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 ...view middle of the document...
Elizabeth-Jane, who resigns herself to
never winning Farfrae's love,"she viewed with an approach to
equanimity the now cancelled days when Donald had been her undeclared
lover", clearly subscribes to Hardy's state of 'unhope' with her
belief that "heaven" will send another "unwished-for thing". Hardy
seems to have found it easy to relate to Elizabeth-Jane's dogged
acceptance of life and its ironies.
Another instance of the importance of irony in Casterbridge lies in
Henchard regaining his honourable behaviour only after his downfall.
This seems to be in the style of a Shakespearean tragedy where the
tragic hero recovers his dignity too late to save himself. As with
traditional tragic plays, Hardy titles his book after the tragic hero.
Henchard's humbleness even stretches to wishing Elizabeth-Jane were
"not told of my [Henchard's] death or made to grieve on account of me
[Henchard]". This is truly ironic given that Hardy only realised he
loved his wife after her death. This is a topic well covered in the
1912-13 love poems. Your Last Drive4, for example, describes his dead
wife as a "dear ghost", whereas during life their relationship had
disintegrated beyond repair. Hardy's failure to recognise the
"flickering sheen" of his wife's faltering hold on life, until it was
too late, reflects Henchard's failure to repent until he was beyond
Hardy shows the inevitability and irony of fate throughout Your Last
Drive. The very title is ominous, with its sense of finality, yet
ironically it describes something normal - a simple journey. The ABAB
ballad form that opens the stanzas reinforce this idea of normality
while the rhyming couplet that concludes each verse adds to the
irrevocability of the poem's outcome. The shock of the death appears
initially in the third line of the poem; although the opening gives an
ominous atmosphere, the reference to 'the face of the dead' brings the
poem into perspective. The 'flickering sheen' in the third stanza
conveys Hardy's belief in the fragility of life and the ease with
which life can end. Yet although he recognizes how delicate life is,
he despairs over the fact that he only realised its delicacy through
the death of someone he loved - another example of irony in the poem.
The greatest irony in the poem is that Hardy finds himself closer to
his wife now she is dead than he did during her life when the marriage
had grown stale and cold.
The Mayor of Casterbridge can be compared to the Grecian tragedies
where a great character meets his downfall due to his overwhelming
pride. The Grecian element is reinforced by the use of Casterbridge's
inhabitants as a chorus, commenting on Henchard's actions. Henchard's
hubris is expressed in his stubbornness and it is this that leads to
his fall from grace. Henchard is not the only character of Hardy's to
succumb to hubris; the poem A Tramp-Woman's Tragedy5also contains
similar ideas. The poem is a ballad in which the...