Alison Georgina Chapman, “Apple Pips, Fruit Stains, and Clammy Juice: Nature’s Ornaments and the Aesthetics of Preservation in Thomas Hardy's The Woodlanders” (pp. 372–398)
This paper explores Thomas Hardy’s representation of the natural world as ornamental in The Woodlanders (1887). Previous critics have pointed to the ornate and artificial descriptions of the environment to argue that nature is strangely absent in The Woodlanders. However, I argue that Hardy sees ornamental aesthetics as uniquely capable of representing ecology. As a mode that appeals to the senses while resisting interpretation, ornament captures how nature can be simultaneously overbearing in its influence over, and remote as a source of consolation to, its human interlopers. Moreover, ornament’s formal openness—specifically its capacity for endless embellishments—is better suited to nature’s mutability and inherent complexity. This adaptive, combinatory capacity proves to be a central aesthetic value for Hardy. In his architectural writing, the author argues that old buildings must be preserved from renovators who would replace these monuments’ eccentric, bric-a-brac histories with simplified, formally coherent structures. Hardy’s concern here is not only aesthetic but also ecocritical, as the author notes that such renovations often entail massive amounts of waste. Ornamental complexity and its capacity for adaptation, repurposing, and reuse thus yoke together Hardy’s interests in historic preservation, aesthetics, and ecology. By reading The Woodlanders as an ornamental novel, this essay shows how Hardy’s decorous style is part of a broader ecological and ethical project.