Hardy, Masterly Characterisation
Hardy is the creator of a large number, larger than that of any other writer outside Shakespeare, of the undying figures of literature. The variety of his characters is immense : his command over human personality is extensive. Angle Clare, Clym Yeobright, Gabriel Oak, Giles Winterborne, Henchard, the Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess, Eustacia, Bathsheba, Elizabeth-Jane, are only a few out of the many immortal personages of Hardy. It is all, “a gallery of everlasting delight.”
Methods of Character-Drawing
(1) Use of Incidental Touches, Metaphors, Comparisons etc. Of course, in all novel as well as in all drama, the central action is the expression of the central character. The character is developed in Hardy, as in other novelists, through the stress of circumstances. But, as Duftin points out, delicate incidental touches of portraiture, “vivid descriptive phrases, metaphoric illuminations and revealing comparisons, chance utterances of the man himself, etc., are Hardy’s means of developing his characters and vivifying their personalities. the very movements and gestures of his personages often reveal their characters. For example, the cynical and dogged indifference of Henchard is revealed in the very turn and plant of each foot, nay in the very creases behind his knees. His character is further developed through the use of a wealth of metaphors, scattered all over the novel. We quote a few examples, selected at random : he loves and hates with, “buffalo wrong-headedness”: emotion sways him, “as wind a great tree”; his personality besides that of Farfare, “is as the sun besides the moon”. The ground work of Hardy’s power in character drawing lies in the “varied and reiterated emphasis on prominent traits”, through delicate incidental touches and illuminating metaphors. It is in this way that, gradually and imperceptibly, Thomas Hardy builds up the personality of his protagonists.
(2) Set-descriptions. The method of set-description in characterisation is also used by him, though not so frequently. It has been used, and with rare success, in the case of Eustacia Vye in the Return of the Native. An entire chapter has been devoted to visualise her personality. Hardy has given her a treatment, more deliberate and more thorough than in the case of any other character, either because he regarded her as a rare, unique creature, or because the entire action of the novel depends upon her personality. First, we get a succession of light touches in the usual manner of Hardy, and then follows a full chapter of description, as marvelously rich as if the splendour and romance of, “Drink to me only with thine eyes”, should be prolonged over eight pages. Every phrase is salient and arresting, and hence the chapter must be read out in full to be really appreciated. However, even in this instance of set-description, Thomas Hardy does not give us, as an inferior artist would have done, a catalogue of Eustacia’s charms, of her hue, form and features. Rather, Hardy tells us, “what she suggests and what she stands for.” Thus her hair is not said to he black, but that a whole winter does not contain darkness enough to form its shadow. Similarly, her motion suggests the ebb and How of the sea, and her voice the viola. Clym Yeobright, too, in this very novel, has been given a lengthy and set treatment, though in his case only two or three pages suffice. Another character, who gets such a set treatment, is Farmer Boldwood in Far From the Madding Crowd. Hardy knows that a man or a woman cannot be described precisely by “items of face and figure.” He rarely describes a man or woman like a photographer, not even like the common portrait-painters but like one who rises above the physical and tries to understand the mind and soul of the person under study.
The Humanity of His Characters
Thomas Hardy’s characters are real, life-like. They are like ordinary human beings subject to ordinary joys and sorrows and common human passions. He does not have either angels or gods. His characters are gems, but Hawed gems all. They are all of the earth, earthy. Here and there we do find a character more perfect than others : Giles Winterborne in the Woodlanders and Gabriel Oak in the Far From the Madding Crowd nearly reach perfection. But such instances of perfection arc few and far between.
No Unredeemed Villains
Just as Hardy has few perfect characters, so also he has no unredeemed villains. Troy, Wildieve, Alec all have a likeable side (o their natures. Even Arabella Donn is not wholly bad; Sue cannot help liking her. There are villains in Hardy’s novels, but they have some good also in them. As David Cecil points out, the fact is he cannot simply paint at full length odious people ‘Odiousnes implies meanness; and mean people neither feel deeply nor are aware of any issues larger than those involved in the gratification of their own selfish desires. And he cent only draw at full length people whose nature is of a sufficiently fine quality to make them realise the greatness of the issues in which they are involved.” Hardy simply cannot get into the heart of such people. It does not mean that all his successful creatures arc virtuous: Henchard and Eustacia commit sins but they do so in the grand manner. This grand manner is the expression of an over-mastering passion, not the calculated consequence of selfish lust. Moreover, they know they are doing wrong —they arc torn with conscience. Therefore, we do not dislike them.
Hardy’s Characters are Universals
Thus Hardy’s characters arc life-like, realistic; they arc compounds of good and evil, like real human beings. Moreover, they are neither realistic only, nor types only, they arc universals as well. Like a photographer, Hardy gives us .an outside view of his creations in the case of his minor, rustic characters alone. They alone are realistic, though over them also is thrown a veil of romantic glamour. They arc divested of all vulgarity and grossness of real rural life and in this way they arc idealised; an “atmosphere of poetry laps them round.” There are other character-creators who get below individual differences and qualities, classify individuals and thus arrive at types. But such types do not give us any profound understanding of human nature; types arc countless and one type tells us nothing of another. Some of Hardy’s characters, ax Angel Clare, Jocclyn Picrslon, etc., are mere types and that is why their appeal is limited. But Hardy’s greatest characters, his most-successful creations, are neither types nor individuals; they are univcrsals. Each of them comprehends within itself the whole of human nature, and that is why they appeal to all, and once we have made their acquaintance we can never forget them. In each of them, every reader of Hardy recognises something of himself : they are built of the elemental material that is common to all humanity. Tess, Jude, Henchard, Oak, Giles, Eustacia, Clym are all universal, elemental figures, rising like granite mountains, out of the pages of Hardy. Women arc more elemental than man, and so Hardy’s female characters are more effective and vivid.
(1) No successful Upper Class People: Limitations of Hardy’s art of characterisation may now be noted. As David Cecil points out, his imaginative range is extremely limited. Almost ail his successful characters belong to Wessex and to the lower strata of society. Whenever he strays out of Wessex, he makes a sorry mess of it. Fitzpiers, Mrs. Charmond, Troy, etc., arc all wooden and lifeless. Great ladies and great men, people of the city, etc., are all outside the range of Thomas Hardy. However, it may be pointed out in Hardy’s defence that he deliberately chooses characters from the lowest ranks of society because, as he himself tell us, “the conduct of the upper class is screened by conventions and thus the real character is not seen.” In the lower ranks of society, conduct or action is the real expression of character. He wanted to understand human nature, and so he goes to the simplest specimen of it.
(2) No Successful Intellectuals: Just as Thomas Hardy cannot portray men and women from the upper classes, so also he is not successful in the portrait of intellectuals. His intellectuals arc selfish, hard-hearted and contemptible. There is no generous impulse in them : they show the evil effects of cold reason. Clym’s treatment of his wife and mother is unflinching in its hardness. Clare fails Tess at the greatest crisis of her life because of his, ‘hard logical deposit’, and Henry Knight is an egotist.
(3) Repetition: Another limitation of Hardy results from the impact of his philosophy on his novels. His theme is, “man’s predicament in the universe,” : in each one of his novels he shows man ranged against a cruel, malevolent destiny. Therefore, his characters come to have a family likeness. Certain qualities strike him as significant, and it is only these qualities that are developed, -in one novel alter another. His characters can easily be divided into few categories. The same types are repeated.
(4) No Phycho-analysis: It has also been said that Thomas Hardy is successful only in painting simple natures : we do not gel from him any complex characters. He is incapable of that subtle psycho-analysis, that analysis of human motives, which we get, say, from Henry .lames. There is much truth in this statement, but it must be said to his credit that though the very greatest of his heroes and heroines are drawn from the lowest strata of society, yet they have a soul which the novelist dissects and analyses in order to show to his readers its grandeur and beauty.
Conclusion: Hardy’s Explorations of the Human Soul
In all his greatest novels we arc concerned with something which is spiritual in essence, something which pertains to the conflict and high manoeuvering of souls. As Duflin points out each one of his great novels is a Soul’s Tragedy, such as we do not get anywhere else outside Shakespeare. In other words, his characterisation is not only external, it is internal also. y Hardy goes down to the lowest ranks of society for his heroes and heroines and shows that they, too, have souls as beautiful, as mysteriously interesting and as spiritually adventurous, as those of kings and queens. Tess has a beautiful soul, and the tragedy arises from the fact that his pure soul is crushed into impurity. Eustacia is also gifted with an equally noble soul, and Hardy makes us see that soul despite her many faults of conduct. The deep anguish of Henchard is similarly revealed. This probing of the hidden depths of the soul, this exploring of hidden mysteries of the souls of ordinary people, gives as Duffin tells us, “Hardy a quite extraordinary position among the great creators of character.”