Sunday, January 14, 2007

God's Undertaker

Adam Kirsch reviews Claire Tomalin’s Thomas Hardy in the New Yorker:
"In 1895, when he published his great novel “Jude the Obscure,” with its punishing assault on conventional views of marriage, sex, and class, the newspapers reacted almost as furiously as they had to the trial of Oscar Wilde a few months earlier. “HARDY THE DEGENERATE,” ran the headline in the World; the Pall Mall Gazette went with the inevitable “JUDE THE OBSCENE.” Yet when he died, thirty-three years later—after embarking on a second career as a poet, and creating a body of work at least as important as his fiction—all was more than forgiven. Contrary to his own wishes, he was given a state funeral at Westminster Abbey, where his ten pallbearers included the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the heads of Cambridge and Oxford colleges, as well as Rudyard Kipling and A. E. Housman. But even then Hardy managed to elude the clutches of the great and the good: his body had already been cremated, and the coffin carried with such pomp contained nothing but a handful of ashes."