What are the relations between the mechanical and the natural in Hardy? My question perhaps seems unpromising, possibly even redundant. For if an earlier generation of Hardy scholars recognized in the machine/nature dyad the emblematic expression of one of his great 'themes'-the depredations of industrialism in a traditional rural culture attuned to the natural rhythms of the land-critics have, by and large, long ceased to discern any such stark dichotomy in his work, tending to dismiss readings which appeal to it as a reductive misapprehension of Hardy's understanding of the shift into modernity. Raymond Williams's revisionist reading of Hardy, formulated in the 1970s, has been particularly instrumental in effecting this alteration in critical perspective. For Williams's Hardy, the modernization of Wessex does not mean the'crude and sentimental ... rape of the country by the town' (208). Modernization was, rather, brought about by a complex combination of 'internal' as well as 'external' factors: by the vicissitudes of economic and social life in the country as well as the pressures of industrial capitalism. Williams argues that the sophistication of Hardy's social analysis (his careful attention to labour, education, and class mobility in particular) is obscured in any naIvely technologically determinist emphasis on the machine's part in historical change, or in any 'discussion of Hardy's attachment to country life, which would run together the "timeless" heaths or woods and the men working on them' (203). If Hardy exhibited occasional tendencies towards the latter representation, Williams argues, ultimately he 'is never very comfortable with it', always returning in his novels to the interrelations of the land and its inhabitants to 'mak[e] more precise identifications'.
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2005 LITERARY STUDIES