Literature a keen awareness of their social
Literature is anexpression of the personality of the writer and that personality is formed andmoulded by the times in which he lives. The age in which Thomas Hardy lived andwrote was clearly marked by the great stress and movements in the social andcultural history of England.
Hardy has highlighted the major social aspects ofVictorian society, which was under the impact of science and an age oftransition. His two novels Jude the Obscure(1895) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles(1891) under our consideration are masterpieces where he has discussed themajor problems and issues of his time. In the novels of Hardy, there is alwaysa conflict between old and new, modern and conventional, poor and rich, scienceand orthodoxy, weak and powerful. He also aims to bring an end to theseproblems by some well-established social system which may be democratic inform. Keywords: convention, society, morality,evolution.
The age inwhich Thomas Hardy wrote his novels is characterized chiefly by the spirit ofintellectual awakening and scientific and industrial development. To quote Rutland,”The period of Hardy’s mental development came at a time of intellectualupheaval.”(45) Though Hardy was born in the beginning of the Victorian era, bythe time he matured and created, Victorianism had broken down and was alreadybeing questioned and was yielding place to modernism. This spirit ofquestioning, this intellectual unrest, is everywhere reflected in the works ofHardy. Almost all the writers of the age show in their creative activity a keenawareness of their social environment and Hardy is no exception. His views werefashioned not only by the movements, revolutions and changes that took place inthe nineteenth century but also by his reading of contemporary and ancientliterature of his own country as well as of the other countries.
The earlyVictorian era is characterized by an attitude of self-sufficiency andself-complacency because of the great prosperity of the English people duringthe 19th century. The nation was prospering and growing richer dayby day. The emphasis was on faith. The Victorians had certain patterns ofmorality and decency, which they never dared to challenge.
They even followedsome old traditions of thought and faith blindly without ever caring toquestion them. But this sort of attitude prevailed only during the early partof the 19th century whereas during the later part of it theindustrial revolution brought about the Reform Bills and the Education actswhich granted to common people greater freedom and liberties. On the other handthe scientific developments opened the eyes of the English people to a morerational view of the universe and human life conduct. The old Victorian beliefand ideals were fast disappearing and the new ones did not carry muchconviction. Science was progressing and had been introduced in many walks oflife, particularly in agriculture. The old faith in religion was graduallydiminishing.
Agriculture labour was migrating from the villages to the placewhich tempted it to new jobs. But very often the town life brought more andmore unhappiness to the simple village folk. Darwin’s book The Origin of Species was published in 1859, when Hardy was a youngman. Baker says, “All the time that Hardy waswriting, literature in general was deeply affected by thequestions and the poignant anxieties raised by therecent revelations of sscience. Darwin and his followerswere publishing book after book, carrying the newviews into very domain of thought.”(16) Darwin’stheory of evolution and his doctrine of the survival of the fittest completelyrevolutionized man’s conception of the universe, and also challenged theBiblical theory of the origin of man and of the origin of the universe. Therewere other philosophers of the time such as Huxley, Wallace, Spencer, Hill anda few others who also interpreted the universe and man’s relation with the universein quite different manner from those which have been either laid down fromgeneration to generation in the form of traditional faiths and beliefs. TheImpact of Darwin and of others was so great on Hardy that his orthodox faithsin everything were rudely shaken.
Like most of the leading thinkers of his timeHardy turned out to be an agnostic not only in religion but also in the moraland social spheres. According to Douglas Brown, “InDarwin’s writings he studied the evolutionaryprocessand found evidence of cruelty and painapparentin the struggle for existence, one of hisdeepestpre-occupations.”(21) Darwinismcreated a feeling of helplessness in man and that man is the creature and notthe creator of circumstances. Science, philosophy and industrialism developedmaterialistic and an anti-spiritualistic outlook with the result that Hardybegan to believe, not in the Christian God as the protector and guide of mankindbut in some blind, ruthless, mysterious force ruling the universe and making atoy of human life. The greatest of his novel The Return of the Native, The Mayer of Casterbridge, Tess of D’Urbervilles,Jude the Obscure, all show their chief characters as victims of the socialconventions. It was not surprising therefore that his work aroused the anger ofmany conventional thinkers. Though absolutely religious in the real sense,Hardy was never in sympathy with a false conventional morality.
He could notreconcile the fact of suffering with the concept of a kind, benevolent,omnipotent God. The suffering and misery that he saw everywhere in nature madehim feel that there was something wrong in the scheme of the world. “His loss of faith, his agnosticismand later pessimism about human freedom andhuman destiny, harmonize naturally with themovements of thought, belief predominant in his time….” (Douglas,20) Scientificmaterialism showed the insignificance of the human individual in the scheme ofthe universe.