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The Apollonian and the Dionysian: Hellenic Paganism

Poetry as Pagan Pilgrimage: the ‘Animative Impulse’ of Thomas Hardy’s Verse

L’« instinct d’animation » chez Thomas Hardy poète : la poésie, pèlerinage païen
Laurence Estanove


La critique hardyenne n’a pas manqué de souligner comment l’œuvre du poète-romancier se construit souvent sur une oscillation entre païen et chrétien. Cet article se propose d’étudier une fois de plus la façon dont les deux traditions se mêlent, mais s’attarde plus spécifiquement sur la poésie de Hardy et cherche à relier cette question à l’agnosticisme déclaré de l’auteur et à son appropriation de certaines idées folkloristes et positivistes. L’intérêt de Hardy pour une fusion entre les croyances païenne et chrétienne (fusion que révèlent les saillies du passé sur la surface du paysage) dépend en vérité des associations à l’humain que l’auteur peut y trouver. Chez Hardy, ces ‛survivances’ n’aident pas tant à reconstruire le passé d’une société ou d’une culture obsolètes qu’à stimuler la création artistique. Le fétichisme à l’œuvre dans sa poésie n’agit ni comme l’application directe d’une pensée positiviste ni comme un retour de rites païens, mais comme la marque d’un « instinct d’animation » plus large qui s’attache à célébrer et préserver l’affect humain. Le penchant de Hardy pour le paganisme est ainsi clairement de nature plus poétique que théiste. Le poème « Aquae Sulis » en est une illustration : il met en scène une réunion ironique des traditions païenne et chrétienne — « images both » — tout en témoignant de cet « instinct d’animation » qui vient réconcilier, dans la poésie de Hardy, discours métaphorique et expérience vécue.

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Introduction: Hardy’s Pagan Eye

  • 1Au fond, Hardy invente, parallèlement à d’autres romanciers européens . . . , un regard monographi (...)
  • 2De cette double donnée, character et environment, qui est sa matière romanesque, il saisit comme l (...)
  • 3 Hardy’s knowledge of the nascent science of anthropology of his time is attested, both by his note- (...)

1In 1989, French ethnologist and sociologist Yvonne Verdier died suddenly, leaving an unfinished manuscript dedicated to the study of Thomas Hardy’s novels. Later published in 1995 as the headpiece of a collection of essays, Coutume et destin: Thomas Hardy et autres essais, Verdier’s work aimed at examining how the novelist’s ‛monographic eye’1 articulates the ethnographic depiction of a community’s customs with the rather literary notion of an individual destiny. This juncture, this passage ‛from rite to novel’,2 Verdier explained, is what entails the tragedy of Hardy’s texts. One can hardly think of better proof of the ethnological import of Hardy’s work—if proof were needed. In her study, Verdier stops to consider the contemporaneousness of Hardy’s career as a novelist with the emergence of anthropology—how 1878 marked both the publication of The Return of the Native and the creation of the London Folklore Society, together with the launching of the journal Folklore containing the research of Edward Tylor, among others.3 Similarly, the first International Folk-Lore Congress was held in London in 1891, the year Tess appeared.

  • 4 A Laodicean is the title of Hardy’s eighth novel, published in 1881.

2In Hardy’s novels, the customs of rural Wessex are indeed all too visible: pre-Christian rituals, traditions, and superstitions are depicted with an accuracy that testifies both to Hardy’s ethnological eye and of course to his ‛first-hand knowledge of folklore’ from his native Dorset (Radford 211). Characters are in permanent contact with the traces of ‛primitive’ modes of existence and belief which even determine their identity or very essence: in The Return of the Native Eustacia Vye is said to have ‛pagan eyes’, while Tess’s noble ancestor is named Sir Pagan d’Urberville. All Hardy critics have also noted how the author’s works explicitly dramatize a constant oscillation between the pagan and the Christian: while the Wessex of his novels and poems may appear as a preserve of local pre-Christian customs, Hardy’s writings are famously imbued with Judaeo-Christian imagery and references, the Bible being indeed the main intertext of his work. Alongside is the voice of the agnostic—this oscillating ‛Laodicean’4 position par excellence—searching for the signs of a divine presence, but also for alternate objects of worship and alternate forms of belief.

  • 5 See in particular in the present issue Marie Panter’s essay exploring ‛the possibility of faith and (...)

3A fair amount of critical work has been devoted to the paganism of Hardy’s fiction.5 This essay proposes to observe once again how the pagan and Christian traditions seep into each other in his writings, but chooses to focus specifically on his verse and to examine this in the light of the poet’s agnosticism and of his appropriation (albeit often unconscious) of some folkloristic and positivistic ideas.

The Pilgrim Instinct

4The agnostic’s position derives essentially from an experience of loss, loss of certainty rather than of faith. Hardy does seem to be writing with a fundamentally nostalgic drive, whether in his depiction of a disappearing rural life or in his exploration of shattered and unstable beliefs. His poetry testifies more specifically to the latter, along what I perceive as the dynamics of a quest. The nostalgic impulse of his verse thus expresses itself through (re)visitations, topophiliac explorations of mythical locales—the pilgrimages of an agnostic which bear equally theistic, poetic, mythical and personal implications, while constantly borrowing from Christian texts.

5The pagan overtones of the pilgrim instinct are mostly evident in Hardy’s relation to Rome: travelling there in 1887, he noted that ‛he was on the whole more interested in pagan than in Christian Rome, of the latter preferring churches in which he could detect columns from ancient temples’ (Hardy 1989, 198). Hardy wrote a sequence of poems recalling that journey, explicitly named ‛Poems of Pilgrimage’ (Poems of the Past and the Present, 1901). The series was briefly yet acutely analysed by Paul Zietlow (161–167), and then more thoroughly examined by Ian Ousby who notes that ‛even the poem in the Vatican turns out to be about the pagan muses’ (Ousby 52). Ousby goes on to describe how the sequence actually explores the poetic myths of Hardy’s Romantic heroes and of their own fascination for Italy and ancient deities:

Poems are set amidst the marble buildings of Genoa or the ruins of Imperial Rome; they abound in references to Constantine, Caligula, and Caesar. Hardy visits Leghorn, where Shelley wrote his ‛To a Skylark,’ meditates at the graves of Keats and Shelley in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, and devotes a poem to commemorating the exact place and hour of Gibbon’s completion of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. (Ousby 52)

6The quest is therefore not so nostalgic after all, in the sense that it clearly aims at catching and recording the traces of the past in their present embodiment, as they jut out from the surface of a palimpsestic reality. Against the backdrop of the late-nineteenth-century increasing interest in folklore, such traces might recall Edward Tylor’s theory of ‛survivals’; in Hardy’s case, the survivals do not help reconstruct the past stages of an obsolescent culture or society so much as they stimulate artistic creation and renewal. As Andrew Radford explains, ‛Hardy broods over “survivals” not as the laureate of a lost  . . . tradition, but as a writer obsessed by relics which are crusted with ancestral imprints and so open up vitalising possibilities for his art’ (Radford 217).

7Among such possibilities is indeed the ‛animative’ impulse of poetry noted by Edward Tylor in his Primitive Culture (1871):

  • 6 Tylor draws here from the example of the Tatsmaki, a creature in Japanese mythology taking the form (...)

Poetry has so far kept alive in our minds the old animative theory of nature, that it is no great effort to us to fancy the waterspout a huge giant or sea-monster,6 and to depict in what we call appropriate metaphor its march across the fields of ocean. But where such forms of speech are current among less educated races, they are underlaid by a distinct prosaic meaning of fact. (Tylor 264)

8Leaving aside the inevitable ethnocentric perspective and racist overtones of Tylor’s vision (and of his contemporaries’), what interests me here is that, as Christopher Bracken explains, ‛[w]here the subject of positivism perceives a figure of discourse, the subject of myth experiences a living event’ (Bracken 86). The ‛animative impulse’ of Hardy’s poetry effectively reconciles metaphorical discourse with living experience, as I wish to demonstrate here.

Poetic Fetishization, Immanence and the Human Mark

  • 7 See the following notes: ‛I have repeatedly stated in prefaces and elsewhere that the views in them (...)

9In the chapter on mythology of Primitive Culture, Tylor directly connects his description of the ‛doctrine of universal vitality’ (Tylor 258) to Auguste Comte’s notion of fetishism, and one finds echoes to both in Hardy’s writings. In his notebooks, Hardy copied quite copiously from Comte’s works, often complementing or combining them with some personal comments. As always with Hardy’s readings from the thinkers of his time, his understanding and possible subsequent use of such notions owe more to the realm of personal and artistic impressions7 than to academic reasoning. One finds, for example, the following note in his Literary Notebooks, a reflexion on Comte’s discussion of fetishism: ‛Fetishism looks on all objects in nature as animate,’ Hardy wrote. ‛[I]t is the most spontaneous mode of philosophizing and useful even now, giving animation to language &c’ (Hardy 1988, 78; emphasis added). A similar vision appears in two entries from his personal notebooks; written at an interval of more than twenty years, they nonetheless seem to testify to the same logic of affective perception of and identification with nature: ‛I sometimes look upon all things in inanimate Nature as pensive mutes’ (Hardy 1989, 117; 30 May 1876); ‛In spite of myself I cannot help noticing countenances & tempers in objects of scenery: e.g., trees, hills, houses’ (Hardy 1989, 302; 10 February 1897). Such notions certainly conjure up the literary rhetoric of pathetic fallacy. They translate more specifically into the poet’s habit of having a great variety of non-human personae, both animate and inanimate, express their thoughts and feelings throughout his eight collections of verse: animals are common speakers of Hardy’s poems (‛The Faithful Swallow’, ‛The Robin’, ‛The Calf’, ‛The Milestone by the Rabbit-Burrow’, ‛The Puzzled Game-Birds’, among others), and more surprisingly so are trees (‛The Tree and the Lady’). This solicitous anthropomorphism extends to the most mundane everyday objects that can in turn be endowed with full expressive abilities—so are a mirror (‛The Lament of the Looking-Glass’), a letter (‛The Letter’s Triumph’), and a sundial (‛The Sundial on a Wet Day’). What appears as a fetishization of animals and objects might well be taken as pure poetic license but for Hardy’s all-too-acute knowledge of Positivism and its tenets. Whether animism, as defined by Tylor, is also to be read in Hardy’s verse remains uncertain: ‛The doctrine requires for its full conception of a soul not only life, but a phantom or apparitional spirit’ (Tylor 431). Giving a voice to animals and objects does not necessarily give them a soul. One might also be tempted to think that metempsychosis does take place in Hardy’s verse; yet what poems such as ‛Transformations’ and ‛Voices from Things Growing in a Churchyard’ dramatize is a very pragmatic form of reincarnation, where the body of the deceased acts as compost for the growth of new organic life. The vitalizing power of relics takes on a literal form; unsurprisingly for Hardy, biological science holds sway over spiritual belief.

10Hardy’s reaction to an article by his friend Edward Clodd on spiritualism seems to confirm that. In a letter to Clodd dated 30 June 1920, an eighty-year-old Hardy wrote:

  • 8 Edward Clodd, ‛From Beyond the Veil. Are “Spirit Messages” Sub-Conscious?’, Daily News, 28 June 192 (...)
  • 9 Edward Clodd, ‛Spiritualism. An Exposure’, Daily Graphic, 22 June 1920, and ‛Spiritualism. Credulou (...)

We saw your article in the Daily News8 on the spiritualistic craze, & some so-called answers to your arguments by correspondents of the Daily Graphic.9 Apart from scientific & other reasons against such communications the one fact of a ‛medium’ being necessary would, one might think, discredit them, since, in at least half these performances the medium has been proved to be an impostor.
Our ancestors used to burn these mediums—or witches as they were then called; but we reward them—a more humane, though more mischievous, treatment. (Hardy 1987, 31)

  • 10 ‛Le salut, la transcendance et le mystère lui sont essentiellement étrangers’ (Augé 19-20); ‛Force (...)

11What surfaces is an obvious attachment to immediate—un-mediated—experience and to the material world. According to Marc Augé, one of the traits which distinguish paganism from Christianity is indeed its immanence.10 It is thus consistent that when describing his visit to Rome Hardy should explain his preference for the pagan city by the immediate connection with the most ancient past he can feel:

  • 11 The reference is to Horace’s Satire i, ix, famously relating the poet’s unfortunate encounter with (...)

Christian Rome, he said, was so rambling and stratified that to comprehend it in a single visit was like trying to read Gibbon through at a sitting. So that, for instance, standing on the meagre remains of the Via Sacra then recently uncovered, he seemed to catch more echoes of the inquisitive bore’s conversation there with the poet Horace11 than of worship from the huge basilicas hard by, which were in point of time many centuries nearer to him. But he was careful to remind one to whom he spoke about this that it was really a question of familiarity, time being nothing beside knowledge, and that he happened to remember the scene in the Satires which he, like so many schoolboys, had read, while his mind was a blank on the most august ceremonial of the Middle-Age Christian services in the Basilica Julia or the Basilica of Constantine. (Hardy 1989, 198)

12Despite being but ‛meagre remains’, the relics of Rome’s mythical thoroughfare resonate with ‛echoes’ of Hardy’s past—his memories as a schoolboy—rather than with the locale’s. The immediacy is therefore not temporal but personal and intimate: ‛it was really a question of familiarity, time being nothing beside knowledge’. The connection might thus only seem as apparently immediate, as it is indeed mediated through a memory (‛he happened to remember’). Yet immediacy remains what constitutes the core affect of the experience here recounted. Hardy’s interest in the fusion of pagan and Christian beliefs, in those surfacing traces of the past, depends on the human associations to be found there. Similarly, Zietlow notes that in ‛Poems of Pilgrimage’ ‛[m]ost of the poems in the group focus on a concrete experience, something that actually happened at a specific time in a specific place’ (Zietlow 161).

  • 12 The speaker of that poem is more specifically searching for proof of the soul’s immortality as he f (...)

13This seems to tie in with Hardy’s need to sense (or even see) the tangible proofs of God’s existence in order to believe—a requirement of immanence in which his professed agnosticism can easily be read: ‛Jan. 29 [1890]. I have been looking for God 50 years, and I think that if he had existed I should have discovered him. As an external personality, of course—the only true meaning of the word’ (Hardy 1989, 234). Yet the Hardyan agnostic rests contented neither with the assurance of God’s existence nor with the certainty of its being an illusion. His essential position of doubt is not a stasis but, again, a call for motion: the Roman journey of the pilgrim-poet visiting the mythical locales of his literary fathers is paralleled by an epistemological quest calling for concrete evidence. The poet is indeed, as one poem names him, a ‛Sign-Seeker’. In that early piece, published in 1898 in Wessex Poems, one is forced to note how the first four stanzas systematically register the natural phenomena that are usually associated in all theistic doctrines (and particularly pagan ones) with manifestations of divine or supernatural interventions (seasons, climate, cosmic phenomena and natural disasters). But of these the speaker sees none,12 and it seems, as a later poem suggests, that the only tangible signs of a supernatural presence are marks of human belief in that presence, manifest in the rites of religious practice.

‛Aquae Sulis’: an Ironic Attempt at Reconciling Pagan and Christian

14This is indeed what ‛Aquae Sulis’ published in Satires of Circumstance in 1914 but written in 1911, partly hints at: set in Bath, the poem uses the ‛Roman investigations’ on a Christian church built over a former pagan temple to trigger a phantasmal conversation between the deities of the two religions in their subsequent use of the place.

Aquae Sulis

The chimes called midnight, just at interlune,
And the daytime parle on the Roman investigations
Was shut to silence, save for the husky tune
The bubbling waters played near the excavations.

And a warm air came up from underground,
And the flutter of a filmy shape unsepulchred,
That collected itself, and waited, and looked around:
Nothing was seen, but utterances could be heard:

Those of the Goddess whose shrine was beneath the pile
Of the God with the baldachined altar overhead:
‛And what did you get by raising this nave and aisle
Close on the site of the temple I tenanted?

‛The notes of your organ have thrilled down out of view
To the earth-clogged wrecks of my edifice many a year,
Though stately and shining once—ay, long ere you
Had set up crucifix and candle here.

‛Your priests have trampled the dust of mine without rueing,
Despising the joys of man whom I so much loved,
Though my springs boil on by your Gothic arcades and pewing,
And sculptures crude. . . . Would Jove they could be removed!’

‛Repress, O lady proud, your traditional ires;
You know not by what a frail thread we equally hang;
It is said we are images both—twitched by people’s desires;
And that I, like you, fail as a song men yesterday sang!’

‛What—a Jumping-jack you, and myself but a poor Jumping-jill,
Now worm-eaten, times agone twitched at Humanity’s bid?
O I cannot endure it!—But, chance to us whatso there will,
Let us kiss and be friends! Come agree you?’—None heard if he did. . . .

And the olden dark hid the cavities late laid bare,
And all was suspended and soundless as before,
Except for a gossamery noise fading off in the air,
And the boiling voice of the waters’ medicinal pour.

Bath (Hardy 2001, 376–377)

15Aquae Sulis (‛The Waters of Sul’) was the Roman name for Bath, Sul (or Sulis) being an early British goddess of water. The first part of the poem is based on that pagan goddess’s reproachful words to the Christian deity, accusing him of having crushed her religion with merciless conquering spirit. The evangelizing tradition of Christianity is indeed signalled by a series of metonymies: the violence of the invasion is conveyed by the frightful music of its organ (stanza 4), the heavy steps of its priests (st. 5), and the vulgarity of its art (st. 5)—the ensuing ravages being represented by the overly plosive compound ‛earth-clogged wrecks’, the pagan cult’s meagre relics.

16The conversation of men over the excavations is paralleled by the conference of the gods, a dialogue taken midway which might thus seem to bear the same status of inconsequential small talk as that of the human passers-by. Yet the Latinate lexicon (‘interlune’, ‘parle’) perfectly suiting the Roman context, combined with Hardy’s own typical neologistic derivations and inflections (‘unsepulchred’, ‘baldachined’), offers an elaborate discussion in tune with the divinity of its speakers. Such balance between simplicity and complexity actually shapes the whole piece. For one, the rhythm of the poem revolves around the simple rhetoric of systematic oppositions between the pagan and Christian religions, embodied for instance by the obvious architectural contrast of Roman temple vs. Gothic church. But it is also developed along more subtle conflicting axes and vectors: the vertical thrust of the edifices (‛raising this nave and aisle’, ‛stately and shining’), the downward force of Christian oppression (‛thrilled down’, ‛trampled’), the horizontality of the successive layers disclosed by the excavations (‛underground’, ‛shrine beneath the pile’, ‛altar overhead’), and the circularity of the poem itself, sustained by the image of the ‛bubbling’, ‛boiling’ waters of the spa.

  • 13 This is even more specifically true of the goddess Sulis whose votive cult was associated with the (...)

17The representation of the Christian religion is mostly focused on practice rather than creed, hence on the traditional artefacts of worship—which may indeed be seen as a truly pagan vision of Christianity. Stanzas 4 and 5 thus point at an essentially ritualistic aspect of the latter, listing various artefacts of devotion (organ, crucifix, candles, pews, sculptures) which are thereby devoid of any real spiritual power. The characteristics of the pagan religion seem much less material: apart from the ‛temple’, the representation mostly relies on the personal qualities of the goddess, the ‛lady proud’ and her ‛traditional ires’ (as noted by the Christian god in stanza 6). The adjective ‛traditional’ here points at such typical features in ancient deities as pride and anger,13 but also quite certainly at the contemporary anthropological vision of ‛primitive’ customs. In addition, there are different implications to each religion’s worship practices: while the pagan goddess’s ‛shrine’ protects and encloses, the Christian god’s ‛altar’ holds out and exhibits in an ostensibly ornate fashion, as the adjective ‛baldachined’ signals.

  • 14 In ‛God’s Funeral’ (also from Satires of Circumstance but written three years before ‛Aquae Sulis’) (...)
  • 15 ‛Jack and Jill went up the hill/ To fetch a pail of water./ Jack fell down and broke his crown,/ An (...)

18However, the last three stanzas contain a much more unusual perspective that ultimately seems to reconcile the two religions, a reconciliation hinted at in the very first line of the poem where the Latinate ‛interlune’ comes to complement the Saxon ‛midnight’. In stanzas 6 and 7, the final exchange between the Christian god and pagan goddess places the two cults on an equal footing by revealing their common fate of obsolescence. The central image which bears this joint description presents them as puppets alike: the ‛frail thread’ that proverbially signals their imminent extinction also initiates the running metaphor of the puppet (‛images both—twitched by people’s desires’), and announces the frivolous pun of the Jumping-Jack and Jill of the penultimate stanza.14 A ‛Jumping-jack’ is indeed a toy puppet held on strings, but ‛Jumping-jill’ is a Hardyan coinage that plays on the Jack-and-Jill nursery rhyme and proverbial metaphor for identical fates—the (here apt) fate of ‛falling down’ and ‛breaking [one’s] crown’.15

  • 16 Along with other minor changes, the poem was thus amended between its first appearance in Satires o (...)
  • 17 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Nights Dream, act 3, scene 3, l. 45–47.

19The whole penultimate stanza is indeed somewhat flippant, even bordering on provocation, which might explain why it did not appear in the first version of the poem.16 The tongue-in-cheek twist appears in the pagan goddess’s suggestion of reconciliation with the Christian god, evoked in very casual terms: ‛Let us kiss and be friends!’ With this, one is inevitably reminded of another ‛Jack and Jill’ reference, where the union of the two as a loving couple will make all things well and bring order to the world: ‛Jack shall have Jill,/ Naught shall go ill,/ the man shall have his mare again and all shall be well’.17 The hint at the Shakespearean concordia discors motif brings both solemnity and facetiousness to the piece, as do the speaker’s cynical comment and the ensuing ellipsis: ‛None heard if he did. . . .’

  • 18 The influence of Swinburne, a major father figure in Hardy’s formation as a poet, seems more than o (...)

20Doubting the god’s ability to make peace and coexist with another creed, the speaker gives what might appear as a superfluous jab at Christianity. Yet if one is to read an attack on the Christian religion in this poem, it seems more directed at the Church and its ritualism than at the spirituality and values of the creed itself. The Christian Church is associated with a downward crushing force, even appearing as a haughty misery-seeking cult disconnected from individual human experience: ‛Your priests have trampled the dust of mine without rueing,/ Despising the joys of man whom I so much loved’, says the goddess.18 The latter here exposes with candid simplicity the humanistic tenets of her own religion, an open, loving, life-affirming cult, as the circular movement of the ‛boiling’ waters also seems to suggest.

21If beliefs eventually come to reveal their transient quality, as ungraspable as a tune (‛like a song men yesterday sang’), nature (of which man is an unprivileged part in the post-evolutionist world that shapes Hardy’s writings) affirms its persistence with the ever-renewing force of the spa’s waters. Though the pagan goddess of water makes them her own, the town’s springs are there to open and close the poem, before and after the deities’ appearance, thus existing and ‛boil[ing] on’ outside of any mythologization, before and after all passing creeds.

22At first sight, ‛Aquae Sulis’ is a poem that juxtaposes and fuses two religious traditions to reveal their equal obsolescence in what the poet certainly experiences as an age of disillusionment. Yet its tone and energy prevent me from seeing it as a fully disillusioned piece: the eddies of water and the poem’s circularity, together with its facetious flavour, reveal an underlying vitalizing power which, in my view, does pertain to the ‛animative impulse’ of Hardy’s poetic writing. There’s something extremely mundane in the poem’s final words, ‛the waters’ medicinal pour’: by bringing the symbolism of the springs’ continuous flow back to the practicality of their use by spa-goers, the poem indeed operates the reconciliation of metaphorical discourse with living experience.

23What ‛Aquae Sulis’ reveals is first that the ‛survivals’ of Hardy’s poetry are indeed of a very tangible nature—actual relics. But it also shows that his attachment to a pre-Christian era mostly serves the celebration of the mundane, hence of human experience. Another facetious yet deeply-felt poem confirms this: in ‛The Roman Gravemounds’ (written in 1910 and published, like ‛Aquae Sulis’, in 1914 in Satires of Circumstance), a man is seen walking ‛[b]y Rome’s dim relics’, ‛[e]yes bent; and he carries a basket and spade’ (Hardy 2001, 396). The speaker imagines he must be sternly pondering over Rome’s ancient grandeur and bent on digging for some precious relic.

But no; in his basket, see, he has brought
A little white furred thing, stiff of limb,
Whose life never won from the world a thought;
It is this, and not Rome, that is moving him. (Hardy 2001, 397)

24‛Here say you that Caesar’s warriors lie?’ the man is then heard saying. ‛But my little white cat was my only friend!’ (Hardy 2001, 397) To the poet, the human affect, the intimate, unknown and unnoticed are thus of equal (if not superior) value to the greatest historical pages.

Conclusion: Magnifying the Mundane

25Despite the stated preference for the pagan over the Christian of many Hardyan characters and speakers, as well as of the author himself, Hardy’s leaning towards paganism is undoubtedly more poetic than theistic. The fetishism to be observed in his verse is neither a direct application of Positivistic thought nor a revival of pagan rites, but one element of a more general ‛animative impulse’ that attaches to the celebration and preservation of human individual experience. The ‛survivals’ of his poetry are personal marks, human touches that are enacted against the backdrop of social and cultural history, and are very often obscured by it.

[Hardy] invokes the relics of time—the tangible artefacts and occasions which are the ‛survivals’ of history—and makes them play tantalizingly round the immediate object of his concern, so prompting his audience to extract the implications of the elaborate standpoints that result. At a personal level, Hardy’s rendering of ‛survivals’ gratifies his own idiosyncratic sense of imaginative excitement. He locates a counterforce to his stricken sense of social and historical severance in an art that involves irony, incongruous juxtaposition and ‛black’ humour to promote unusual angles of vision. (Radford 218)

26In his overview of Hardy’s relations with the context of folklore and anthropology, Radford also seems to suggest that the author’s ethnological eye is a rather pessimistic one: ‛So many vestigial relics of ancient practice are exposed as “diseased” and morbid in Hardy’s fiction’ (Radford 216). Yet I would argue that if this might be true, to some extent, of Hardy’s depiction of communities, the vision is not up to par with Yvonne Verdier’s insightful insistence on Hardy’s articulation of communal customs and individual destiny. Just as contemporary societies still bear the imprints of ancient rituals or past glory, so do they retain the traces of human emotion and individual life, a multitude of personal experiences that mingle. Through Hardy’s poetical writing, as Zietlow puts it, ‛history is transformed into felt experience’ (162), yet the reverse is also true, as mundane affect is magnified.

27‛The past, rich in vital and minatory human experience,’ Ousby wrote, ‛endows the landscape with depth and meaning. Yet its evidences are customarily decaying and almost obliterated, forgotten by all except the writer himself. . . . The job of the poet-pilgrim is to cherish and commemorate such glimpses of the past’ (Ousby 53–54). ‛Such glimpses’, to be found in the ‛depth and meaning’ of landscape are also, and most centrally with Hardy, layers of individual existence and experience, of human emotion: in the relics of Rome lies the author’s childhood memory of reading Horace; in the ground that encloses layers of Imperial history, a much mourned white cat. For the poet, this might after all be the only creed that lives on, humbly so: ‛the small furred life was worth no one’s pen;/ Yet its mourner’s mood has a charm for me’ (Hardy 2001, 397).

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Swinburne, Algernon Charles. Poems and Ballads & Atalanta in Calydon. Ed. Kenneth Haynes. London: Penguin Classics, 2000.

Tylor, Edward Burnett. Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Custom. Volume 1. London: John Murray, 1871.

Verdier, Yvonne. Coutume et destin: Thomas Hardy et autres essais. Paris: Gallimard, 1995.

Zietlow, Paul. Moments of Vision: The Poetry of Thomas Hardy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1974.

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1Au fond, Hardy invente, parallèlement à d’autres romanciers européens . . . , un regard monographique’ (Claudine Fabre-Vassas & Daniel Fabre, ‛Du rite au roman : Parcours d’Yvonne Verdier’, Verdier 19).

2De cette double donnée, character et environment, qui est sa matière romanesque, il saisit comme la cristallisation en deux notions, le destin, ce qui appartient en propre à l’individu, la coutume, ce qui appartient en propre à la collectivité. Si la première est habituellement tenue pour littéraire, la seconde est plutôt le matériau de l’ethnologue. Pourtant ce sont bien ces deux notions que Hardy entrelace pour les lier d’un trait d’union tragique. . . . Comment . . . passe-t-on du rite au roman ? C’est aussi cette articulation que Hardy illustre magnifiquement, nous donnant à voir, en quelque sorte, comme en leur ‛prime fraîcheur’, les conditions qui font que ce genre littéraire, pour reprendre les mots de Lévi-Strauss, ne pouvait nous raconter qu’une histoire qui se finit mal’ (Verdier 77).

3 Hardy’s knowledge of the nascent science of anthropology of his time is attested, both by his note-taking habits and by his personal connections, one notable example being his friendship with folklorist Edward Clodd whom he met in 1890.

4 A Laodicean is the title of Hardy’s eighth novel, published in 1881.

5 See in particular in the present issue Marie Panter’s essay exploring ‛the possibility of faith and ethics in a Darwinian world’ with specific focus on Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure.

6 Tylor draws here from the example of the Tatsmaki, a creature in Japanese mythology taking the form of a dragon sprouting from water.

7 See the following notes: ‛I have repeatedly stated in prefaces and elsewhere that the views in them [my works] are seemings, provisional impressions only, used for artistic purposes because they represent approximately the impressions of the age, and are plausible, till somebody produces better theories of the universe’ (Hardy 1989, 406; March 1917); ‛I hold that the mission of poetry is to record impressions, not convictions’ (Hardy 1989, 408; Autumn 1917); ‛A friend of mine writes objecting to what he calls my “philosophy” (though I have no philosophy―merely what I have often explained to be only a confused heap of impressions, like those of a bewildered child at a conjuring show)’ (Hardy 1989, 441; December 1920).

8 Edward Clodd, ‛From Beyond the Veil. Are “Spirit Messages” Sub-Conscious?’, Daily News, 28 June 1920, a review of the Revd. George Vale Owen’s The Life Beyond the Veil (London, 1920).

9 Edward Clodd, ‛Spiritualism. An Exposure’, Daily Graphic, 22 June 1920, and ‛Spiritualism. Credulous Advocates’, Daily Graphic, 23 June 1920.

10 ‛Le salut, la transcendance et le mystère lui sont essentiellement étrangers’ (Augé 19-20); ‛Force et immanence définissent donc la religion païenne’ (Augé 104).

11 The reference is to Horace’s Satire i, ix, famously relating the poet’s unfortunate encounter with a bore.

12 The speaker of that poem is more specifically searching for proof of the soul’s immortality as he faces the deaths of beloved ones: ‛Called many a gone and goodly one to shape a sign/ And panted for response. But none replies.’ (Hardy 2001, 49–50)

13 This is even more specifically true of the goddess Sulis whose votive cult was associated with the throwing of curses.

14 In ‛God’s Funeral’ (also from Satires of Circumstance but written three years before ‛Aquae Sulis’), a poem that explicitly stages the death of the Christian god but ends on a glimpse of hope, the defunct deity was already presented as an anthropomorphized piece of artifice: ‛O man-projected Figure, of late/ Imaged as we’ (Hardy 2001, 327).

15 ‛Jack and Jill went up the hill/ To fetch a pail of water./ Jack fell down and broke his crown,/ And Jill came tumbling after.’

16 Along with other minor changes, the poem was thus amended between its first appearance in Satires of Circumstance in 1914 and the 1928 Collected Poems (revised in 1930) on which current editions are generally based. The penultimate stanza does not appear in the manuscript kept at the Dorset Country Museum either. Whether it was indeed written by Hardy for a subsequent edition, or actually existed before and was excised, is unclear.

17 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Nights Dream, act 3, scene 3, l. 45–47.

18 The influence of Swinburne, a major father figure in Hardy’s formation as a poet, seems more than obvious here, particularly if one thinks of ‛Hymn to Proserpine (After the Proclamation in Rome of the Christian Faith)’ evoking the ‛Gods dethroned and deceased’ and the equal futility of all deities, both old and new, in the face of extinction (Swinburne 55-61).

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Laurence Estanove, « Poetry as Pagan Pilgrimage: the ‘Animative Impulse’ of Thomas Hardy’s Verse », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 80 Automne | 2014, mis en ligne le 22 janvier 2015, consulté le 22 août 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/cve.1503

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Laurence Estanove

Laurence Estanove teaches at Université Paris-Descartes. In 2008, she completed and defended her PhD thesis, The Dynamics of Disillusionment in Hardy’s Poetry. She is the webmaster for FATHOM (French Association for Thomas Hardy Studies) and one of its founder members. She is also co-editor of the association’s eponymous online journal. She is currently working towards the publication of a book on Hardy’s poetry based on her thesis. Alternately, as a member of LASCO (Paris-Descartes/Institut Mines-Télécom), she conducts research on British contemporary popular music.

Laurence Estanove est professeur agrégée à l’université Paris-Descartes. Elle a soutenu en 2008 une thèse intitulée La poésie de Thomas Hardy : une dynamique de la désillusion. Membre fondateur et webmestre de FATHOM (French Association for Thomas Hardy Studies), elle est aussi coéditrice de la revue en ligne du même nom. Elle travaille actuellement à un projet de monographie inspiré de son mémoire de thèse. En parallèle, au sein du laboratoire LASCO (Paris-Descartes/Institut Mines-Télécom), ses recherches portent également sur les musiques populaires britanniques contemporaines.

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