Alan Massie

The Retiring Novelist

Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited


Oxford University Press 625pp £30 order from our bookshop

Michael Millgate wrote the first version of this biography twenty years ago. It has now been extensively revised, and much material not then available has been incorporated. It is fair to call it a new book. In any case, this question will be of little concern to most readers. Hardy is one of the oddest of the great English writers. That greatness is now well established; it’s surely a long time since anyone spoke condescendingly, like Henry James, about ‘little Tommy Hardy’. Certainly his prose is often clumsy. The historian G M Young, an admirer, admitted: ‘it is doing his fame no service to deny that, of all our writers, he can be, at times, the flattest and the most ungainly. He succeeded to no tradition; he was imperfectly educated, cramped by a book-language which he could not shake himself free of . . . He never overcame his youthful addiction to melodrama; he never mastered the difference between strength and violence.’ And yet, Young wrote, he felt often ‘a craving for Hardy’. As for the poetry, there the ear can catch ‘echoes of a still older music, borne on the carols and hymns of the Middle Ages, from Provence and far beyond’.

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