Provisional Narratives: Hardy’s Final Trilogy
The Well-Beloved is and is not Hardy’s last novel. No manuscript exists, but the serial version, The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved, A Sketch of a Temperament1 was printed weekly in The Illustrated London News from 1 October to 17 December 1892. In book form there was published in March 1897 The Well-Beloved, A Sketch of a Temperament,2 a text usually taken as definitive and yet regarded simultaneously as a ‘variant’ of 1892. By this sleight-of-hand a date 1892 is attached to the work and Jude the Obscure (book version 1895) is somewhat confusedly given the status of the last novel that Hardy wrote. The canon then ends with a bang. But the three works are both linked and discrete. The Well-Beloved, though closely linked with The Pursuit, has major differences from it in plot, character and narratorial stance, giving it practical claims to be regarded as the last work of fiction. Theoretical claims I shall turn to later. Jude, while overtly different, shares a common matrix with the other two and is particularly close to The Pursuit. These facts about the texts and their ambiguous chronology encourage the reader to regard them as a trilogy. Such a reading potentiates the understanding of Hardy’s last work as a ‘feminist’ novelist and suggests that he did not abandon novel-writing only because of critical hostility to the immensely successful Jude but because he had so far unravelled the traditional fictional processes of ‘classic realism’3 towards the poetry that he published for the rest of his life.
KeywordsAlternative Ending Reasonable Belief Classic Realism Legal Marriage Common Matrix
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