Literary Criticism

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The Expression of Things

Themes in Thomas Hardy’s Fiction and Poetry

John Hughes is professor of nineteenth-century literature at the University of Gloucestershire. He has published widely on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, literary theory, and twentieth-century philosophy. He has written four books, Lines of Flight (Continuum, 1996), Ecstatic Sound (Ashgate, 2001), Affective Worlds (Sussex Academic Press, 2011) and Invisible Now (Routledge, 2013).

John Hughes explores Hardy’s claim that his art sought to ‘intensify the expression of things’ through three main sections – on music, the body, and voice. These offer intersecting and mutually informing discussions of the central drama of inexpression and expressivity in Hardy’s work, as it affects the various personae of the text, including the reader. Throughout, the book draws on themes in the work of Gilles Deleuze and Stanley Cavell to reveal how Hardy’s fiction and poetry express and represent the affective and physical conditions of mind, and their conflicts with social fictions of identity.

The first main section on ‘music’ incorporates three chapters that examine how Hardy’s writing stages musical experience as an expression of human desire and individuality at odds with the constraints of rationality, Victorian fiction form, and social convention. Intricate and extensive readings are linked also to larger contextual and theoretical issues in order to show how music as a theme and motif highlights the kinds of creativity and ethical cruxes that characterise Hardy’s work throughout his career. The second section – on ‘embodiment and sensation’ – shows how close attention to Hardy’s writing on the topics of facial and bodily expression (and affectivity) reveal much about the sources of his inspiration, and its philosophical conditions and implications. The third section on ‘voice’ offers three chapters, each of which centrally employs a close metrical reading of an important Hardy poem within its larger biographical and inter-textual contexts. These readings demonstrate how fundamental were Hardy’s innovations in meter to the power and originality of his work, and to its expressive treatment of his abiding preoccupations with love, grief, childhood, and the loss of faith.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-812-1
Hardback Price: £50.00 / $69.95
Release Date: November 2017
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-78976-075-0
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: November 2020
Page Extent / Format: 256 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No



I:  ‘Expression’
II: ‘No Harmonious Philosophy’

1     ‘Souls Unreconciled to Life’: Hardy and Music
2     ‘Tune and Thought’: The Uses of Music in Hardy’s Poetry
3     ‘Music and Context’: Hardy’s Poetry and Fiction

4    ‘A Strange Respect for the Individual’: Gilles Deleuze and Hardy the Novelist
5    ‘What I see in their Faces’:  Facial Inspiration in Hardy’s Fiction

6      ‘Metre and Context’: Hardy’s “Neutral Tones”
7    ‘Metre and Mourning’: “The Going” and Poems of 1912-13
8    ‘Hardy’s Two Voices’: “The Oxen”, Metre and Belief


Hughes uses three broad inter-related themes—music, emotion, and voice—to investigate the expressive dynamics of work by English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). He describes how his writing turns on its exploration of intermissive and individuating events that conflict with the prescriptions of social and rational identity, and reveal the affective and physical bases of mind. His topics include no harmonious philosophy, tune and thought: the uses of music in Hardy's poetry, a strange respect for the individual: Gilles Deleuze and Hardy the novelist, and metre and mourning: "The Going" and Poems of 1912-13. Annotation ©2018 Ringgold Inc. Portland, OR ( to Follow

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