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William Baker & Isobel Armstrong, eds., Form and Feeling in Modern Literature: Essays in Honour of Barbara Hardy

London, Legenda (Modern Humanities Research Association and Maney Publishing), 2013, 211 p. ISBN 978-1-907975-37-0
Isabelle Hervouet-Farrar
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William Baker & Isobel Armstrong, eds., Form and Feeling in Modern Literature: Essays in Honour of Barbara Hardy, London, Legenda (Modern Humanities Research Association and Maney Publishing), 2013, 211 p. ISBN 978-1-907975-37-0

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1Form and Feeling in Modern Literature pays tribute to critic Barbara Hardy, born in 1924, and to ‘a lifetime of absolute immersion in . . . fiction’ (2). The variety of articles and narratives included in the volume bears witness to Barbara Hardy’s range of interest which goes beyond English fiction of the 19th and 20th centuries to include poetry and creative writing. Besides her academic work, as Isobel Armstrong reminds us in her introduction, Barbara Hardy is the author of a novel, her autobiography, two collections of poems and one of short stories. The appendix, which includes a well-appreciated bibliography, testifies to the richness and diversity of her production.

2Conversely, the volume as a whole is at times marred by the impression of heterogeneity it gives, as collections of essays in honour of important academics tend to do—which of course takes away none of the interest of each individual chapter. The book includes some very short contributions (clearly the editor’s decision), which unfortunately contributes to the occasional sense of discontinuity the reader experiences and leads to frustration when a very stimulating analysis is suddenly brought to an end. To give but one example, Michael Slater’s contribution, which is both perceptive and well-documented, is only three pages long.

3The book is divided into five parts of unequal length. The two chapters of the first section focus on ‘The Work of Barbara Hardy’. After Isobel Armstrong’s introduction, which goes back over Barbara Hardy’s prolific career with pleasant, even infectious enthusiasm, Sybil Oldfield devotes a few pages to ‘The Early Work of Barbara Hardy’ which (perhaps unfortunately) deal as much with Oldfield’s early work as with Hardy’s. The next, very long three sections (fifteen chapters in total) are concerned with literary forms and topics close to Barbara Hardy’s heart. Part II deals with ‘The Art of Narrative’, Part III with ‘The Art of Poetry’ and Part IV is entitled ‘Writing Women and Children’, a reminder of Barbara Hardy’s warm feminism, another facet of her rich personality mentioned in Isobel Armstrong’s introduction. The final section is made up of two pieces of fiction: a short story by Janet El-Rayess and the first section of Sue Roe’s work ‘The Tailor’s Dummy’. The unusual inclusion of pieces of fiction in a tribute to a renowned academic is a sign of Barbara Hardy’s interest in creative writing.

4The three middle sections offer subtle and absorbing discussions of those authors that have always been Hardy’s favourites, authors she is identified with like George Eliot, of course (Barbara Hardy is a precursor in the field of George Eliot studies) and Dickens; but also of Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Charlotte Brontë, Wilkie Collins and R. L. Stevenson. The purpose of this review is not to mention them all—they are all synthetically outlined in the excellent first chapter—but to present some of the most interesting ones, a subjective choice, of course, which can hardly be avoided.

5Some chapters explicitly mention their debt to Barbara Hardy’s work and the persistence of her stimulating approach to literary forms; and thus help build a sense of consistency and homogeneity. In the section on ‘The Art of Narrative’ for example, William Baker closely examines the manuscript of Collins’s Basil (1852) to provide an insight into the work of a young novelist ‘preoccupied with finding the appropriate form for his creative genius’ (29), thus echoing Barbara Hardy’s life-long passion for narrative form. In the section on ‘Writing Women and Children’, Coral-Ann Howells offers a subtle and absorbing analysis of a few short stories by Carol Shields, based on Hardy’s Tellers and Listeners (published in 1975). Howells shows that Shields’s fictional characters, like real people, feed on stories heard and stories told and her analysis of ‘predatory listening’ (163) in ‘Poaching’ is truly fascinating. In the wake of Barbara Hardy’s critical interest in the Victorians’ portrayal and analysis of emotions and feelings (notably in Forms of Feeling in Victorian Fiction, first published in 1984), Martin Dodsworth (unfortunately not credited as a contributor in the volume) rereads The Heart of the Mid-Lothian through the lens of Jeanie Deans’s feeling of ‘shame’ and argues that a correct reading of Scott’s novel should not neglect the combined importance of feelings and incident. His in-depth study of Jeanie’s moral evolution is captivating. Similarly, in the section on ‘The Art of Poetry’, Hilary Fraser takes Hardy’s discussion of feelings in Victorian literature as the starting point of her analysis of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Alice Meynell. For Hardy, Hilary Fraser reminds us, ‘the intellectual and the emotional are ineluctably imbricated [in Hopkins’s poetry]’ (88). Fraser thus explores the importance of feelings in the two poets’ work, especially as regards the ‘reconceptualised natural theology for a post-Darwinian age’ (89) these feelings help to articulate.

6Parts II and IV also include some remarkable chapters devoted to very famous novels by Dickens and Eliot. In ‘The Image of Childhood in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner’, Alain Jumeau re-examines the mixed influence of Rousseau and Wordsworth on Eliot’s treatment of children and rejects the frequent accusation of ‘maudlin sentimentality’ (152). Beryl Gray reconsiders Great Expectations and its use of the motif of the dog, to show the paradoxical omnipresence of ‘The Absent Dog’ (the title of her contribution) through metaphors and short embedded narratives, all consistently pointing to the expression of physical loathing. In ‘Moments of Suspension in Dickens’, John Rignall draws his reader’s attention to moments of ‘quietly lyrical prose’ (53) in Dickens’s fiction, from A Tale of Two Cities to Edwin Drood, and convincingly argues that such neglected segments of the novels actually constitute one of the ‘strengths’ of Dickens’s writing (51). Finally, among the three or four longest, most comprehensive contributions, George Levine’s chapter on ‘The Mill on the Floss and the “spirit” of Capitalism’ truly stands out. His thought-provoking, very perceptive discussion of Eliot’s ambivalent treatment of money and capitalism sheds new light on Maggie’s alienation and moral superiority.

7Levine’s enlightening analysis contributes, along with many others, to the quality of the volume as a whole. The series of close readings found in these Essays in Honour of Barbara Hardy, many of them excellent, certainly makes for stimulating reading and should be recommended to all lovers of Victorian literature.

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Isabelle Hervouet-Farrar, « William Baker & Isobel Armstrong, eds., Form and Feeling in Modern Literature: Essays in Honour of Barbara Hardy », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 80 Automne | 2014, mis en ligne le 15 janvier 2015, consulté le 21 février 2019. URL :

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Isabelle Hervouet-Farrar

Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand

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Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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