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How important is the use of irony in Thomas Hardy's poetry and in his novel 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'?

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Introduction

How important is the use of irony in Thomas Hardy's poetry and in his novel 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'? Hardy's use of irony is clear throughout his work; The Mayor of Casterbridge1 (referred to from this point on as Casterbridge) clearly features many ironic twists in the plot, both obvious ones such as Henchard discovering Elizabeth-Jane's true parentage at such an inappropriate time, and more subtle uses of irony as when Mrs. Goodenough only betrays Henchard's past because Susan and Elizabeth-Jane remind her of it. Irony is also a clear feature in Hardy's poetry, especially prominent in the poem Hap2, where Hardy speaks of a 'vengeful god', laughing at him. Hap and Casterbridge were written twenty years apart demonstrating how irony was a constant feature of Hardy's work and not used in a brief experimental phase. Key to the debate on ironies importance in Hardy's work is to ask whether it is a motivational force behind his writing or is it used more as a tool for expressing Hardy's views on fate and mankind? It must be noted though that the use of irony in Hardy's work is often most prominent when representing his views on the cruelty of fate, and also for highlighting flaws in his characters' personalities. ...read more.

Middle

Even though Henchard accepts that the revelation about Elizabeth-Jane "was what he had deserved" it does not stop him treating her badly afterwards and possibly if Henchard had not discovered the letter then events would not have taken such a tragic turn. Had Henchard treated Elizabeth-Jane better she would not have left to live with Lucetta, thus Lucetta and Farfrae may never have met and events in Casterbridge would have continued more peacefully - such is the irony of life that Hardy deals with. The previously mentioned poem Hap deals with this concept of a "vengeful god" twisting fate in order to create disillusionment in life. The idea of life being a "pilgrimage" echoes the novel Pilgrims Progress7 which charts a struggle through life in order to attain salvation. Hardy though, does not write of a following salvation: his view is ultimately pessimistic. The Eumenides of Grecian plays who sought to punish the guilty may have inspired the "Doomsters" that Hardy speaks of. Although it has been written that the "tampering with the probabilities"8 in Casterbridge detracts from the novel, it seems that Hardy wrote as he perceived reality to be and himself claimed that "it is not improbabilities of incident that matter"9. ...read more.

Conclusion

but, although, Hardy's claim that the "improbabilities of incident"14 did not matter, shows his belief that the irony of the incidents did not detract from his novels' realism. Hardy undoubtedly felt that irony was fundamentally important to his work; the importance of irony is obvious through its constant use in both his poetry and in not only Casterbridge but in all his novels. Irony is not used for its own sake; it is combined with a sense of the supremacy of fate to give life's irony meaning. Hardy seems to believe that there is no freedom from fate but in fact freedom within fate and irony occurs through this. Freedom, Hardy seems to be saying, is not opposed to nature nor independent of it. Freedom is within nature.15 Fate is natural and irony is a part of fate; without irony then the fate in Hardy's novels and poetry would be left empty of meaning and also of interest. Irony and fate are tangled together in a complex web where they mutually rely on each other and would disintegrate without the other for support. Irony's importance is no greater and no less than the importance of fate in Hardy's novels and it is irony and fate together that make Hardy's work compelling to read and study. ...read more.

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