Thomas Hardy and Inhumanism

… there may be in him also a secret admiration for indifference, for power without feeling as opposed to human feeling without power—for the transcendence of human imperfection by the perfection of absolute zero. There is perhaps a secret longing to be free of choice and concern, the unshakable aspects of human existence, and to ally himself with the workings of inhuman will.

Thus the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (First Edition, 1973) describes one particular inhumanist—not Robinson Jeffers, but a novelist and poet whom Jeffers greatly admired: Thomas Hardy.

Thomas Hardy was, though a Victorian, a realist and a leader in literary “naturalism.” He used more common language in his poems than was typical of Victorians. He avoided overly elegant speech. His verse was traditional yet metrically diverse. During his lifetime, Hardy’s poetry had not been regarded as highly as his novels, but he would gain posthumous recognition as one of the great poets of the 20th Century.

As with Jeffers after him, Hardy’s “inhumanism” extended into a demonstrated empathy for the welfare for animals, but Hardy, unlike Jeffers, was more than empathetic: he was an animal welfare advocate. F. L. Lucas said of Hardy:

He never forgave the world the red streak of cruelty that runs through all its beauty: and the divine he found, not in Heaven, but in the cage of the blinded bird that sings on still with unembittered gaeity though man with a hot red needle has burnt out both its eyes.

This characterization of Hardy is more than a little reminiscent of Jeffers. It reminds us mostly of the cruelty behind the beauty in nature, expressed mostly through human cruelty to non-human animals. It also uses a wounded bird as a protagonist, which was thematic for Jeffers. Thus Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush” (1902) stands out as a precedent to Jeffers. Other Hardy poems remind us of other aspects of Jeffers, such as Hardy’s mockery of human hubris and grandiosity in “the Convergence of the Twain” (1914).

On the other hand, Hardy was no prophet for the therapeutic powers of nature’s beauty—as were Wordsworth and Jeffers.

There is a strong sense in which Jeffers’ career followed Hardy’s. Thomas Hardy had been the son of a stonemason, and Jeffers became a stonemason in his thirties. Hardy was professionally an architect, a restorer of churches, and designed his own house.

When Jeffers and his new wife Una had dreamed of a life by the sea in Lyme Regis in Dorset, England, they had placed their dream near to Hardy’s home. The two were fond of Dartmoor, a nearby wilderness of moors and mountains that Hardy had used in his novels. Dartmoor is famous for its “tors,” granite prominences that would prove to give the Jefferses’ future home of Carmel Point something in common with Hardy’s semi-fictional land of Wessex. Indeed, the Jefferses’ move to Carmel Point can easily be seen as a kind of homage to Hardy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *