[Key words]: Egdon Heath Character and Environment Symbolism Punishment
"The supreme poet of the English Landscape"1
This is the blurb on the back of a lavishly illustrated biography by Timothy Sullivan that tells us about Thomas Hardy. In the following the writer will explain this phrase. "Poet" here does not mean only "the writer of poetry", it certainly also includes Hardy as a novelist. "The English Landscape" is equally indefinite, for Hardy's work focuses almost exclusively on his native Dorset and its environs in other western country counties. However, "the English Landscape" here calls up a notion of a natural rural environment which is somehow quintessential "English"---a non-urban, non-industrial England which itself has mythic force in its implication of an ultimate and irreducible reality: an "essential England". But it is not even Dorset that Hardy's work represents: it is "Wessex" ---which Hardy himself in the General Preface to the Wessex Edition of 1912 ambiguously admits is a "fictitious" construction. He refers to "the horizons and landscapes of a partly real, partly dream country", later he adds "the description of these backgrounds has been done from the real, that is to say, has something real for its basis, however illusively treated."2 So "Wessex" is an imaginary area, a landscape of the mind, or we may say that Hardy "the poet" creates an English landscape---"Wessex".
At his early age, Hardy had begun to realize the cruelty of Nature. And in all his life, he liked to talk of nature, the birds and the signs of the whether; he liked to ramble on about the village inns and the characters that frequented them. We can get confirmations from Albert Guerard and Katherine Anne Porte. Albert, a noted critic, speaks of Hardy as having "the tenderness of a Saint Francis toward children, animals and all unfortunates."3 And Katherine says that Hardy was "painfully sensitive to what he believed to be a universal pervasiveness of needless misery for humans and animals."3
This is Hardy who would always know and love the world of Wessex as nothing else; it presents for him the seemliness of an ordered existence, of all that is natural, rooted and tried; this is a Wessex where survives the memory of a life in which nature and society are at peace, where the past can be seen as embodying the sameness and continuity, the unifying rhymes, of a human existence that extends beneath or beyond the agitation of the historical process; and where "Nature" is not just background but a character, an "animate pressure", "the source and repository of all energies that control human existence". Hardy instinctively unities nature and man, making the external setting a kind of sharer in the human life
Thus the "Novels of...