Sunday, October 29, 2006

Howells and Thomas Hardy

From the Sunday Herald (Scotland):

FEW great books have received such an initial withering reception as Jude The Obscure. To Thomas Hardy, then aged 55, it was like being booed off stage. “A titanically bad book,” wrote one critic; “a shameful nightmare,” offered another. Yet that was only part of the story. Even as they grimaced and howled, the critics seemed to appreciate that beneath what they saw as coarseness, vulgarity and indecency, were glimpses of Hardy’s genius. And once the furore following publication died down, more sophisticated voices began to surface.

According to William Dean Howells, the American man-of-letters, Hardy had produced “the greatest novel written in England for many years”. Heartened as Hardy no doubt was by the verdict of so eminent a judge, he was more exercised by the news that the Bishop of Wakefield had burnt his copy of the novel. It is a melancholy fact of literary life that bad reviews – even from an ecclesiastical source – have more impact than good ones.

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