Hardy and the Fielding Convention
In the construction of his plots, Hardy was a follower of Fielding. Hardy's novels have a structure, a design, a plan, a framework which is definite, not loose. These plots are dramatic in quality, nothing superfluous and unrequired for is inserted in them. There is much in them that is sensational, melodramatic and unreal.
An architect by his early traning, Hardy gives to his novels a design that is architectural. He is a superb master on the constructive side of his plots. He builds it as a mason or an architect builds a house. As a monument rises brick by brick, so Hardy's plots rise scene by scene. They are constructed in scenes which are the bricks of his plots of which his philosophy is the cement. His plots are massively and solidly built, like a building of brick and stone. The setting of every part is calculated, every stone has its place, every crumb of mortar bears its part. The creative work of Hardy is governed by a powerful logic, the logic of events, infinitely clear, never moving by the tenth part of a millimeter from appointed sequences. 'The broad sweep of design' goes hand in hand with a strict accuracy in details. Nothing, not even the slightest part, is forgotten. The ends of final issuses in Hardy's stories are foregone conclusions. Things or circumstances being as they are, the results will be as they must be. No trait of Hardy's work is so marked as this, and none is so impressive. Of all great writers of the English novel, he alone has, in equal proportion, great gifts of imagination and extra-ordinary powers of invention. Compton-Rickett remarks in this connection, "as a story-teller he combined rich inventive power with a sense of symmetrical development which, as a rule, characterises our lesser, not our greater men. Scott. Dickens, Thackeray, so productively fertile in invention, show often little perspective on the constructive side. For all this minuteness of method, Hardy never loses sight of the harmonious whole : his detailed touches have ever their special significance in unfolding the burden of the story; here he shows the economy of the greatest artist."
The Architectonics of Hardy have been universally praised, Architectonic is a word taken from architecture. It means, "those structural qualities of proportion, unity, emphasis, and scale which make a piece of writing proceed logically and smoothly from a beginning to an end with no wasted effort, no faulty omission." Hardy's plots have all these qualities; they are models of symmetry and proportion.
His Plots: Artistic Holes
His plots have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Often he opens a story with a man going along a road. His narratives are conducted slowly at first, and great pains arc taken to make clear the spirit of the country, with its works and ways : when that has been made clear, the plot begins to move with an increasing momentum to an incalculable goal; the characters come into conflict, there is strong attraction and repulsion, 'spirits are finally touched' : then, there is a period of waiting, a breathing space, an ominus, stillness and a pause; till at last, with increased force and motion, it goes forward to the 'fine issues' : all the inherent necessities of things cause their effects, tragic or comic, triumphs of the right or of the wrong : and the end of all is told with a soft soleminty, a sense of petty striving against a sense of fate. "The grandeur is the logical climax of converging trivialities." In each separate incident there is an element which proves necessary to the completion of the whole. When we close one of Hardy's greatest books, the deepest impression is always of something fated and inevitable in the sequence of events and this impression rests equally upon his skill in episode-invention and his power of climax, his genius for imagination, his logic and powers of penetrating vision. "He is, in fact, a. man of science, turned novelist, a mathematician dealing with dramatic and poetic material. We find no digressions, no superfluities". His novels always have unity of impression. His plots are simple, organic and symmetrical; they move in direct lines. "And however great the play of an external fate, the life or move which is the centre of each plot is essentially psychological. Every novel is an answer to the question : Given certain characters in certain circumstances, what will become of them?" (C. Duffin).
Suspense and Surprise
Hardy has the incomparable gift of a story-teller, that of making his stories interesting. The interest of his stories is remarkably maintained from the beginning to the end. Whenever the interest flags, something turns up to enliven the proceedings. Effective use is made of suspense and surprise, of hope and hopelessness, of chance and incident. The 'rustic chorus' forms a kind of underplot and serves to dispel the tragic gloom when it begins to grow too painful, or to relieve tension by contrast. However, this comic under current does not mar the tragic impression; it is skilfully blended with the main tragic story.
Such are the merits of Thomas Hardy's plots, but his demerits are equally well-marked:
(1) His plots are melodramatic, sensational and surperficial. J. W. Beach points out, there is too much of piling up of stagetricks, a concatenation of circumstances, violent and surprising, all obvious and striking arrangements for providing excitement. Chance, coincidences, surprises, accidents, over-heard conversations, old people turning up suddenly, etc., are certainly artificial devices, and to a very great extent this criticism of Hardy's plots is true. They nun too much upon chance and so appear forced and unnatural. Chance events in Hardy's stories are too numerous to be quoted. However, it must be added to Hardy's credit that these 'chance' events create surprise and suspense and so keep up the interest of the story.
(2) The Love-element. They are built solidly round a love-situation; generally of a complicated nature. The Wayor of Casterbridge seems to be the only exception. As C. Duffin puts it, Hardy's plot, "takes it rise from the fact of two or more men loving one woman or two or more women loving one man, or from a combination of two varieties of complications." This eternal Iriangle is there is Tess of the D'urbervilles; in The Return of the Native it is not a triangle but a thomboid, with a tail :
Eustacia — Yeobright
Wildieve — Thomasin — Venn.
The Plot of Far From the Madding Crowd has a similar complicated situation:
The typical Hardy plot is a love-story and it is marked simple. "It concerns itself with the lives of a few persons alone, the action proceeds in a few great movements, and in clean direct lines." These simple plots of Hardy give him an opportunity to make a profound study of a few lives and souls.
(3) Lack of Variety. As has been shows above, they are all love-tales. Secondly, Hardy's plots are the handmaids of his philosophy. They are all based on a conflict between Man and his Destiny or the Prime Cause of things. In this conflict, Man is always pounded to atoms, despite the heroic struggle that he might put up. Thus all his plots have a sameness, a sort of family likeness. They are repetitive.
This sameness, this lack of variety, also results from the fact that the scene of action is always placed in Hardy's Wessex. The same physical features, same hills, dales, health, and the same rustics, speaking the same dialect, appear and re-appear successively in one novel after another.