Ghostly Sounds and Questions of Belief in Thomas Hardy and Walter de la Mare
University of Cambridge
Faculty of English
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Kajita, Y. (2019). Ghostly Sounds and Questions of Belief in Thomas Hardy and Walter de la Mare (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.41533
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) and Walter de la Mare (1873-1956) share numerous reciprocal echoes in their works, especially at the height of their literary activities in the early twentieth century. Despite their singular admiration for each other and strikingly similar working methods, their mutual influence has never been explored. This thesis traces and reevaluates their literary relationship through analysing many unpublished sources, such as letters, notebooks, drafts, fragments, and annotations, alongside printed works. Uncovering new manuscripts from Oxford, London, Dorchester, Eton, Yale, and other archives, the thesis reveals how they responded imaginatively to each other’s craft and shaped each other’s thinking about poetry and prose. Bringing their works together shows how their preoccupations with ghostly sounds reflect their complex attitudes towards religious belief: their provisional, agnostic views of the world, as well as their sense of being out of place. Instead of closing off the empty space left by an absent God, they explored the possibilities of tentative, momentary belief through literary language, drawing on the inherent uncertainty in auditory perception, and attending to what minute, imaginary, or inexplicable sounds can invoke. Such listening was also a literary haunting — the means of shaping a poetics of absence, full of an immanent but never satisfying sense of presence. This focus on ghostly sounds places their works in the dynamic landscape of discourses on belief, and developments in science and technology during their lifetimes. Chapter 1 outlines the writers’ biographical and literary connections, while contextualising these in the period’s legal, social, and institutional changes. Chapter 2 establishes a link between the writers’ haunted listening and their uneasy sense of God’s abandonment by focussing on the vacant church: an obsolete relic that still resonates with elusive voices and presences in such texts as Hardy’s “Copying Architecture in an Old Minster” and de la Mare’s “All Hallows.” Chapter 3 shows how reading names on gravestones recalls ghostly voices, especially those of past writers, such as William Wordsworth and Thomas Browne. Chapter 4 enquires into the writers’ obsession with the figure of the suicide. This figure, carrying the metaphorical burden of the stranger and the outcast, haunts their works at the level of literary echo and “return”: for instance, in Hardy’s The Return of the Native (1878) and de la Mare’s The Return (1910). Chapter 5 examines those texts in which a call is answered only by a ghostly sound that resists semantic interpretation. It explores the intimate correspondence between several crucial poems, published between 1911 and 1921 — Hardy’s “The Voice” and “The Shadow on the Stone”; de la Mare’s “The Listeners” and “Who’s That?” — as well as the poets’ persistent attention to the sound of words both in their manuscripts and published works. Overall, the thesis demonstrates how their distinct characteristics evolved through reading each other. The project attempts to recover a relationship that has been lost to literary history, and thus aims to reshape our view of early twentieth-century literature more generally.
Thomas Hardy, Walter de la Mare, Nineteenth-century literature, Twentieth-century literature, poetry, poetics, sound, listening, agnosticism and unbelief, reading, inscription, codes, wireless, manuscripts, notebooks, revision, The Return of the Native, The Return, William Wordsworth, Thomas Browne
Japan Student Services Organization Graduate Scholarship
Embargo Lift Date
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.41533
All rights reserved, Quotations from Walter de la Mare’s published and unpublished works are included by permission of Giles de la Mare of the Literary Trustees of Walter de la Mare, the Society of Authors as their representative, and the Bodleian Library.