study of the known facts of his life. To explore his genius without conforming to the narrow paradigms of psychology requires a holistic examination of facts, probabilities and speculation. In an evolutionary sense, fresh ideas are derived from practices that have become redundant. The radical ideas that replace them are created and carried forward by iconoclastic visionary artists such as Hardy, who sense that those contemporary social mores have become moribund and outmoded. Genetics, personal experience and the pressures of traditional cultural values establish the character or genius of a creative artist like Hardy, who believed like Heraclitus that character was fate. Henchard, the eponymous Mayor of Casterbridge was as the sub-title of the novel declares, a man of character. Hardy’s true character will always remain a mystery though it is possible to ascertain an approximation of his essential nature. Research into the lived life and works of a major writer such as Hardy brings with it a deeper understanding of how his psychic processes operated. It also imparts an intuitive v feeling of what was the genesis of the ideas that motivated him. With references to the Jungian psychotherapist James Hillman, who has further developed Jung’s theory of Archetypal psychology, it is possible to make the cogent argument that both Hardy and his major characters were examples of the soul/spirit oppositions; the theory argues that Puer characters want to ascend the heights of existence whereas the soul’s destiny is to experience life in all its mundane and squalid complexities. Hardy into his eighties epitomised the anomaly that whilst the human form ages the spirit remains perennially youthful. Hardy’s ability to accommodate cardinal conflicts, particularly the Freudian Eros/Thanatos dialectic to the end of a very long life was a remarkable achievement. His melancholic disposition transferred to the quiet desperation of most of his characters in the novels. When Hardy’s life and works are explored, they bring into relief universal and timeless issues of religious belief and dissent, love and apathy, man and nature. The research elucidates whether a monotheistic or polytheistic perspective works to the advantage of the individual. Whilst the polytheistic soul of Hardy, the well-spring from which the totality of his life and works flowed will always remain a mystery, the challenge to understand its complexity is an invitation to engage with him anew.