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This review is taken from PN Review 4, Volume 4 Number 4, July - September 1978.

READINGS AND MISREADINGS The Art of the Real: Poetry in England and America since 1939 by Eric Homberger, Dent, £5.95.

Hardy was one of many English writers plagued by misreadings -indeed, still a victim. The critics who took him to task in his own lifetime were not merely those emotionally repelled by his bleak human landscapes. They included the visionaries of the day, disabused by Darwin of a belief in the Fall, optimistic about human perfectibility and the potential of technology. Hardy claimed to be an 'evolutionary meliorist'-yet whatever his social optimism (not much expressed in his poetry and fiction), his psychological pessimism (as it then seemed) or realism (as it seems to many modern readers) did not square with the benign view of many of the Smilesian literary adjudicators of the time. Even if what he said was true, better not say it. It is distasteful, advances no cause, may make men unhappy.

These reflections on Hardy are prompted by Eric Homberger's provocative critical book, The Art of the Real. Had Dr Hornberger been writing at the turn of the century, would he have been among those who condemned Hardy on thematic grounds? I rather think so. He sets out to trace the relations between the poet and the real world of his time. But he judges the work in question largely in terms of its thematic pertinence to social change and social crisis. The ghost of Louis MacNeice stalks through the work: his poetry is greatly overvalued at the out-set, and he has not only pride of place at the beginning but is evoked in ...

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