"Time's Renewal": Death and Immortality in Thomas Hardy's 'Emma Poems'

Ferguson, Trish "Time's Renewal": Death and Immortality in Thomas Hardy's 'Emma Poems'. In: Literature and Modern Time: Technological Modernity, Glimpses of Eternity, Experiments with Time. Palgrave Macmillan, London. ISBN 9783030292775

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This essay examines how Hardy’s poetry considers the possibility of immortality, a concept that
preoccupied him throughout his life, and which he examined within the context of rapidly shifting
philosophical and scientific theories about time. The publication of Wessex Poems in 1898
coincided with the publication of William James’s Human Immortality, at a time when
philosophers and spiritualists were grappling with the implications of Darwin’s theory as it
pertained to long-held ideas about the soul and posthumous eternity. The subject intrigued Hardy,
who acquired a copy of James’s Human Immortality and also Henry Drummond’s Natural Law in
the Spiritual World (1894). While much critical attention has been focused on Hardy’s ‘Poems of
1912-1913’, scholarly studies of this series are often driven by a biographical interest and
primarily examine how this sequence of elegies captures the psychological trauma of sudden
bereavement. In my essay I demonstrate that while Hardy’s elegies are highly personal responses
to the death of his first wife Emma, they are also reflections on the relationship between time and
death. I offer a reading of the ‘Poems of 1912-1913’, in light of Hardy’s interest in spiritualism,
and how this reading of Bergson, and his later reading in Einstein, impacted on his later poetry on
the subject of mortality and death, including poems published posthumously in Winter Words
(1928). Through close reading of poems on mortality from the death of Emma in 1912 to poems
from the posthumously published Winter Words (1928), I examine how linear ideas about time in
Hardy’s elegies contend with his belief (held from 1875) in the unreality of time, as he examines
the possibility of life after death, or life outside of time.

Item Type: Book Section
Faculty / Department: Faculty of Arts & Humanities > English
Depositing User: Trish Ferguson
Date Deposited: 18 Jul 2016 13:49
Last Modified: 28 May 2020 13:26
URI: https://hira.hope.ac.uk/id/eprint/1582

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