The understanding of Tess and Jude demands a radically different approach from that which is appropriate to Hardy’s earlier novels. Critics like Brown have seen Tess as the culmination of Hardy’s more characteristic art, with Jude as a kind of afterthought which has little relation to his other works (and the relative popularity of the two novels appears to bear out these judgements). But in fact The Woodlanders marks the end of one style of writing in Hardy — though of course there is no complete break at any point in the series — and the two last great novels are in a group by themselves. They share the themes of wandering and isolation, of the impact of modem, progressive ideas on encrusted conventions, and of ‘the deadly war between flesh and spirit’, as Hardy expressed it in the 1895 Preface to Jude. This war is enacted not only on the sexual plane but also in the necessity for the flesh to submit to a life of brutalising labour which the spirit can only weakly attempt to resist.
KeywordsCrest Defend Vale Culmination
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