The sixteen essays gathered here give a better rounded picture of the life of the introverted Wessex poet and novelist than Gittings' recent biography Young Thomas Hardy (p. 347) but one is not convinced by Hardy's characterization of himself as a ""meliorist."" If anything, the brooding pessimism of the man is intensified. Elizabeth Hardwick and J. I. M. Stewart, who deal with the novels, both point to the ineluctable quality of despair; Hardy's godless universe seems not only morally neutral, but often actively malevolent. Or, as Geoffry Grigson who considers Hardy's poetry, says, ""the miscarriage of hope, love, happiness"" are inescapable. Since armfuls of Hardy's letters, diaries and photographs were consigned to two enormous bonfires after his death, the life remains frustratingly hidden. But there is a startling revelation. Lois Deacon speculates that Tryphena Sparks, the young ""cousin"" who was his first love, was in reality Hardy's niece--the illegitimate daughter of his mother's illegitimate daughter. Tryphena, his friend Horace Moule and Hardy are the three misbegotten lovers whose story is disguised but ""signposted"" in all the fiction and much of the poetry. Deacon's evidence is all circumstantial, but it has psychological plausibility and one would like to fasten onto this hypothesis if only to locate the source of the despondency that lasted through forty years of marriage to the unlikable Emma and increased after the furor which greeted the publication of Jude. We are told that Deacon and another contributor, Terry Coleman, are working on a book which will posit an illegitimate child born to Hardy and Tryphena, a child later transmuted into Jude's son, Father Time. A rich collection of interpretations of the books and the man. And there are many photographs of Hardy's Wessex and Cornwall topography--those lowering moors where accident, time and change did their worst.