If only Hardy had known ... and Voltaire, and Wells, etc., etc..

Having just picked up a copy of Jude the Obscure I did the nerdy thing and read the introduction. Hardy wrote it some years after the book came out and spends most of his time defending his writing of Jude and the dark themes contained in it. Without having read the entire book yet I'll keep my comments few, but his self-righteous attitude is fascinating given how much we know what happens when marriage law is drastically changed.

Being a progressive of sorts, Hardy complains about the negative reactions to his book and, in accordance with that now tired artistic line, claimed that no one understood what he was trying to do. Only one person, who thought the book wonderful of course, was thought to have actually grasped all the depth contained therein. Everyone else had of course given quite bad reviews of the book, and supposedly there was a bishop somewhere who burned a copy of it. Those silly medieval holdovers.

On the other hand, while complaining about the reactions of those who "didn't understand Jude" he then goes on to admit outright that part of his intention in writing the book was to ruffle a few feathers, arguing for looser marriage laws---no fault divorce, essentially. In other words, those who misunderstood his book actually understood it very well, they just happened to disagree with Hardy's artistic project (indeed, this falls in line very well with the assertion I came across recently that many of the first seeds of artistic moral superiority were sprouting in the late 19th century). And Hardy's view is that in order to understand his writing you'd be of the same mind as he.

It makes one wonder how it’d go if you were given the opportunity to travel back in time and explain to hardy the consequences of his views on divorce.


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