Irony in Thomas Hardy's "A Few Crusted Characters"



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Thomas Hardy's aeries of short stories "A Few Crusted Characters" was written and published during the years 1887-1894 that saw the publication of Tess of The d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. It is a frare-story that is almost universally ignored by critics and the ceneral reading public alike; hwever it is a fine examle of Hardy's mastery of ironic techniques, and it provides a potential index for understanding his ironic Philosophical outlook. During this period of time Hardy also wrote three essays expressing his theories about writing. "The Profitable heading of Fiction," "Candour in Ennllsh Fiction," and "The Science of Fiction," the only essays on style that he ever wrote, express in expository form the theories on ironic outlook and irony In literary technique that are dramatized in "A Few Crusted Characters." Indeed, the frame-story reads, in many instances, as if it were written to clarify the ideas that are but haltingly formulated in the essays. In "A Few Crusted Characters" Hardy covers many types of irony—verbal, situational, and juxtaposition of contrasting charactefixations and scenes. He uses irony to clarify his philosophical outlook, especially in his choice of narrators in the individual tales. These narrators see the various levels of reality and communicate them to the reader: the minister sees only the benevolent rotiveg and acts which are compatible with his own system of values; the prankster sees th world of everyday and uses his vision of it to fool others; the aged groceress sees time, space, and humanity from a great distance and seems to receive her information through a supernatural agency. The groceress servos a two-fold literary and philosophic function: because she seems like fate and because she is passive and disinterested, she furnishes a valuable insight into Hardy's idea of the relative influence of fate in human affairs. In understanding his Ironic philosophy, it is important to see that she is not the malignant meddler that Hardy is usually credited with having created. Furthermore, since Hardy has placed the frame's own narrator outside the realm of this narrator, and in a position to control her role in his tale as well as her own narrative, this relationship would suggest that he considers destiny subject to man's control. The frame-story is good entertainment, dealing as it does with a representative gallery of Hardy's rustics. The stories also have Intellectual appeal because they investigate Hardy's thenas of alienation and impercipience, the inefficacy of organized religion, the unworkability of hasty narriage, and the inequities of civil justice. The greatest value of "A Few Crusted Characters" is that it helps to clarify Hardy's philosophical outlook regarding the relative roles of fate and free-will in human activities.