The first book-length studies of Hardy were written principally by other poets, including Lionel Johnson, Lascelles Abercrombie, and Edmund Blunden, but over the past century attention to his work has been fairly well divided between the poetry and the fiction. His fiction is thoroughly steeped in the customs and the landscapes of his native Wessex, so much so that there have been several books of photographs intended to acquaint his readers with his part of the world, and it has also been the subject of a good deal of SOCIOLOGICAL and HISTORICAL interpretation. Hardy was a very uneven writer: several of his novels are brilliant, imperishable masterpieces, while several others hardly bear scrutiny. This unevenness also extends to his skills in characterization: some of the figures in his novels are shadowy representations or near caricatures, but his best and most significant characters are intensely convincing PSYCHOLOGICAL studies.
Hardy went as far as was permissible in his timeand in some cases a good deal furtherin his presentation of the sexuality of his characters and their relationships to their socially imposed sex roles, and GENDER criticism has focused on such characters as Tess Durbyfield and Jude Fawley in the novels that bear their names, Michael Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge, and others (as in Susan Beegel's essay "Bathsheba's Lovers: Male Sexuality in Far from the Madding Crowd"). Aligned with his progressivism in this area were his dissent from traditional religious beliefs and his questioning spirit, exhibited in both his fiction and his poetry. These, along with his framing of his characters' lives in the larger continuum of time and history, have been the occasion for MYTHOLOGICAL inquiries into his work.
In that Hardy was a relentless experimenter with form and technique in his verse, a considerable amount of analysis of his poetry has been in the FORMALIST mode. Given the unusualness, perhaps the uniqueness, of his poetic and his method, which can be seen as a questioning of the traditional assumptions about the nature and intent of poetry, his poems can serve as an excellent basis for a READER-RESPONSE discussion.