Joy and hope in Thomas Hardy's poetry

Addison, Neil (2021). Joy and hope in Thomas Hardy's poetry. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Hardy’s poems function as individual but sustained thought acts, enabling him to emphasise moods that are not merely pessimistic but joyous and hopeful. These optimistic examples are not anomalies. Rather, pleasures such as dancing, music, eating and drinking perform a significant balancing function across Hardy’s poetry. They highlight the importance for Hardy of enjoying such moments because, in an uncaring universe, things may take a turn for the worse. My thesis seeks to elucidate three main tendencies of joy and hope in Hardy’s poetry, and discuss why they are important. I will also demonstrate how they are representative of the wide cultural conversation Hardy participated in with the writers he was reading, and will highlight the thematic connections between his well-documented sources and other, less-discussed but equally important influences.

I will first examine the way in which Hardy’s poetry demonstrates a part-realistic, part-imaginative enjoyment of, and a hopeful affinity towards, the natural world. This first chapter of my analysis will draw upon Hardy’s scientific and aesthetic sources such as Charles Darwin, George Romanes, John Ruskin and William Burgess. Hardy’s poetry further emphasises intensely experienced moments, which range from erotic desire to mutually enjoyed experiences, such as love, familial companionship and communal pleasures. Both these aspects will be examined in the second chapter of my thesis, and will be connected to some of his important local and classical reading sources such William Barnes, Lucretius, Sappho and Algernon Charles Swinburne. Finally, my third chapter will evidence how Hardy’s poems celebrate the works of past architects, poets and musicians, while becoming part of a developing artistic process. This poetic aspect was stimulated by a number of writers whose works connect to late-nineteenth century idealism, such as Matthew Arnold, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Walter Pater and Arthur Symons. Together these three aspects give us a more optimistic view of Hardy’s work. My thesis therefore aims to offer a new way of reading Hardy’s poetry and enrich our sense of what it offers us. While unflinchingly addressing the reality of the human condition, Hardy’s poetry affords us a way of appreciating and enjoying its most vital aspects.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies, Department of Drama and Theatre Arts
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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