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Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man, by Claire Tomalin; pp. xxv + 486. Harmondsworth and New York: Viking Penguin, 2006, 25.00 [pounds sterling], $35.00.
Thomas Hardy Reappraised: Essays in Honour of Michael Millgate, edited by Keith Wilson; pp. xxiii + 304. Toronto, Buffalo, and London: University of Toronto Press, 2006, 40.00 [pounds sterling], $65.00.
In her new biography of Thomas Hardy, Claire Tomalin suggests that "reading Jude is like being hit in the face over and over again" (254). These remarks, while evoking the novel's harrowing bleakness, also capture the fraught and stinging experience of reading one of Tomalin's more prolix precursors. Martin Seymour-Smith's wildly eccentric Hardy (1994), for example, dedicated much of its immense length to contesting, with blunt fury, Michael Millgate's definitive authority. The index to Seymour-Smith's truculent tome lists about eighty references to Millgate, while Hardy's first wife Emma garners only sixty-eight and second wife Florence a meagre thirty-one. As if conscious of Seymour-Smith's raucously indecorous chronicle, Tomalin adroitly distils her own account into less than 400 pages. She eschews startling disclosures and bruising attacks on rival researchers such as Ralph Pite, whose Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life (2006) furnishes a more literary alternative to Tomalin. Yet her ability to cut such a sober and congenial narrative path through an intimidating array of sources indicates that …