“Wanted: Good Hardy Critic”, announced Philip Larkin in a review in 1966, unimpressed by some recent attempts to fill that vacancy. There has certainly been no shortfall in applicants for the job since then, as this weighty and miscellaneous new guide to the Hardy industry amply testifies. Much criticism takes a companionable form these days and Hardy has had his share: Rosemarie Morgan’s book follows a Cambridge Companion (1999), an Oxford Reader’s Companion (2000), and a more recent Companion from Blackwell (2009). Putting “Research” into the title is a sign that this is a book geared to the perceived needs of faculty and graduate students, and its analysis of the current state of play (“Perhaps the most interesting development in recent Hardy and Film criticism has been its fusion with gender studies”, and so on) would certainly be useful to someone working out a topic for a thesis. Undergraduates and other more normal readers – of whom Hardy, thankfully, still has many – might do better with one of the other companion volumes, which find something to say about all the different elements of the oeuvre in a slightly more programmatic way. The Ashgate Research Companion does include some illuminating interpretative essays, including Andrew Radford on Hardy’s humanism and Dennis Taylor, always excellent, on Hardy’s reading of Shakespeare; there is an admirable account of Moments of Vision by Gillian Beer, and a deft study of hands in Hardy by J. Hillis Miller; but the book’s main contribution lies in its very full surveys of the secondary literature, of Hardy on film and in illustrations, its census of Hardy manuscripts, and its extensive bibliography: I imagine it will soon be appearing at the top of reading lists for Masters courses.
more from Seamus Perry at the TLS here.