Thomas Hardy: Political Reformer

Thomas Hardy: Political Reformer

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Thomas Hardy was born in Larbert in Scotland on 3rd March 1752. Hardy's father had been a sailor who died at sea on 3rd March 1752. After a brief education at the local school, Thomas Hardy went to work for his grandfather who taught him the trade of shoemaking.

At the age of twenty-two, Hardy moved to London where he found work as a shoemaker. In 1781 he married the daughter of a carpenter. The couple had six children but they all died young. After working for several different employers, in 1791 Hardy decided to open his own shop in the Piccadilly Road. Soon after starting his business, Hardy heard about Thomas Paine and eventually read his book The Rights of Man.

Trade was difficult and Hardy gradually came to the conclusion that his economic problems were being caused by a corrupt Parliament. Hardy was especially angry about the costs of the war with France. Thomas Hardy later wrote that he now knew that the men in the House of Commons were "falsely calling themselves the representatives of the people, but who were, in fact, selected by a comparatively few individuals, who preferred their own particular aggrandisement to the general interest of the community."

Thomas Hardy and three friends began meeting to discuss whether or not working men should have the vote. After much discussion they decided that they should have that right and on the 25th January 1792 they held a public meeting on parliamentary reform. Only eight people attended but the men decided to form a parliamentary reform group called the London Corresponding Society.

As well as campaigning for the vote, the strategy was to create links with other reforming groups in Britain. Hardy was appointed as treasurer and secretary of the organisation. The society passed a series of resolutions and after being printed on handbills, they were distributed to the public. These resolutions also included statements attacking the government's foreign policy. A petition was started and by May 1793, 6,000 members of the public had signed saying their supported the resolutions of the London Corresponding Society.

In July, 1793, Hardy made a speech where he argued: "We conceive it necessary to direct the public eye, to the cause of our misfortunes, and to awaken the sleeping reason for our countrymen, to the pursuit of the only remedy which can ever prove effectual, namely; a thorough reform of Parliament, by the adoption of an equal representation obtained by annual elections and universal suffrage. To obtain a complete representation is our only aim - condemning all party distinctions, we seek no advantage with every individual of the community will not enjoy equally with ourselves."

At the end of 1793 Thomas Muir began plans to hold a a convention in Edinburgh for supporters of parliamentary reform. The London Corresponding Society sent two delegates but the men and other leaders of the convention were arrested, tried for sedition, and sentenced to fourteen years transportation. The reformers were determined not to be beaten and Thomas Hardy, John Horne Tooke and John Thelwall began to organise another convention.

When the authorities heard what was happening, Hardy and the other two men were arrested and committed to the Tower of London and charged with high treason. The government recruited cartoonists such as James Gillray to mount a propaganda campaign against the leaders of the London Corresponding Society. The main objective of this campaign was to link the reformers with with the actions of the revolutionaries in France.

As a result, of this campaign, a mob attacked Thomas Hardy's house. Mrs. Hardy, pregnant with her sixth child, was forced to escape out of a back window. Hardy later explained: "A mob of ruffians assembled before my house and assailed the windows with stones and brick-bats. They then attempted to break down the shop door, and swore, with the most horrid oaths, that they would either burn or pull down the house. Weak and enfeebled from her situation, Mrs Hardy shouted to her neighbours, who advised her to escape through a small back window. This she attempted, but being very large around the waist, she stuck fast, and it was only by main force that she could be dragged through, much injured by the bruises she had received." Soon after this incident, Mrs. Hardy died in childbirth and the child was still-born.

Thomas Hardy's trial began at the Old Bailey on 28th October, 1794. The prosecution, led by Lord Eldon, argued that the leaders of the London Corresponding Society were guilty of treason as they organised meetings where people were encouraged to disobey King and Parliament. Attempts were made to link the activities of However, the prosecution was unable to provide any evidence that Hardy and his co-defendents had attempted to do this and the jury returned a verdict of "Not Guilty".

The poor case against Hardy, and the death of his wife had created a great deal of public sympathy for the shoemaker and a large crowd was waiting outside the Old Bailey. The jubilant crowd took the horses from his carriage and drew him through the streets to his home where they observed a short period of silence in memory of his wife and dead child.

After his trial Hardy ceased to be active in politics. He ran a small shoeshop in Covent Garden until his retirement in 1815.

Thomas Hardy died in Pimlico on 11th October 1832.

We conceive it necessary to direct the public eye, to the cause of our misfortunes, and to awaken the sleeping reason for our countrymen, to the pursuit of the only remedy which can ever prove effectual, namely; a thorough reform of Parliament, by the adoption of an equal representation obtained by annual elections and universal suffrage. To obtain a complete representation is our only aim - condemning all party distinctions, we seek no advantage with every individual of the community will not enjoy equally with ourselves.

(I) That nothing but a fair, adequate and annually renovated representation in Parliament, can ensure the freedom of this country.

(II) That we are fully convinced, a thorough Parliamentary Reform, would remove every grievance under which we labour.

(III) That we will never give up the pursuit of such Parliamentary Reform.

(IV) That if it be a part of the power of the king to declare war when and against whom he pleases, we are convinced that such power must have been granted to him under the condition, that he should ever be subservient to the national advantage.

(V) That the present war against France, and the existing alliance with the Germantic Powers, so far as it relates to the prosecution of that war, has hitherto produced, and is likely to produce nothing but national calamity, if not utter ruin.

(VI) That it appears to us that the wars in which Great Britain has engaged, within the last hundred years, have cost her upwards of three hundred and seventy million! not to mention the private misery occasioned thereby, or the lives sacrificed.

(VII) That we are persuaded the majority, if not the whole of those wars, originated in Cabinet intrigue, rather than absolute necessity.

(VIII) That every nation has an unalienable right to choose the mode in which it will be governed, and that it is an act of tyranny and oppression in any other nation to interfere with, or attempt to control their choice.

(IX) That peace being the greatest blessing, ought to be sought most diligently by every wise government.

(X) That we do exhort every well wisher to this country, not to delay in improving himself in constitutional knowledge.

A majority of the people are not represented in Parliament; that the majority of the House of Commons are chosen by a number of voters, not exceeding twelve thousand; and that many large and populous towns have not a single vote for a representative, such as Birmingham, 40,000 inhabitants, Manchester 30,000, Leeds 20,000, besides Sheffield, Bradford, etc.

A mob of ruffians assembled before my house and assailed the windows with stones and brick-bats. This she attempted, but being very large around the waist, she stuck fast, and it was only by main force that she could be dragged through, much injured by the bruises she had received.

Clothing the Landscape: Change and the Rural Vision in the Work of Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)

This article considers the ways in which clothing is represented in selected work of Thomas Hardy in the context of wider social and economic change in nineteenth-century English rural society. While taking into account the difficulties of using fictional literature in this way, I suggest that it is precisely Hardy's subjectivity that makes his observations so compelling and that his perception of change lies at the heart of his representation of dress. I endeavour to show how in his writing, the perceived tension between an unchanging, idealised, countryside increasingly subjected to the influence of an urban culture is frequently expressed, either directly or metaphorically, in terms of clothing. The social and economic changes, including agricultural change, of which Hardy was so acutely aware, help to account for the disappearance of traditional features of rural dress, such as the smock-frock and the sun-bonnet. In their place were adopted styles influenced by notions of ‘fashion’ and made available through the process of mass production which Hardy associated primarily with towns. For Hardy, the influence of urban fashions alienated people from that individuality and speciality in dress which formed a link with their environment and ultimately their own past and history.

The politics of Thomas Hardy

Professor Angelique Richardson, an Associate Professor of English and member of the Centre for Victorian Studies and the Centre for Medical History, takes a look at Thomas Hardy’s politics, the release of the film version of the novel Far From the Madding Crowd and a new online resource examining the role clothing played in Hardy’s fiction…

Committed to social justice, Thomas Hardy tired of London political talk, ‘of when the next election would be – of the probable Prime Minister’ (Hardy, Life and Work). He thought politicians were by and large ineffective and unconcerned about real welfare of the people, too prone to rushing through ill-considered and uninformed legislation – ‘The offhand decision of some commonplace mind high in office at a critical moment influences the course of events for a hundred years’ (Life and Work) and he believed novels were capable of bringing about deeper social changes.

His own radical politics and acute class-sensitiveness are to be found in his fiction, from his treatment of the rural poor to his far-reaching interventions in the gender debates of his day.

Hardy’s first novel, ‘The Poor Man and the Lady By the Poor Man’, which he described as ‘socialistic, not to say revolutionary’, was turned down as too radical to publish, and when a version of it appeared as ‘An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress’ it contained an epigram from Thackeray’s Book of Snobs (1848) ‘Come forward, some great marshal, and organise equality in society’, from the passage in which Thackeray denounced ‘hereditary-great-man worship’ as a humbug and affront to the Free Press.

It was crucial to Hardy’s politics to bring the regions to the centre, to give a strong and distinctive identity to the counties of Wessex, the ‘partly real, partly dream-country’ stretching from Land’s End as far north as Oxford, that he first named in 1874 in Far From the Madding Crowd.

Costumes worn by Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, in the wedding scenes in the recent film, Far from the Madding Crowd, on display at the Dorset County Museum, Dorchester, until 8th June 2015. There is the smart dress and hat of the runaway wedding day, the gold striped silk dress and embroidered silk jacket of her homeward journey, and a dress worn at the wedding party.
Jonathan North / Dorset County Museum © 2015

Thomas Vinterberg’s new film version of the novel, out this month to critical acclaim, will transmit to new and enthusiastic audiences the fascinations of Wessex, from the minute and loving detail with which Hardy painted the landscape, to the unusual independence of his woman-farmer, Bathsheba Everdene, who remarks: “It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.”

Through Wessex, Hardy would bring the plight of the agricultural poor to the attention of his London-centric middle- and upper-class readers, opening their eyes to the fascinations of a world outside their knowledge and experience, and challenging what he would call, in a piece he wrote for the popular London Longman’s Magazine in 1883 on ‘The Dorsetshire Labourer’, the view from the ‘Olympian heights of society’.

Wessex also gave Hardy scope to expand on what lay at the heart of his politics – the individual differences that flourished away from what he saw as the homogenising tendencies of London and which for him were leading to such regrettable changes as the rural working class exchanging their colourful clothes for drab London fashions: ‘Like the men, the women are, pictorially, less interesting than they used to be. Instead of the wing bonnet like the tilt of a waggon, cotton gown, bright-hued neckerchief, and strong flat boots and shoes, they (the younger ones at least) wear shabby millinery bonnets and hats with beads and feathers’ (‘The Dorsetshire Labourer’).

Like the philosopher and Liberal MP John Stuart Mill, for whom Hardy had the greatest admiration, considering his 1859 treatise On Liberty, particularly his chapter on ‘Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being’, to be one of ‘his cures for despair’ (Life and Work), Hardy believed that the well-being of the country could be gauged by the number of people who were able to defy convention and think for themselves. Indeed, one of the reasons Hardy gave for returning to the South West was precisely that he thought his writing was becoming, as he put it, ‘mechanical and ordinary’ in the metropolis (Life and Work).

Hardy was a self-declared Liberal. Siding with the marginal and oppressed, and lending public support to Liberal attempts to enfranchise the rural poor in the 1880s, one can speculate that, in today’s climate, he may have voted Green, given his commitment to the importance of place and environment and his life-long championing of animal welfare – ‘What are my books but one plea against “man’s inhumanity to man” – to woman – and to the lower animals?’ (William Archer, Real Conversations).

At Exeter this week we are launching the Thomas Hardy and Clothing prototype online resource, which my PhD student Jonathan Godshaw Memel and I are working on in collaboration with Dorset County Museum, supported by current and recent Exeter students, including PhD graduate and Honorary University Fellow Dr Demelza Hookway (the database has been funded by the Annual fund). Clothing is crucial in Hardy’s fiction for indicating a character’s profession, social and economic status or role, for bringing colour to local scenes, for indicating moods and character, and for expressing but often subverting custom and transgressing gender norms.

Bathsheba flouts Victorian convention, not least dress code, by not riding side-saddle in the opening scenes of Far From the Madding Crowd, when she also allows her hat to fly off, in disregard for propriety: ”It went over the hedge, I think,” she remarks. She is often associated with the colour red, which signals her feistiness – she wears ‘a rather dashing velvet dress’ on another occasion Hardy points out ‘the red feather of her hat’.

The database will show for the first time what such attire looked like and by whom it was worn, providing a further insight into the politics and social complexities of Hardy’s Wessex that continue resonant in the twenty-first century.

When Far from the Madding Crowd was released earlier this month Professor Richardson appeared on the Today programme speaking about Hardy and the West Country. She also has a letter in this week’s Times Literary Supplement on Hardy’s politics.

Professor Richardson is giving a public lecture on Hardy at Dorset County Museum on 28 May 2015 and a research paper on Hardy and the scientific imagination for the University College London Science and Literature Seminar Series on 2 June 2015 .

New evidence unearthed on Scottish political reformer Thomas Muir - video report

New Court of Session Papers, which have been missing for more than two centuries, have been unearthed by the Faculty of Advocates and Professor Gerard Carruthers of the University of Glasgow.

New Court of Session Papers, which have been missing for more than two centuries, have been unearthed by the Faculty of Advocates and Professor Gerard Carruthers of the University of Glasgow.

The papers shed light on Thomas Muir (1765-99) and how he courted controversy in his early years, which may have contributed to his treatment by the justice system years later.

Previous biographers of Muir had assumed the papers were long lost. But, with the help and expertise of Professor Gerard Carruthers, Francis Hutcheson Chair of Scottish Literature, an expert on Thomas Muir, the papers were found in the Advocates&rsquo archives and feature in a new book to be launched this week.

With the help of two knowledgeable lawyers, the missing papers, over 80 pages of which deal with Muir, were located in sets of files that would have been unrecognizable to most Muir enthusiasts.

VIDEO - Watch Professor Caruthers talk about the finds:


Professor Carruthers said: : "I just think people had just been looking in the wrong place. They had perhaps been looking under Thomas Muir rather than looking under the Campbell papers or the Dreghorn papers.

"I think partly the reason why these papers were overlooked was because they didn't deal with the 1790s trial where Muir is sentenced to 14 years in Botany Bay.

"These papers dealt with an earlier period when he is involved in local kirk politics. But the real significance of these papers is they show that he was a well kent face, and the same people who are sitting in judgement on him in Edinburgh in 1793 just a few years earlier were aware of Thomas Muir making trouble as a representative of his local church."


The papers detail a well-known chapter in Muir's early life while representing his local church, when he challenged local and powerful land owners, contesting their right to choose a church minister.

The Court of Session papers show how Thomas Muir upset powerful key members of Scotland's political and legal establishment, including key figures who were later instrumental in having him banished to Botany Bay in his infamous sedition trial of 1793.

Over eighty pages of this new material bring into focus Muir&rsquos activity representing his local kirk congregation at Cadder in today&rsquos East Dunbartonshire, in the period 1790-92.

They show the minutiae of Muir&rsquos opposition to James Dunlop of Garnkirk, a local land owner who wished to control the appointment of a minister for the parish rather than allow the congregation to have a free hand in appointment. Although the preferred candidate of the congregation represented by Muir eventually secured the appointment, what the Court of Session papers show is that Muir lost the case, contradicting the usual biographical account.

A Show Trial at Old Bailey

On May 12, 1794, Hardy and eleven other leading figures in the reform movement were arrested. The police ransacked Hardy’s home while his pregnant wife lay in bed. They took him first to jail and then to the Parliament buildings, where he was interrogated for several days by a committee that included the prime minister and several senior cabinet ministers. Two weeks later, Parliament passed a bill suspending habeas corpus, thus allowing the government to imprison the twelve in the Tower of London without charge for several months.

While he was in prison, a reactionary mob (Hardy believed they were paid and organized by the government) attacked Hardy’s home, breaking the windows and threatening to set the building on fire. His wife escaped through a small back window, but the physical and emotional strain had fatal effects: on August 27 her baby was stillborn and she died a few hours later.

On October 6, a handpicked grand jury charged the twelve men with “High Treasons and Misprisions of Treasons, against the person and authority of the King.” If convicted, each would be “hanged by the neck, cut down while still alive, disemboweled (and his entrails burned before his face) and then beheaded and quartered.” 8

Hardy was the first in the dock, because he “was supposed to be the most helpless of this band.” 9 The government threw unprecedented resources into prosecuting him.

The trial of Thomas Hardy was the longest and most expensive trial for high treason that had ever been heard in Britain. The prosecution case was conducted by no less than eight barristers, led by the Attorney-General Sir John Scott and the Solicitor-General Sir John Mitford.… Four judges sat with [Chief Justice] Eyre on the bench.…

The trial began on Tuesday 28 October 1794, and continued, with a break on Sunday, until Wednesday 5 November no previous trial had lasted more than twenty-four hours, from the reading of the indictment to the delivery of the verdict.…

Scott’s opening speech, 100,000 words long, took nine hours to deliver. 10

But despite all the money and time they devoted, the prosecution’s case was weak. They had masses of documents and the testimony of spies and turncoats, but none of it demonstrated treason. In essence, their argument was that campaigning for political reform was equivalent to plotting to overthrow and murder the king. The prosecutors seem to have hoped that the conservative biases of a jury of property owners would prejudice them against a working-class radical who was challenging the right of property to rule.

The strategy failed. Shortly before the trial, noted political philosopher William Godwin published an essay that effectively demolished the legal basis for equating political reform with treason. It was so widely read and influential that one of the lawyers for the prosecution denied in court that the case depended on any such argument. Hardy’s lawyer, Thomas Erskine, was devastating in his cross-examination of government witnesses and his address to the jury.

On November 5, after nine long days of trial, the jury took only three hours to decide unanimously that Hardy was not guilty.

Hardy tried to leave the building quietly, but a huge crowd of supporters surrounded his carriage, released the horses, and pulled him through the streets cheering. At his request, they took him to the cemetery, where they waited quietly while he visited his wife’s grave for the first time.

Apparently believing that the Hardy verdict was a fluke, the government proceeded with treason charges against Hardy’s colleagues. The trial of John Horne Tooke, a longtime moderate reformer, lasted five days that of John Thelwall, the best-known and most popular LCS speaker, lasted three. Both were acquitted. Humiliated, the government withdrew all charges against the remaining nine radical leaders.

The show trial was part of a deliberate plan to crush the reform movement and to deny working people any role in politics. Hardy was told by a source he trusted that the government had eight hundred other warrants prepared—three hundred of them already signed—that it planned to execute as soon as it won guilty verdicts. That plan was defeated—a major setback for reaction in England.

Hardy’s acquittal was a victory for the radical movement, but it was devastating for him personally. His wife had died while he was in prison his shop and home had been destroyed the defense had cost him every cent he had. Reading between the lines in the memoir he published years later, it seems that the experience left him emotionally drained, if not shattered. For over thirty years, Hardy was a regular participant in the annual dinners celebrating the acquittals of 1794, but he never again played an active role in politics.

There Is Nothing Wrong With Asking Tom Hardy About Sexuality

T om Hardy&rsquos sexual orientation has made headlines in the past. Now, his refusal to talk about talking about sexuality is causing a stir. It shouldn’t.

On Sunday, at a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival for Hardy&rsquos new movie Legend, in which Hardy plays a gay man, reporter Graeme Coleman from the LGBT news outlet Daily Xtra asked Hardy: &ldquoDo you find it hard for celebrities to talk to media about their sexuality?&rdquo After an awkward back-and-forth, Hardy shut down the question with “Thank you.”

Digg posted the video with the headline “Tom Hardy Has The Perfect Answer To Reporter Asking Him About His Sexuality.” But if anything this should make Hardy look bad, not the reporter.

There is nothing embarrassing about being gay. There is nothing dirty or taboo about it. Asking someone if he or she is gay is the equivalent of asking if they are married, if they were raised Christian, of if they have a bachelor&rsquos degree. It is a factual question. Just because being gay affects who a person has sex with, this is not a question about his or her sex life. It&rsquos not asking about which sexual positions a person prefers or how often they masturbate. Those are, of course, personal matters that should never be asked about (unless by a very close friend at a boozy brunch).

The reason why some people don&rsquot want to ask&mdashboth at press conferences and at cocktail parties&mdashis because there is still that little lingering doubt in the back of their minds that there is something wrong with homosexuality. If you ask someone whether he or she is gay, and he or she is not, they should not feel badly about themselves or about you.

Gay people are, in most cases, happy to tell you that they are gay. Straight people hardly ever get asked whether they&rsquore straight or gay and might be taken aback by the question, but they seem to never have a problem setting the record straight. (Asking how much someone makes or how much they spent on a dress, however, is still off limits.)

Regardless, these questions are especially relevant given Hardy&rsquos past statements and his role in this movie. In 2008, while Hardy was promoting another movie in which he played a gay man, British gay lifestyle magazine Attitude quoted him saying “I’ve played with everything and everyone.” Hardy later denied that he ever had sex with men and said he was misquoted. In Legend, Hardy plays both Reggie and Ronnie Kray, twin British gangsters. Ronnie is known to have been gay, and recent reports claim that both brothers were bisexual.

That’s likely why the reporter asked about Hardy’s sexual orientation. It&rsquos the same reason why a reporter might ask the man playing Jesus in a TV movie whether or not he was raised Christian. It doesn&rsquot question his competence as an actor, but it does have relevance to what sort of personal experiences he brings to the role.

I get why Hardy is upset with the inquiry&mdashthe question has been asked and answered. We don&rsquot need to ask Neil Patrick Harris or Wanda Sykes about their sexuality for every role they play. The issue is that the question is whether Hardy finds it hard for celebrities to talk about their sexuality, and Hardy says no when everything about his response seems to say the opposite.

Those who are celebrating Hardy&rsquos response seem to think that keeping people from asking about sexual orientation is helping end homophobia. It&rsquos just the opposite, in fact. It further convinces people that being gay (or even asking if someone is gay) is something shameful that needs to be hidden. It’s not.

A more honest, interesting answer would have gone something like this:

Yes, I do find it hard to discuss sexuality as a celebrity. I made some comments that were misquoted by a magazine and ever since then questions about my sexuality always pop up. I am straight. It just shows how obsessed we are, as a culture, with gay people and gay sex. Who we sleep with doesn&rsquot matter, and I wish that this matter could be closed for good rather than being brought up at every opportunity for mere titillation&rsquos sake.

That would have been the perfect answer, but Hardy unfortunately didn’t give it.

History As End

Last spring, 155 years after the fall of Richmond, the Confederate capital surrendered again. In April 1865, the capitulation was swift and almost outlandishly theatrical: after learning that Robert E. Lee’s army had withdrawn from nearby Petersburg, the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, and his military guard escaped south under cover of darkness, setting half the city on fire as they fled. Early the next morning, the first Union troops arrived. As Richmond’s black residents celebrated in the streets—joined by more than a few poor whites—the black soldiers at the head of the Union column worked to put out the flames. The embers of a regime dedicated to preserving African slavery were extinguished by hundreds of former slaves. The occupying forces then marched to Davis’s executive mansion and commandeered it as their headquarters.

The second fall of Richmond was hardly kinder to the Confederate president. In June of last year, Davis’s eight-foot bronze likeness, which had presided over the city’s Monument Avenue for more than a century, was torn from its pedestal and dumped into the street—his face nullified with black paint, his overcoat spiked with pink and yellow, and his outstretched hand now reaching upward as if making a forlorn appeal to the heavens. In the weeks that followed, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, and Matthew Maury, Davis’s bronze company on Monument Avenue—the so-called Champs-Élysées of the South—were likewise eliminated from view, but they at least enjoyed the honor of an official state removal. Davis, their chief, received no such courtesy: protesters tied ropes around his legs and dragged him to the ground with what news reports described as “a tiny sedan.”

The conquest of Monument Avenue represented a key front in the renewed struggle for racial justice: the demand for a dramatic rethinking of U.S. history and its place in public life. Strikingly, the most powerful energy behind this fight comes not only from scholars but from activists, journalists, and other thinkers who have made history a new kind of political priority. Although American historical amnesia is the laziest of tropes—“We learn nothing,” said Gore Vidal, “because we remember nothing”—liberals today are more committed than ever to a passionate remembrance of things past. In recent years, a distinct pattern has emerged. Acts of horror—the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown the Charleston church massacre the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia the murder of George Floyd the storming of the U.S. Capitol—are met not only with calls for justice but with demands for a more searching examination of history. Reading lists and syllabi are distributed institutional commissions are tasked with extensive historical inquiries professional historians appear regularly in op-ed pages, on television, and in social-media feeds.

Every modern political movement makes some contact with history. Even in the United States, with our notoriously weak memory, progressive reformers have always invoked earlier struggles. Eugene Debs boasted that the Socialists of 1908 “are today where the abolitionists were in 1858” Martin Luther King Jr. never tired of talking about the Declaration of Independence, a beacon of democratic equality whose light exposed how little of it the United States had so far attained. Yet the role of history today, especially within liberal discourse, has changed. Rather than mine the past for usable politics—whether as analogue, inspiration, or warning—thinkers now travel in the opposite direction, from present injustice to historical crime. Current American inequalities, many liberals insist, must be addressed through encounters with the past. Programs of reform or redistribution, no matter how ambitious, can hope to succeed only after the country undergoes a profound “reckoning”—to use the key word of the day—with centuries of racial oppression.

In public debate, this order of operations has produced some unexpected ideological alignments. The Atlantic, a sturdy citadel of centrist thinking on every contemporary subject from populism to Palestine, has been the editorial home of both Ta-Nehisi Coates, this century’s most influential writer on race and U.S. history, and Ibram X. Kendi, the historian who has emerged as this moment’s most prolific critic of American racism. The New York Times, whose editorial board could not muster more than one vote out of thirty for Bernie Sanders, has in the past two years published the 1619 Project, which was billed as “the most ambitious examination of the legacy of slavery ever undertaken” in an American newspaper an essay making the case for reparations and an excerpt adapted from Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, which compared America’s “enduring racial hierarchy” with those of ancient India and Nazi Germany.

In the age of Sanders and Trump, the Democratic establishment has assumed a defensive posture, concerned above all with holding off various barbarians at the gate. And yet in its consideration of the past, the same establishment has somehow grown large and courageous, suddenly eager for a galloping revision of all American history. For some left-wing skeptics, this apparent paradox requires little investigation: it redirects real anger toward vague and symbolic grievances. No, the Democrats who govern Virginia will not repeal the state’s anti-union right-to-work law, but yes, by all means, they will make Juneteenth an official holiday. If this movement only signals a shift from material demands to metaphysical “reckonings”—from movement politics to elite culture war—then it is not an advance but a retreat.

This critique, however persuasive as a reading of many liberal politicians, does not do justice to the intellectuals and journalists who have driven the national debate on these issues. It does not quite capture the significance of their interventions, or the ambition of their challenge to traditional liberal ideas. Nor does it capture the peculiarity of today’s politics of history. American conservatives, traditionally attracted to history as an exercise in patrimonial devotion, have in the time of Trump abandoned many of their older pieties, instead oscillating between incoherence and outright nihilism. Liberals, meanwhile, seem to expect more from the past than ever before. Leaving behind the End of History, we have arrived at something like History as End.

The second fall of Richmond marked not only a victory for Black Lives Matter protesters, but a real and significant withdrawal from the lore of the Confederacy, even in ideological precincts where that lore has reigned for more than a century. Last year, Republicans in the Mississippi state legislature voted overwhelmingly to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag NASCAR broke long-standing tradition and banned the rebel banner from its events and the pages of right-wing journals such as National Review and The Federalist, often stout defenders of Confederate monuments, now overflowed with conservative authors either questioning or rejecting these symbols. Nearly half of the House Republican caucus, including the minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, and Southerners such as the minority whip, Steve Scalise, and the rising star Dan Crenshaw, voted in favor of a Democratic bill removing all Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.

It was not always thus. Barely two decades ago, at a Republican primary debate in South Carolina, George W. Bush defended the state’s right to fly the Confederate battle flag, winning hoots of approval from the audience. Bush’s first attorney general, John Ashcroft, stirred controversy by celebrating “Southern patriots” such as Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson, while his first secretary of the interior, Gale Norton, lamented that advocates of “state sovereignty” had “lost too much” when the Confederacy was defeated. In contrast, the leadership of today’s American right—from congressional Republicans to Tucker Carlson—have used the monuments debate not to defend the traditional virtues of the Confederate Lost Cause, but to denounce related attacks on national figures such as George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, and Teddy Roosevelt. This is a trumpet blast of retreat, whether liberal commentators have acknowledged it or not.

Donald Trump occasionally staggered forth to celebrate the Confederacy and its icons. But the former president’s fitful bouts of nostalgia had little effect on policy: when his own Department of Defense moved to bar Confederate flags from military property, Trump did not countermand the order. Last summer, Trump loudly opposed a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act mandating the removal of all Confederate names from military property, but his veto was overridden with commanding bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. The White House’s more substantial attempts to develop a politics of history—if they merit such a name—followed the same pattern. As many critics have observed, the so-called 1776 Commission, convened in the dying days of the Trump Administration, was a slapdash affair. Organized as a last-ditch effort to refute “progressive” narratives of history, the commission’s hastily produced report consulted no professional historians, cited no historical scholarship, and recycled huge swaths of text from the authors’ prior publications.

Notably, while the 1776 Report included a range of pseudo-patriotic distortions about slavery and the founding era, it did not attempt to rehabilitate the Lost Cause narrative. It did not even complain that U.S. historians had unfairly neglected Robert E. Lee, as the former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities Lynne Cheney did in her 1994 attack on the Clinton Administration’s National Standards for United States History—a major salvo in an earlier cycle of the history wars. Instead, the report’s authors celebrated Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, praised Reconstruction, and condemned the postbellum South’s descent into Jim Crow, “a system that was hardly better than slavery.” Its genesis notwithstanding, the report’s candid recognition that slavery was the cause of the Civil War and emancipation its result—eschewing hoary tropes about a “brothers’ war”—may well represent an advance from the sentimental politics of Ken Burns’s famous 1990 documentary series. This should not go unnoticed.

Likewise, when the Trump White House announced plans to construct a National Garden of American Heroes as a rebuttal to monument removals, the initial list of statues included Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and the Union Army officer Joshua Chamberlain, but not a single rebel in gray. The final lineup, released as one of Trump’s last presidential acts, ran to 244 “American heroes”—practically anyone ever mentioned in a U.S. history textbook, from Crispus Attucks to Muhammad Ali. The list included zero Confederates.

No doubt a deposit of pro-Confederate feeling remains, in some form, sedimented into the hard edges of the American right. At the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6, a handful of rebel banners were visible in the crowd one Delaware man, since arrested by the FBI, carried the Confederate colors into the halls of Congress. Yet the occasional appearance of such paraphernalia, however disturbing, is neither new nor surprising: for over a century, after all, the flag has served as America’s most prominent symbol of white supremacy. Its presence at Trump rallies underlines the endurance of racism on the far right, but it does not necessarily portend a resurgence of the Lost Cause, as some have suggested. By any sober accounting, Confederate nostalgia is weaker in the United States today than it was two decades ago.

The right’s most potent energy in the age of Trump has mobilized not around traditional paeans to God, generals, and founders, but an erratic brand of troll humor. So goes Ann Coulter’s viral demand to #CancelYale (because the university is named for the merchant and slave trader Elihu Yale), or the Texas representative Louie Gohmert’s resolution to ban from Congress “any political organization” that has ever “supported slavery” (i.e., the Democratic Party). Even the 1776 Report summoned this spirit, denouncing John C. Calhoun’s racism and then impishly describing him as “the leading forerunner of identity politics.” The goal here is not to develop an alternative right-wing vision of U.S. history, but simply to mock the libs using their own language: conservatism, to update Lionel Trilling, as irritable mental gestures that seek to resemble jokes.

Thus the leading “historian” of the Trump era is the pundit Dinesh D’Souza, who, unlike earlier generations of conservatives, makes no effort to defend or even contextualize slavery, the Confederacy, or Jim Crow. States’ rights play little part in his historical narrative. On the contrary, the central argument of D’Souza’s best-selling books and movies is simply that all these racist evils were perpetuated by “radical” Democrats—men such as Calhoun, Davis, and the Mississippi segregationist James Eastland. Only “conservative” Republicans, from Lincoln to Trump, have faithfully defended American freedom and civil rights.

Left-leaning historians, myself included, have sometimes been tempted to debate this argument, whose particular claims are easily reduced to rubble. But this is a fool’s errand, since D’Souza’s shtick is immune to facts and logic, and frankly indifferent to ideological consistency. You could even say that the D’Souza thesis, widely reproduced in the right-wing media, takes progressive history literally but not seriously. (“Did you know that the Democratic Party defended slavery, started the Civil War, founded the KKK, and fought against every major civil-rights act in U.S. history?” asks one YouTube video produced by the conservative media company PragerU.) This sort of trolling offers no ideological counterblast to the progressive narrative that puts slavery and racial oppression at the center of the American experience. In fact, it essentially ratifies a version of that narrative, claiming the mantle of its heroes, such as Frederick Douglass, and declaring that its villains were the forerunners of Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.

Ultimately, this smirking vision of history cannot inspire meaningful conviction. Its emergence reflects a rising breed of right-wing politics that, for all its bluster, does not trouble itself very much about America’s past in the first place. Trump, after all, can barely remember when his supposed heroes were alive, remarking that Andrew Jackson—who died in 1845—“was really angry” about “what was happening with regard to the Civil War.” The macho nationalism of MAGA world, scornful of elite pieties and suspicious of fussy appeals to tradition, does not actually need anything from Jackson, the Civil War, or American history writ large.

Sure, that history contains a healthy store of symbols that may be raided, at will, to serve the ends of present-day political struggles. Thus the same House Republicans who voted to contest the result of the presidential election hours after the Capitol riot could repeatedly appeal to Lincoln and “the better angels of our nature” in defending Trump against impeachment. But such superficialities only dramatize the eclipse of an older style of conservatism, with its filial devotion to the Founding Fathers and its blinkered but sincere odes to universal freedom. If the stuffier school of historical orthodoxy retains any standing in American politics today, it is not within the strongest current of right-wing politics, but with Liz Cheney, Ben Sasse, and the beleaguered cohort of anti-Trump Republicans in Congress.

In this light, the most eloquent Civil War monument of all may be the former president’s own. At the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia, a plaque inscribed with Trump’s name commemorates a gruesome battle: “Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot,” it reads. “The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as ‘The River of Blood.’&thinsp” This battle never happened. In 2015, a reporter for the New York Times informed Trump that historians regarded his plaque as a fabrication. “How would they know that?” he responded. “Were they there?”

Today it is not conservatives but liberals who are most sincerely committed to American history. Yet they too have evolved, perhaps even more dramatically, from their ideological forbearers. Great liberal historians from Thomas Babington Macaulay to James M. McPherson are famous for a kind of baseline optimism, expressed in complex accounts of contested and contingent events that ultimately lead to progress. In lesser hands, the liberal narrative can slide toward complacency—or worse, the construction of an American story in which each act of brutality (colonization, slavery, Jim Crow) somehow only sets the stage for the triumphant advance to come (nationhood, emancipation, civil rights). This has been the rhetorical terrain of Democratic presidents since John F. Kennedy, a happy realm where confessed historical crimes painlessly resolve into patriotic triumphs. “There is nothing wrong with America,” Bill Clinton intoned during his first inaugural address, “that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” During the Obama Administration, the reigning bromides echoed Martin Luther King Jr.’s line about “the arc of the moral universe,” in which, as in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, justice is a bit time-consuming but always prevails in the end.

Today’s historicist critics operate within a different kind of cosmology. In her essay introducing the 1619 Project, the journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones notes that black Americans have fought for and achieved “astounding progress,” not only for themselves, but for all Americans. Yet the project does not really explore this compelling story: in fact, it largely skips over the antislavery movement, the Civil War, and the civil-rights era. Strikingly, Frederick Douglass appears more often in the 1776 Report than in the 1619 Project, where he originally received just two brief mentions, both in an essay by Wesley Morris on black music. Martin Luther King Jr., for his part, makes only one appearance in the 1619 Project, the same number as Martin Shkreli. In more than one hundred pages of print, we read about very few major advocates of abolition or labor and civil rights: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Henry Highland Garnet, A. Philip Randolph, Ella Baker, Rosa Parks, and Bayard Rustin are just a few of those who go unmentioned.

Two fundamental themes anchor the 1619 Project’s approach to American history: origins and continuity. The table of contents is a fusillade of facts that have emerged, in unbroken lines, from centuries of persecution. Whether the subject is Atlanta traffic, sugar consumption, mass incarceration, the wealth gap, weak labor protections, or the power of Wall Street, the burden of argument remains the same: to trace the deep continuities among slavery, Jim Crow, and racial injustice today. “Why doesn’t the United States have universal health care? The answer begins with policies enacted after the Civil War,” one essay posits. “American democracy has never shed an undemocratic assumption present at its founding: that some people are inherently entitled to more power than others,” notes another. The wheel of history spins and spins, but it doesn’t exactly move.

Above all, the historical imagination of the 1619 Project centers on a single moment: the purported date that marks the arrival of African slaves in British North America. “This is sometimes referred to as the country’s original sin,” writes Jake Silverstein, the editor of The New York Times Magazine, “but it is more than that: It is the country’s very origin.” Out of this moment, he continues, “grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional”—the kernel of four hundred years of economic, political, and cultural life. History, in this conception, is not a jagged chronicle of events, struggles, and transformations it is the blossoming of planted seeds, the flourishing of a foundational premise.

The dominant images here are biblical and biological: slavery as America’s “original sin” racism as part of “America’s DNA.” (The 1619 Project contains no fewer than seven such references.) These marks are indelible, and they stem from birth. The existence of slavery and racism means that America has been Stamped from the Beginning, as Kendi titled his first book, ironically borrowing a phrase from Jefferson Davis. “Just as DNA is the code of instructions for cell development,” writes Wilkerson, “caste is the operating system for economic, political, and social interaction in the United States from the time of its gestation.” From happy cures and bending arcs to tainted natures and embedded genetic codes, the metaphorical distance between the old liberal history and the new dispensation is immense.

Since its publication, the 1619 Project has attracted criticism from nearly every ideological quarter. On the right, it has become a soft target for politicians in search of a culture war: a handful of Republican legislators have even proposed bills barring the project from classrooms—a clear violation of free speech. On the left, the Trotskyist World Socialist Web Site has denounced it as “a reactionary race-based falsification of American and world history.” (The Communist Party USA, for its part, has defended the project.) But in some ways it is the long-tenured champions of liberal history who have fought it most fiercely. McPherson, Sean Wilentz, and three other scholars of American history have challenged several of the project’s claims—in particular, the way that Hannah-Jones portrayed the link between slavery and the American Revolution. According to her account, “Britain had grown deeply conflicted” about slavery and the slave trade by 1776 by cutting ties with the empire, America’s founders aimed “to ensure that slavery would continue.” “One of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain,” she wrote, “was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”

Wilentz and other critics argued that this fundamentally misrepresented the politics of the Revolution. As historians from Eric Williams to Christopher Brown have explained in detail, antislavery sentiment in Britain remained marginal in the 1770s. Certainly, it was much weaker in London than in the rebellious colonies, where at least seven colonial assemblies had already attempted to end the importation of enslaved Africans, and where the Continental Congress would ban the slave trade in 1774. As the scholar Leslie Harris put it bluntly in Politico, “The protection of slavery was not one of the main reasons the 13 Colonies went to war.” Harris, who had been contacted by a Times fact-checker to help confirm material in the 1619 Project, wrote that she had “vigorously disputed” Hannah-Jones’s “incorrect statement” and was distressed to see that it had made it into print.

Eventually, the Times issued a thin “clarification,” agreeing to change the phrase “the colonists decided” to “some of the colonists decided,” but leaving the rest of the questionable text in place. Later, the editors deflated some of the most forceful language introducing the project, eliminating one phrase about 1619 as “our true founding” and another sentence that described 1619 as “the moment” when America began. For some critics, these edits represented a major admission of error, and an embarrassment for the Times, yet Silverstein insisted that no real concessions had been made. Revealingly, he noted that the idea of 1619 as America’s “true founding” was always a “metaphor”—a metaphor of national birth—and that its impact was undiminished by the changes.

In one sense, Silverstein is right to suggest that the real stakes of the controversy run deeper than any specialist debate about the 1770s. Though Wilentz titled his critique of the project “A Matter of Facts,” framing his analysis as a correction, the debate cannot be resolved by an appeal to scholarly rigor alone. The question, as The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer has written, is not only about the facts, but the politics of the metaphor: “a fundamental disagreement over the trajectory of American society.” In a country that is now wealthier than any society in human history but which still groans under the most grotesque inequalities in the developed world—in health care, housing, criminal justice, and every other dimension of social life—the optimistic liberal narrative put forward by Kennedy and Clinton has ceased to inspire. Some commentators have rushed to declare Joe Biden a transformational president on the basis of his large stimulus bill, but Biden’s chastened brand of liberalism remains less notable for what it proposes than what it removes from the horizon: universal guarantees for health care, jobs, college education, and a living wage. Although Biden may still invoke Obama’s “arc of the moral universe” on occasion, the metaphors that brought him to power, and that still define his political project, are not about the glories of progress but the need for repair: “We must restore the soul of America.” In a country so deeply riven by injustice—with violence and oppression coded into its very DNA—what more could be hoped for?

In this sense, for all their narrative daring, the new cohort of historicists are not only institutionally but ideologically at home with the politics of today’s liberal establishment. The vulgar materialist dimension of this point is relatively clear-cut: unlike an older generation of new-left radicals, figures such as Coates, Hannah-Jones, and Wilkerson sit not at the margins but near the core of the American cultural elite, writing for the nation’s most influential journals, winning its most prestigious prizes, and receiving acclaim from its most powerful politicians, from the Senate majority leader to the vice president. In the past five years, Hannah-Jones has emerged as an outspoken Twitter critic of Sanders and his left-wing class politics.

The ideological alignments go deeper still. As the critics Pankaj Mishra and Hazel Carby have noted, the new style of historicism focuses narrowly, if not exclusively, on the United States, sidelining the much larger history of slavery and racism in the Atlantic world, while ignoring the global impact of the U.S. empire. The result is a kind of funhouse mirror of American exceptionalism, in which many of the familiar heroes—from Jefferson to Lincoln—become villains, but the setting is essentially the same. Likewise, as the political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. has argued, the new historicism either neglects the question of economic class or subordinates it to the politics of racism—producing a reductive and strangely motionless version of the past that the historian James Oakes calls “racial consensus history.” And as the professor Harvey Neptune has pointed out, nearly all of these authors offer an account of race that tends to naturalize rather than historicize its emergence as an ideological category, ignoring more critical work on the production of racism by foundational scholars such as Barbara Fields and Nell Painter.

Beyond these omissions and confusions, there is the basic question of the narrative itself. If one key function of the old liberal history was to fortify belief in the course of incremental progress, what is the political work of the new dispensation, with its metaphors of birth, genetics, and essential nature? How can a history grounded in continuity relate to a politics that demands transformational change? In so many ways, it seems to lead in the opposite direction. There is a reason why Biden, who notoriously promised Democratic donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he were elected, has had little trouble adopting the new framing of slavery as America’s “original sin.”

The problems with this metaphor are manifold, as the historian James Goodman has noted: its historical anachronism, its confusion of the sacred and the profane, and its tendency to obscure, rather than clarify, the burden of responsibility for the crime of slavery. Yet perhaps the most serious problem is not the theological question of “sin”—a fair word for racial oppression in America since 1619, and one that has done heroic service in the cause of justice since the era of abolition—but the deceptiveness of “original.”

In 1971, Michel Foucault published a lengthy critique of any enterprise that aimed to attain historical truth by uncovering its elemental beginnings. “History,” he wrote, quoting Nietzsche,

teaches how to laugh at the solemnities of the origin. The lofty origin is no more than “a metaphysical extension which arises from the belief that things are most precious and essential at the moment of birth.”

This is a perverse fantasy, Foucault believed. Actual historical origins were neither beautiful nor ultimately very significant. A true student of the past, he argued, must grapple primarily with “the events of history, its jolts, its surprises, its unsteady victories and unpalatable defeats—the basis of all beginnings, atavisms, and heredities.” Against the idea of either a glorious or a deterministic starting point, Foucault urged an approach to the past that emphasized turbulence over continuity:

History is the concrete body of a development, with its moments of intensity, its lapses, its extended periods of feverish agitation, its fainting spells and only a metaphysician would seek its soul in the distant ideality of the origin.

Whatever birthday it chooses to commemorate, origins-obsessed history faces a debilitating intellectual problem: it cannot explain historical change. A triumphant celebration of 1776 as the basis of American freedom stumbles right out of the gate—it cannot describe how this splendid new republic quickly became the largest slave society in the Western Hemisphere. A history that draws a straight line forward from 1619, meanwhile, cannot explain how that same American slave society was shattered at the peak of its wealth and power—a process of emancipation whose rapidity, violence, and radicalism have been rivaled only by the Haitian Revolution. This approach to the past, as the scholar Steven Hahn has written, risks becoming a “history without history,” deaf to shifts in power both loud and quiet. Thus it offers no way to understand either the fall of Richmond in 1865 or its symbolic echo in 2020, when an antiracist coalition emerged whose cultural and institutional strength reflects undeniable changes in American society. The 1619 Project may help explain the “forces that led to the election of Donald Trump,” as the Times executive editor Dean Baquet described its mission, but it cannot fathom the forces that led to Trump’s defeat—let alone its own Pulitzer Prize.

The political limits of origins-centered history are just as striking. The theorist Wendy Brown once observed that at the end of the twentieth century liberals and Marxists alike had begun to lose faith in the future. Collectively, she wrote, left-leaning intellectuals had come to reject “a historiography bound to a notion of progress,” but had “coined no political substitute for progressive understandings of where we have come from and where we are going.” This predicament, Brown argued, could only be understood as a kind of trauma, an “ungrievable loss.” On the liberal left, it expressed itself in a new “moralizing discourse” that surrendered the promise of universal emancipation, while replacing a fight for the future with an intense focus on the past. The defining feature of this line of thought, she wrote, was an effort to hold “history responsible, even morally culpable, at the same time as it evinces a disbelief in history as a teleological force.”

Today’s historicism is a fulfillment of that discourse, having migrated from the margins of academia to the heart of the liberal establishment. Progress is dead the future cannot be believed all we have left is the past, which must therefore be held responsible for the atrocities of the present. “In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism,” one essay in the 1619 Project avers, “you have to start on the plantation.” Not with Goldman Sachs or Shell Oil, the behemoths of the contemporary order, but with the slaveholders of the seventeenth century. Such a critique of capitalism quickly becomes a prisoner of its own heredity. A more creative historical politics would move in the opposite direction, recognizing that the power of American capitalism does not reside in a genetic code written four hundred years ago. What would it mean, when we look at U.S. history, to follow William James in seeking the fruits, not the roots?

An older tradition of left-wing American politics had much less trouble with this kind of historical thinking. Frederick Douglass plays little part in the 1619 Project, but he knew better than most that historical narratives matter in political struggles: they shape our sense of the terrain under our feet and the horizon in front of us they frame our vision of what is possible. Douglass’s famous speech about the Fourth of July came at a low ebb of the abolitionist movement, just after the Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act, appeared to remove the question of slavery from national politics for good. That made it all the more important for him to build an argument from history, drawing on the experience of the Revolution to insist that the United States belonged not to “the timid and the prudent,” but to insurgents who “preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage.” Douglass’s fight against antebellum timidity took courage and purpose from an understanding of history in which radical change was possible.

Moreover, Douglass questioned the wisdom of any historical politics that undermined the prospects for present-day change. This did not imply a purely instrumental contempt for the past, in the manner of the Trumpian right, but rather reflected a clear-eyed determination to treat history not as scripture or DNA, but as a site of struggle. “We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future,” Douglass declared. “To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time.” For some scholars, this must read like rank presentism—yet unlike the neo-originalist framing of the 1619 Project, it gets the order of operations right.

The past may live inside the present, but it does not govern our growth. However sordid or sublime, our origins are not our destinies our daily journey into the future is not fixed by moral arcs or genetic instructions. We must come to see history, as Brown put it, not as “what we dwell in, are propelled by, or are determined by,” but rather as “what we fight over, fight for, and aspire to honor in our practices of justice.” History is not the end it is only one more battleground where we must meet the vast demands of the ever-living now.

Encyclopedia of Trivia

Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840 in a thatched, stonemason's cottage in Higher Bockhampton, near Dorchester, Dorset in south west England. He was left for dead after his birth but an observant midwife noted signs of life and gave him a good slap..

Thomas Hardy's birthplace and cottage at Higher Bockhampton

His father, Thomas, was a hard up master mason who also made cider and played the fiddle at local festivals.

Thomas jnr. was a product of a shotgun wedding between his father and mother, Jemina. They'd married six months before his birth.

Thomas was a delicate and sickly child whose well being was a cause for constant anxiety and was kept at home until the age of 8.

He acquired an early interest in books, which his well-read mother encouraged. Thomas was reading Dryden andJohnson before the age of 10.

At the age of 8, Thomas went to Julia Martin’s school at Higher Bockhampton but was transferred a year later to Mr. Last's Academy for Young Gentlemen in Dorchester, which involved a daily walk of several miles.

At Mr. Last's Academy Thomas learned Latin and demonstrated academic potential. Because his family lacked the means for a university education, his formal education ended at the age of sixteen, when he became apprenticed to James Hicks, a local church architect.

During his time with John Hicks, Hardy habitually got up at 4.00 in the summer and 5.00 in the winter to read (mainly poetry) before leaving for work at 8.00.

Hardy moved to London in 1862, where he enrolled as a student at King's College London. He won prizes from the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architectural Association.

During his time in London. Hardy was assistant architect in London to Sir Arthur Bloomfield. He was in charge of the excavation of the graveyard of St Pancras Old Church prior to its destruction when the Midland Railway was extended to a new terminus at St Pancras.

Hardy worked under Sir Arthur Blomfield in the Adelphi for six years, during which time poetry was his main interest. However, he was frustrated in his efforts to get his poems published.

Hardy's first published piece, was a light comic prose article called "How I built Myself A House" appeared in Chambers’ Journal in 1865.

Ill-health obliged Hardy to return to Dorset in 1867 when he again joined Hicks.

Settling at Weymouth, Hardy decided to dedicate himself to writing. He wrote his first novel Poor Man and the Lady the same year, but he failed to find a publisher partly because it was deemed too politically controversial.

After he abandoned his first novel, Hardy wrote two new ones that he hoped would have more commercial appeal, Desperate Remedies (1871) and Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), both of which were published anonymously.

A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) was Hardy's first novel to be published under his own name.

It was the praise heaped on the serialization of Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) which persuaded Hardy to become a full time writer.

Hardy wrote all day every day, wrapped up against the cold in an old knitted shawl, wearing socks but no shoes and ancient trousers he mended himself with string.

Hardy thought his poetry would outlive his prose, however, his novels won more laurels with the public than the critics and to this day none of his novels have ever gone out of print,

Hardy's novels were influenced by his humble origins and are very class conscious. Many Dorset people thought they recognized themselves in his characters and thus he was not liked in his area.

The term "cliffhanger" is considered to have originated with the serialized version of A Pair of Blue Eyes (which was published in Tinsley's Magazine between September 1872 and July 1873) in which Henry Knight, one of the protagonists, is left literally hanging off a cliff.

Hardy's 1874 novel Far From the Madding Crowd tells of a beautiful woman's affect on three men. "Far From The Madding Crowd" is a quote from Grey's Elegy In A Churchyard.

Tess Of The D'urbevilles (1891) tells of the rise and fall of a poor woman when she enters polite society. Hardy outraged many by depicting the heroine as a woman, who had been seduced. However, the novelist was not concerned by the fuss commenting rather mysteriously, "Tess was a good milchcud to me."

Tess was based on Hardy’s grandmother who had an illegitimate baby at the age of 24 and was nearly hanged after being unjustly accused of stealing a copper kettle.

Jude The Obscure (1895) about the battle between the flesh and spirit. It tells the story of lowly Jude Fawley, a stonemason, whose relationships with women betray his passion for learning then his studies for the priesthood. This caused an even greater outcry and was slammed by critics for its passion and immorality. Lampooned as "Jude The Obscene" by the scandalized critics it enraged the church, who labelled the book as dirt, drivel and damnation. The Bishop of Wakefield hurled his copy onto his fire. As a result of the criticism, Hardy confined himself to his first love, poetry .

The Dynasts, an epic poetic drama about the historical events of the Napoleonic era, was published in three successive parts which appeared in 1903, 1906 and 1908. It is considered by many to be Hardy’s greatest achievement.

Thomas Hardy was physically, a small man, standing 5ft 6ins.

A retiring, sensitive and shy man, Hardy was aware of his relatively humble origins. Gloomy by nature at times he was not much liked in Dorchester during his lifetime.

Many locals accused Hardy of meanness. For instance the famous writer refused to give his barber locks of his hair, because the hairsnipper would sell them on.

Hardy's sense of humor mainly involved fooling and needling people, especially educated strangers

Whilst restoring the Church of St Jilt in St Juliot, Cornwall, Hardy fell in love with the rector's sister Emma Gifford. Their courtship inspired Hardy's third novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes.

Thomas Hardy and Emma Gifford married on September 17, 1874 at St Peter's Church, Paddington, London. The ceremony was conducted by Emma's uncle, Edwin Hamilton Gifford, Canon of Worcester Cathedral and Archdeacon of London.

Emma Gifford

The Hardys went on honeymoon to Dartington Hall, in the west country, Queen's Road, in Brighton, then sailed to Dieppe and travelled by train to Rouen and Paris.

In 1885 Hardy and Emma moved into Max Gate, a house the novelist had designed himself and his brother had built. The seven bedroomed home was built near Dorchester, two miles from his birthplace.The room in which Hardy wrote many of his novels overlooks the wild Dorset heathland.

Emma was, as Hardy was frequently made to understand, his social superior. The friction this caused, as well as their childlessness dampened the flame of their marriage. In time, Emma and Hardy spent more and more time apart and he began seeing other women such as Florence Dugdale, companion to Lady Stoker, sister-in-law of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.

In 1899 Emma became a virtual recluse and spent much of her time in attic rooms, which she asked Hardy to build for her and she called "my sweet refuge and solace."

Although Hardy had been estranged from Emma for some years, her sudden death in 1912 had a traumatic effect on him. He made a trip to Cornwall to revisit places linked with Emma and their courtship and wrote a series Poems of 1912󈝹, exploring his grief.

Two years later Hardy married Florence Dugdale, a Dorchester JP, who was his secretary. Thomas was 74 and Florence a feeble, slight, drab, 35-year-old brunette. Despite their age difference, she bought stability to his life.

Florence hated Max Gate but she stayed on there as a widow after his death for the rest of her life. Her only revenge was to chop down the fir trees planted lovingly too close together by Hardy, who had refused for decades to let them be pruned or 'wounded', as if he needed to surround himself physically as well as morally with a thick belt of dark growth choking out light and air.

Not content with being a poet, a novelist and an architect, Thomas Hardy was a fine folk fiddler. He was taught the violin by his father and at the age of 9 he was playing it locally.

Hardy's musical tastes extended beyond folk and took in Holst and Wagner. The Radio 4 program Thomas Hardy's iPod tells a story about Hardy discussing his fondness for Wagner's ability to conjure wind and rain in his music with the composer Grieg. "I would rather have the wind and rain myself," replied Grieg, dismissively.

A member of the Council For Justice To Animals, Hardy was against bloodsports, dog chaining and the caging of birds.

Emma once requested her husband to always refer to her very favourite cat by its full name: Kiddeley-wink-em-poops. Hardy unsurprisingly refused.

The second Mrs Hardy, Florence was tormented by the unseen presence of the first Mrs Hardy and as part of the exorcism process she killed all of Emma's cats.

When E.M. Foster visited Thomas Hardy in 1924 he was shown by the gloomy author the graves of his pets. "This is Snowbell-she was run over by a train…This is Pella, the same thing happened to her…This is Kitkin, she was cut clean in two, clean in two."
"How is it that so many of your cats have been run over, Mr Hardy? Is the railway near?"
"Not at all near, not at all near-I don't know how it is".

Hardy and Florence had a wire terrier called Wessex who was a peculiarly disagreeable dog, biting even the most eminent of visitors.

The couple also had a blue Persian cat called Cobby who was given to Hardy late in life. He vanished after Hardy died.

Hardy tried to be a village atheist, but was very sensitive to the cruelty of this world and wasn't convinced of his atheism. He was inclined to believe in a god who frustrated him as the writer couldn't decide if all the suffering he saw was because God is cruel or merely powerless to intervene. "Hardy isn't sure of what he does believe and not sure of what he doesn't." commented Thomas Huxley, the inventor of the word "agnostic" on the famous novelist's faith.

A portrait of Thomas Hardy in 1923

Hardy's wife Emma was a Christian who became increasingly shocked by the unchristian themes of many of her husband's novels.

Thomas Hardy fell ill in December 1927 after catching a chill a fortnight before Christmas. He died peacefully a month later on January 11, 1928, after dictating his final poem to his wife on his deathbed.

Hardy's last movement was an inclination of his head towards Florence who was at his bedside, as though he was endeavoring to nod to her.

His funeral, on January 16th at Westminster Abbey, was a controversial occasion: Hardy's family and friends had wished him to be buried at Stinsford, but his executor, Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell, had insisted he should be placed in Poets' Corner. A compromise was reached, whereby his heart was buried at Stinsford in Emma's grave and his ashes were interred in the abbey.

Complete Texts of Thomas Hardy's Novels

Hardy’s literary reputation – his fame and fortune – was based entirely upon his appeal as a novelist. Widespread public acclaim came with his fourth novel Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) – sufficient to allow him to abandon his architectural career in favour of the less certain path of a writer of imaginative fiction. Over the ensuing twenty years he published a further ten novels, variably received at the time. However in his final five novels – a sequence beginning with The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) – he found his mature voice, producing fiction which upset Mrs Grundy and in one case (Jude) was burnt by the Bishop of Wakefield, ensuring his place in the premier elite of English novelists.

Hardy’s professed desire was to be a poet – and how frequently does the poet’s eye surface within his fiction – stating with typical (and ironic) modesty that he wished no more than to be considered ‘a good hand at a serial’. In accordance of with the habit of the time, his novels first appeared in monthly instalments in magazines before being published in three volume form.

Each link contains a description and critical appreciation of each of Hardy’s novels – written by Professor Michael Irwin, distinguished Hardy Scholar and former Chairman of the Thomas Hardy Society.

The Man he Killed Literary Analysis

Stanza 1:

The speaker in the poem, The Man He Killed, begin by narrating the story of an unnamed man that he killed on the frontline during in face to face encounter. The speaker, in the first stanza, wonders what would be the condition if they met in different, normal circumstances. For instance, in the inn or bar and would share some drink.

The systematic pattern of the rhyme and the iambic rhythm in the stanza suggests that the speaker/ narrator is being controlled by his emotions and feelings. The speaker produces the welcoming and acquainted picture of a bar to propose that if he and his target had “met” around, they would sit down and share a drink. The picture of a bar, illustrated by the speaker, appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, taste and hearing, and discloses that a speaker is a friendly man, who enjoys the company of others.

Stanza 2:

The speaker unveils the unnamed person that he killed in this stanza. The unnamed person is a soldier of the opposite camp in a war that they fought against. Both the speaker and the other man are infantrymen enlisted on the frontline in the war and are supposed to take orders from the authority. Both of them came face to face in an encounter and shot each other, however, it is the other soldier who died.

The speaker starts the second stanza with a “but” which make readers curious about the contrast of the following setting and actions of the poem. The speaker says that instead of sitting together in a bar, the speaker and the other soldier (his victim) are “ranged as infantry”. It is because of the battlefield that makes them enemies or else they would be good friends sitting together in an inn.

The speaker illustrates an unfriendly action when he says “I shot him” instead of sharing a cup of tea. Now the speaker thinks that he become a killer as he fulfilled his responsibility as an infantryman.

Stanza 3:

In this stanza, the speaker tries to justify and explain his act of killing the man on the battlefield. He justifies his action by calling him his enemy, an enemy created by a battlefield however, he is not confident in explaining that why the man was his enemy.

The speaker’s thoughts and actions are marked by long pause and repetition when he tries to justify and explain his action of killing a man. The dash (-) used by speaker after ‘because’ creates uncertainty and proposes that his mind is in search of words to explain his action. In order to convince himself, the speaker, two times, speaks that his victim was his enemy.

Stanza 4:

In this stanza, the narrator mentions the reason what would make his victim fight on the frontline. He says that the other man, like him, must be out of work and “sold his traps”. The speaker’s guilt increases when he recognizes that the soldier he killed is just another person like him who is unemployed and in terrible need of money.

The speaker tries to deal with his movement of thoughts with the recurrent and substantial feelings of guilt at the remembrance of his deed. He realizes that he and his victim both are of the same kind of people, very much comparable in making their lives. We see the change of rhythm in the poem.

Stanza 5:

In this stanza, the speaker speaks of curious and quaint nature of war. The speaker mentions that he shot the man because he came to the frontline either to shot other or to be shot by others. While in other circumstances, they would sit together in a bar and would have shared a drink.

The speaker begins the stanza with exclamation “yes” which shows that he has gained some insight into the events that led him to kill another man. He realizes that it is the war that makes you an enemy of an unknown person who, in other place and time, would be friends that one would ‘treat’ or ‘help’. The speaker appears to have engrossed the guilt when he realizes that war is a real killer. The speech becomes again more rhythmic and regular in this stanza.

Rhyming Scheme:

The man He Killed is a five-stanza poem by Thomas Hardy having a rhyming Scheme of abab, cdcd, efef, ghgh, ijij.


The poem is the 1 st person narrative in which the speaker/ narrator is a soldier who has returned from a war as a survivor. The narrator explains his haunted thoughts about killing a man in the war.


The Man He Killed is one of the Hardy’s famous poem that he wrote after the Boer wars. The setting of the poem is a battlefield where the speaker meets an unknown person for the first time and he killed that unknown person because he was his enemy created by the battlefield.

Structure Analysis:

This poem is a dramatic monologue written in ballad form in the speech of a returned soldier. The poem consists of 5 stanzas each having four lines with regular rhyme. There are six syllables in every line of each stanza except the 3 rd line of stanza which consists of eight syllables.

Figures of Speeches:

Following are the figures of speeches in the poem The Man He Killed:

To create rhyme and rhythm in the poem, the poet uses alliteration. For instance

  1. Had he and I but met.
  2. I shot at him as he at me.
  3. Or help to half-a-crown.
  • Simile:

The poet uses simile in the following line to draw an explicit comparison:

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