Composite Ghosts: A ‘Doubleeyed’ Reading of Thomas Hardy’s The Well-Beloved

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Thomas Hardy’s preface to the 1912 reissue of The Well-Beloved ends with a line from Robert Browning’s poem ‘The Last Ride Together’ – ‘The petty done, the undone vast!’ – offering a model of the chiastic reciprocity operating within the peculiar structure of the novel. This extraordinary and extraordinarily ‘undone’ work reproduces chronology as parallelism, attending to time as vertical strata, banded by repetition. The verticality of time is proposed by the novel’s insistence upon repeatedly returning its protagonist to the sedimental landscape of the Isle of Slingers – a fictionalised Portland peninsula in Dorset – establishing a complex series of overlaps between human and geological scales within the narrative and without, finding continuities across Hardy’s wider body of work. For the reader, The Well-Beloved requires a divided attention, alert to the differences and repetitions between the stacked temporalities of the narrative as well as the contradictions and duplications present in the novel’s publication history. As Sheila Berger diagnoses Hardy’s imagination with ‘double vision’, it is worth attempting to read The Well-Beloved against the deep blur of the double in Hardy’s writing, the space of overlap presenting itself as, or gesturing towards, stratified depth. The Well-Beloved rewards this mode of deep reading, which prioritises the parallel over the sequential in constituting a valuable document of seeing – and thinking – in depth at the start of the twentieth century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalCambridge Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2017


  • Thomas Hardy
  • geology
  • stereoscopy
  • poetry
  • "As a burnt circle": Thomas Hardy's Visible Voices

    Corfield Carr, H., 2018, Excavating Modernity: Physical, Temporal and Psychological Strata in Literature, 1900–1930. Dobson, E. & Banks, G. (eds.). 1 ed. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, p. 26-41 16 p. (Studies for the International Society for Cultural History).

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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