Literature his own country as well as of

Literature is an
expression of the personality of the writer and that personality is formed and
moulded by the times in which he lives. The age in which Thomas Hardy lived and
wrote was clearly marked by the great stress and movements in the social and
cultural history of England. Hardy has highlighted the major social aspects of
Victorian society, which was under the impact of science and an age of
transition. His two novels Jude the Obscure
(1895) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles
(1891) under our consideration are masterpieces where he has discussed the
major problems and issues of his time. In the novels of Hardy, there is always
a conflict between old and new, modern and conventional, poor and rich, science
and orthodoxy, weak and powerful. He also aims to bring an end to these
problems by some well-established social system which may be democratic in
form.

           

Keywords: convention, society, morality,
evolution.

 

The age in
which Thomas Hardy wrote his novels is characterized chiefly by the spirit of
intellectual awakening and scientific and industrial development. To quote Rutland,
“The period of Hardy’s mental development came at a time of intellectual
upheaval.”(45) Though Hardy was born in the beginning of the Victorian era, by
the time he matured and created, Victorianism had broken down and was already
being questioned and was yielding place to modernism. This spirit of
questioning, this intellectual unrest, is everywhere reflected in the works of
Hardy. Almost all the writers of the age show in their creative activity a keen
awareness of their social environment and Hardy is no exception. His views were
fashioned not only by the movements, revolutions and changes that took place in
the nineteenth century but also by his reading of contemporary and ancient
literature of his own country as well as of the other countries. The early
Victorian era is characterized by an attitude of self-sufficiency and
self-complacency because of the great prosperity of the English people during
the 19th century. The nation was prospering and growing richer day
by day. The emphasis was on faith. The Victorians had certain patterns of
morality and decency, which they never dared to challenge. They even followed
some old traditions of thought and faith blindly without ever caring to
question them. But this sort of attitude prevailed only during the early part
of the 19th century whereas during the later part of it the
industrial revolution brought about the Reform Bills and the Education acts
which granted to common people greater freedom and liberties. On the other hand
the scientific developments opened the eyes of the English people to a more
rational view of the universe and human life conduct. The old Victorian belief
and ideals were fast disappearing and the new ones did not carry much
conviction. Science was progressing and had been introduced in many walks of
life, particularly in agriculture. The old faith in religion was gradually
diminishing. Agriculture labour was migrating from the villages to the place
which tempted it to new jobs. But very often the town life brought more and
more unhappiness to the simple village folk. Darwin’s book The Origin of Species was published in 1859, when Hardy was a young
man. Baker says,

 

                        “All the time that Hardy was
writing, literature in

                        general was deeply affected by the
questions and the

                        poignant anxieties raised by the
recent revelations of

                        sscience. Darwin and his followers
were publishing

                        book after book, carrying the new
views into very

domain of thought.”(16)

 

Darwin’s
theory of evolution and his doctrine of the survival of the fittest completely
revolutionized man’s conception of the universe, and also challenged the
Biblical theory of the origin of man and of the origin of the universe. There
were other philosophers of the time such as Huxley, Wallace, Spencer, Hill and
a few others who also interpreted the universe and man’s relation with the universe
in quite different manner from those which have been either laid down from
generation to generation in the form of traditional faiths and beliefs. The
Impact of Darwin and of others was so great on Hardy that his orthodox faiths
in everything were rudely shaken. Like most of the leading thinkers of his time
Hardy turned out to be an agnostic not only in religion but also in the moral
and social spheres. According to Douglas Brown,

 

“In
Darwin’s writings he studied the evolutionary

process
and found evidence of cruelty and pain

apparent
in the struggle for existence, one of his

deepest
pre-occupations.”(21)

 

Darwinism
created a feeling of helplessness in man and that man is the creature and not
the creator of circumstances. Science, philosophy and industrialism developed
materialistic and an anti-spiritualistic outlook with the result that Hardy
began to believe, not in the Christian God as the protector and guide of mankind
but in some blind, ruthless, mysterious force ruling the universe and making a
toy 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 social
conventions. It was not surprising therefore that his work aroused the anger of
many conventional thinkers. Though absolutely religious in the real sense,
Hardy was never in sympathy with a false conventional morality. He could not
reconcile the fact of suffering with the concept of a kind, benevolent,
omnipotent God. The suffering and misery that he saw everywhere in nature made
him feel that there was something wrong in the scheme of the world.

 

                        “His loss of faith, his agnosticism
and later

                        pessimism about human freedom and
human destiny,

                        harmonize naturally with the
movements of thought,

                        belief predominant in his time….” (Douglas,
20)

 

            Scientific
materialism showed the insignificance of the human individual in the scheme of
the universe.