Further information on Spring 2020 courses


Dan Van Tassel:Thomas Hardy–Novelist and Poet


Expanded description:

Hardy, who was largely self-educated and knew classical and biblical literature intimately, read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species at age nineteen as it rolled off the press in 1859. Though, like many of his contemporaries, he gave up his childhood faith, he continued to regard the church as a moral force, desiring and hoping that someday the spirit would prevail over the letter-of-the-law and quarrelsome theology of his day. He likewise persisted in revering the church as a source and expression of enchanting music and architecture. As we shall come to see, Hardy’s affiliation with the Church of England had a profound effect upon his life, art, and thought. Hardy’s life (1840-1928) and work—fiction (fifteen novels and a batch of short stories) and verse (nearly a thousand poems)—span the Victorian period and extend into the modern age.


Course text

You’ll receive your course packet (to be purchased in advance for $4) at the first meeting of the class. In way of priming the pump, it includes study and discussion guides for each of the assigned novels and poems. The syllabus below pinpoints chapters of the novels and titles of selected poems assigned for discussions on given dates. Oxford Press paperback editions of the novels, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure (priced at $8.95 each minus a 10% discount) and the Dover Thrift edition of the poetry, Selected Poems: Thomas Hardy (at $2.50), have been ordered and are available for purchase at Content, the bookstore downtown Northfield, at 314 Division St. S.


Schedule of classes (subject to modification)

Mar. 23 To start, we’ll get acquainted with each other and then go over the purposes and outline of the course as delineated in the course packet. Knowing that not everybody will have begun to read Tess or Jude or the poetry, I’ll set the stage for the course by providing some background on the life and works of Hardy and by together reading and going over three of his poems: “The Man He Killed,” “Hap,” and “Drummer Hodge.”

Mar. 30 Armed with a copy of Tess and our accompanying study guide, we’ll discuss Phases First through Second (chaps. 1-15).

Apr. 6 Today we’ll focus on Phases Third through Fourth (chaps. 16-34) in Tess. The relevant study questions in our course packet will help inform our discussion.

Apr. 13 We’ll wrap up our discussion today, centering on Phases Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh (chaps. 35-59) in Tess. Again, the study guide should serve to point up matters for inquiry and discussion.

Apr. 20 For today’s class we’ll focus on the following poems: “The Darkling Thrush,” “Channel Firing,” “I Look into My Glass,” “Afternoon Service at Mellstock,” “In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations,’” and “On the Belgian Expatriation.”  In advance or while reading each of the poems, go over the questions and observations noted in the study guide to Hardy’s poetry and jot down any additional questions or observations you wish to share in class.

Apr. 27 In preparation for today’s discussion, read Parts First and Second in Jude. In conjunction with the assigned reading for today, address pertinent items in the study guide.

May 4 Today we take up Parts Third and Fourth in Jude. Again, you’ll find the discussion questions helpful for gearing up for class.

May 11 We’ll wrap up the course by reading and discussing Parts Fifth and Sixth in Jude, study guide in hand.