Hardy and Hellenism

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In November 1895, shortly after the publication of Jude the Obscure, A. C. Swinburne, the controversial author of Poems and Ballads, wrote encouragingly to Hardy, who was reeling from the scorching criticism for his latest novel: “The tragedy – if I may venture an opinion – is equally beautiful and terrible in its pathos […] I will risk saying how thankful we should be (I know that I may speak for other admirers as cordial as myself) for another admission into an English paradise “under the greenwood tree”. But if you prefer to be – or to remain no doubt you may; for Balzac is dead, and there has been no such tragedy in fiction – on anything like the same lines – since he died’ (LW: 288–9). Whether Hardy merits the title “the most tragic of authors’ will be considered later, but it is significant and ironic that Swinburne, a graduate of Eton and Oxford, should bestow upon him a Greek accolade. The gesture indicates acceptance into the exclusive discourse of classical learning to which Jude Fawley fails to gain admission and from which Hardy himself felt irreconcilably alienated (a feeling reinforced by at least one critic of Jude who lambasted the author for his “affectation of scholarship’ and erroneous Greek transliterations). Largely self-educated in the classics, Hardy was fascinated by the literary and cultural traditions of the Greeks, but his lack of a university education prevented him from participating with writers like Matthew Arnold, Walter Pater, and Swinburne in discussions of the significance of Greek antiquity to Victorian England.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThomas Hardy in Context
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781139048095
ISBN (Print)9780521196482
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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