[a lengthy literary letter] One leaf folded, on mourning stationery headed "Max Gate, Dorchester." Four pages of text, addressed to "My Dear Mrs Ward," signed "Yours sincerely, Thomas Hardy," and dated 24 March 1905.
This long letter is Hardy's response to his receipt, from Mrs. Humphry Ward, of a copy of her new novel THE MARRIAGE OF WILLIAM ASHE (1905). Mary Augusta Ward, née Arnold (1851-1920), was a member of the illustrious Arnold / Huxley family (her uncle was the poet Matthew Arnold, and her sister became the mother of Julian and Aldous Huxley). Mary's 1905 novel that is the subject of this letter (featuring young Kitty Bristol and the dashing Geoffrey Cliffe) went on to become the #1 bestseller of 1905 in America -- beating out, for example, #4 THE CLANSMAN by Thomas Dixon and #9 THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton; sixteen years later it was also a silent film. Hardy here gives his assessment of the book at length, as follows:
I have just got through the novel, & it has given me so much pleasure that I am quite unable to write critically about it -- as I suppose fellow-scribblers ought in wisdom to do with one another's books. I did not at all expect that there was such a treat in store for me, or I should not have waited to finish some work -- as I did -- before beginning.
The part of the book that laid hold of me most tightly was the middle third -- i.e. if the book had been in 3 vols. the second one. I don't mean to say that I think you fell off in the last third, but that the culmination & catastrophe of a story -- which necessarily admit of fewer varieties than the development, & must always be among a certain limited number -- must to an old reader appear less novel than the earlier parts need do.
You have exhibited unexpected dramatic powers. Part Two: Ch XII might be almost bodily transferred to the stage, & indeed a great deal of that Part throughout.
Kitty has, I think, more of my sympathy than you wished her to have; but I don't know. I know somebody like her, and so do you, and one day I will ask you in an unguarded moment if you had her in mind. Cliffe's views at the top half of p. 438 rather attracted me to him; but in other places I did not see why women should have cared for him. But I am not a woman, & bow my head.
I had forgotten to say till now how much obliged I am to you for giving me the book. With kind regards believe me...
Clearly Hardy has given the author a glowing appraisal of her new book (though he hedges his words about the common-formula ending): did he really like it, or was he repaying a debt from fourteen years earlier? When Hardy's TESS OF THE D'URVERVILLES came out in 1891, it was roundly attacked by just about all literary critics for its scandalous subject matter -- but it was just as enthusiastically applauded by several contemporary authors, notably Henry James, Walter Besant -- and Mrs. Humphry Ward [see Millgate p. 321]. Five years after TESS came Hardy's JUDE THE OBSCURE, which was again attacked -- so much that Hardy declined to write any more fiction for the remaining 32 years of his life.
The letter is in fine condition. Thomas Hardy Collected Letters III p. 163; from the renowned Frederick B. Adams Sale of 2001 (lot 524). Item #13001