Dr. Roger Lowman read English at The Queen’s College, Oxford, and completed a Ph.D. at Southampton University. He taught English in schools in Surrey and Berkshire, and then for twenty-eight years at King Alfred’s College, now University College, Winchester, becoming inaugural Head of the School of Cultural Studies. He sang in the choirs of Guildford and Winchester Cathedrals successively for almost thirty years, and is currently editing a collection of liturgical antiphons for daily use at Winchester.2005 0-7734-6089-6
Critics typically recruit authors in support of their own world views, and over the last fifty years have cast Hardy as a social historian: a sympathetic and concerned portrayer of the rural poor, who positioned himself, so the novels persuade them, on the political left. This study challenges that view. Hardy’s intense, even poetic, response to the familiar places of his native Dorset, combined with his powerful realist rhetoric, has encouraged the belief that his portrayal of rural society must be similarly accurate. But Hardy was not a disinterested observer, however much the authorial voice of the novels may persuade us that that is the case. Born and brought up in a village-tradesman family, he broke away, re-inventing himself first as a professional architect, and then as a successful man of letters. To introduce this argument, the first part of the study offers an edition of Hardy’s article for Longman’s Magazine, ‘The Dorsetshire Labourer’ (1883). This may be treated either as an end in itself, or as a way to open up important questions about Hardy’s representation of the rural world in his novels, which becomes the focus of the second part of the study.