Folklore in the works of Thomas Hardy



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A great, deal has been written about Thanas Hardy"s philosophy and interpretation of life. Lionel Johnson has said the most important word on Hardy"s art as a novelist, and it is to ba regretted that there is not a similar study of Hardy"s poetry from his pon. As one reads and rereads Hardy, the thought comes to him that Hardy"s roots go deep into the soil; that he was influenced not only by the physiognomy of Wessex and a familiarity with Wessex peasant life to its store evident, external features, but also by a profound spiritual sympathy with the land and the people. Bits of folklore like the telling of the bees and folk-customs like the dreaded skimmity cone to one"s mind. Finally, one realizes that, in a very true sense, Hardy had worked with a collaborator-- the folks; that a study of the folklore and the folk-custom of his people might, throw light on his subtle art and much mooted reading of life. Omens and premonitions play an important part to the lives of Thomas Hardy"s people. Omens often appear to dreams but are more likely to come about as curious accidents or coincidences. Premonitions, too are forewarnings or forebodings, such as Elfride had when Knight saved her from the falling tower. She felt that she would relive that scene to the future. She did-- and prevented Knight"s death on the Cliff-without-a-name. The fatalism of Hardy"s people ranges from broad rustic comedy to high tragedy. The belief that "What is to be, will be" runs all through novels and poems. However Hardy would seem to say that to view the future with awe and a natural touch of fear is not to lack quiet courage end strength. Hardy"s ghosts are interesting in and of themselves. Some of then go their placid ways, following the occupations they knew in life; others, with their eyes opened, look back upon their earthly life as a curious affair; still other"s utter biting satire on a blind world. The reader feels that the uninhibited Hardy would have given ten years of his life to have seen a ghost. Hardy understood the Wessex, peasant"s feeling on the score of witchcraft: the Church of England is all very well for Sunday worship and for tithes, but when the cows are bewitched and the butter will not come, shall then I run to the vicar? When I am "overlooked" it is no time to love my neighbor as myself, but a time to use magic against magic, white witchcraft against black. Falling this, there is only ill luck, sickness, and death. Those who love fine old games will find an embarrassment of wealth in Hardy. There are children"s games which preserve memories of tribal warfare and ancient wooing customs; there are graceful diversions like bowls or chess; and there is rustic merrymaking where the fun is fast and furious. The scenes unroll before the reader like the painted cloths of the old time peep shows, Hardy presents the folklore of Wessex for what it is worth in the lives of his people. It is surprising to look back over this mass of superstition and to realize that in not a single instance is one moved to scorn or contempt for the folk. With the author one sometimes smiles at rustle credulity; oftener one is privileged to share a deep understanding and sympathy. If the present study should prove helpful to the student of Hardy here or there, its aim would be accomplished.