Thomas Hardy: Half A Londoner

41CVScwwKRL._SX326_BO1 204 203 200_James Wood at the LRB:

Hardy can be awkward, but at the same time astonishing beauty is sowed into every scene and stanza of his work. Herons, in Tess, which arrive ‘with a great bold noise as of opening doors and shutters’. Winter winds, in the poem ‘The Prospect’: ‘Iced airs wheeze through the skeletoned hedge from the north.’ Hares, in ‘The Haunter’: ‘Where the shy hares print long paces’. ‘Beech leaves, that yellow the noon-time’ in ‘At Day-Close in November’. The rain, in ‘Childhood among the Ferns’: ‘The rain gained strength, and damped each lopping frond.’ This is the writer who meant so much to D.H. Lawrence, to Auden, to Larkin. But all my examples are pastoral, drawn from Hardy’s uncanny noticing of the natural world. Using notebooks, diaries and unfamiliar poems and novels, Ford demonstrates how Hardy also trained his eye, as Baudelaire desired, by looking at the city, by gazing at ‘landscapes of stone’. Ford brings out a modern impressionist, who brilliantly sketched urban interiors and exteriors; this writer is more concise, more direct, more imagistic than the writer we know from the Wessex fiction. From March 1878, the Hardys lived in an end of terrace house in Tooting, not far from Wandsworth Common railway station, and here they remained for a little more than three years. South London inspired several poems (‘A January Night,’ ‘Snow in the Suburbs’, ‘Beyond the Last Lamp’), and several notebook entries. In one of these Tooting passages, Hardy does nothing more than describe his study, and the glow of the fire:

Firebrick back red hot … underside of mantel reddened: also a shine on the leg of the table, & the ashes under the grate, lit from above like a torrid clime. Faint daylight of a lilac colour almost powerless in the room. Candle behind a screen is reflected in the glass of the window, falling whitely on book …

more here.