Thomas Hardy, reluctant agnostic : a study of the religious motif in his writings

Wareham, Alice Edna (1974) Thomas Hardy, reluctant agnostic : a study of the religious motif in his writings. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

This study purports to show that Thomas Hardy's use of the religious motif in all genres reflects his preoccupation with the problem of Christian belief versus doubt, and his resulting ambivalent attitude towards the Church, an institution close to him emotionally, yet often antithetic to his questioning mind, fed by nineteenth-century Rationalism, Darwinian science, and his own tragic view of life. -- His early association with Stinsford Parish, his later experiences as a church architect and his familiarity with the language of the Bible and Prayer Book lent a distinct colouring to his fiction and a wealth of Biblical imagery and allusion to all his work. Earlier novels reflect the kindly nostalgia of a half-sceptical 'believer', but as his tragic view deepened there emerged a concern for the moral dilemmas of individuals and a fear that conventional religious teachings were inadequate to cope with them. -- Later major novels show a growing bitterness as scepticism moved nearer agnosticism. The difficulty of reconciling tragic events with the Christian belief in an anthropomorphic, benevolent Deity underlies his emphasis on the 'Unfulfilled Intention' in The Woodlanders, on the 'Character-is-Fate' theory in The Mayor of Casterbridge, on man's futile 'outreach for joy' in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and on the hollow intellectualism of the Church depicted in Jude the Obscure. -- Hardy's indefatigable search for meaning is the primary focus of his epic-drama, The Dynasts. War becomes the universal tragedy; mankind, the persona; and debating Intelligences, Hardy's divided feelings. The power of the drama resides in the pull of forces between the theory of the Immanent Will, and the Christian concept voiced by the Pities; its weakness in the inconclusiveness of its emergent 'meliorist' philosophy. Similar tensions pervade his poems, many of which, through 'God-Man' dialogues, reiterate the themes of The Dynasts. -- In his contemplation of life's absurdity Hardy foreshadowed the modern existentialist. Finding a basis for artistic commitment in the chaos of his own ambivalence, he imposed upon it an order cathartic both for himself and for fellow-agnostics of all time.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7177
Item ID: 7177
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves [266]-272.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1974
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Hardy, Thomas, 1840-1928; Agnosticism in literature

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