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This review is taken from PN Review 30, Volume 9 Number 4, March - April 1983.

KETTLE-BROTH AND BACON Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: a Biography (Oxford) £15.00

The worst one can say of Professor Millgate's life of Thomas Hardy, which runs to 578 large well-printed pages, is that it is shorter than the two volumes of Robert Gittings's recent biography, but seems longer. Gittings's life of Hardy is consistently interesting, not to say entertaining, and written with a brio that the sobersided professor either lacks or eschews. But all this at the cost of a certain fairness. What enlivens the Gittings biography-his rising moral indignation against, and increasingly ill-camouflaged distaste for his subject-tends to distort, if not invalidate, it as a portrait. Gittings dug up any number of new facts about Hardy's life (a tough and weary job, when one remembers Hardy's deviousness and secretiveness, and all those burnings of his notebooks and personal papers: bonfires that must have taken the bread out of the mouths of generations of professors yet unborn). But it is not the facts so much as the interpretation of them that is open to question.

That Thomas Hardy's forbears were really peasants, that their descent from the blue-blooded le Hardys was a myth or fancy of the poet's, that Hardy hid the fact that his mother and sister had been servants, that when he married an archdeacon's niece there was little coming and going between the parental cottage at Higher Bockhampton and the suburban villa at Max Gate; that he joined the Savile Club and took tea with duchesses; that he was fragile as a youth, for a long ...


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