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Thomas Hardy

During the Cup ties two authors have had a big impact on me Emile Zola (for all the wrong reasons!) and Thomas Hardy, interest flickered and then developed into a raging inferno I haven't read anything by him, and what I have read on the site regarding his work hasn't been totally favourable, Miserable and gloomy tends to be the general feeling of his work, and when I recently got 3 of his books I commented that they all had tragedy and self destruction mentioned in the blurb. But having said that, from reading the blurb on those books they seemed to have that indefinable "it" which attracted me to them, and I was just interested in taking this finding further and seeing what other posters thought.

In particular...

EVIE: I spotted a your comment on the Hardy/Austen thread last night saying that Hardy is part of your soul, what is it about his work that makes you feel that way?

Hi Apple - I will try to explain later when I have one of his novels to hand and can quote a few bits - but basically it is an amazing combination in his writing of compassion and humour, of a fairly bleak view of the world and yet a deep love of humanity, an ability to create characters of such warmth and realism that you can't help but love them with all their flaws, while at the same time manipulating them for his own ends.  It's so hard to explain - as with any great writer - quite what is at the heart of his brilliance, but his books end up deep inside me and have shaped the way I think and feel, from the time when I read Tess at the age of 16/17 - that book changed my life.  I think that's the one I would recommend, if you wanted to read him - Under the Greenwood Tree is shorter and less emotionally devastating, but Tess was my way into Hardy and I was hooked from the start.

He writes so beautifully, but it's not fine prose for its own sake - he creates his characters, his landscapes, his moral situations by couching them in a sublime use of the English language.

I am a melancholic by nature, and that's partly why his writing appeals, I think - it is definitely melancholic writing.  But there is lots and lots of humour in it too - particularly in the way he captures the language and interests of the ordinary working country people he observed so well.

More when I get the chance to quote some bits - he is not to everyone's taste, I know, but I feel sad when people dismiss him as 'miserable' - he isn't - he sees the world as essentially a hostile place, because of both the hypocrisy of society and the way fate seems arbitrarily to destroy people's hope and even their lives - but to him, that's just being honest.  There is much in his books that speaks of goodness and happiness - the working people, for example, are often content with their lot and the ones who don't find happiness are those who have ambitions above what they are expected to want or be able to achieve.  That's a tricky issue, but again, makes more sense with some detailed examples.  There is such beauty in even his most tragic tales that I always find his books uplifting - that's what I mean about being part of my soul, I can't imagine life without his books - more than that, I wouldn't be the person I am were it not for his books.

What a wonderful reply, Evie.  
I feel exactly like you about Hardy's works, but I could never have put it so well and with so much feeling.  
Jude the Obscure is my favourite, but that one really is so sad that I agree with you that Apple should start with Tess of the D'Urbevilles -my second favourite.

Yes, I think Jude is my favourite too, especially after a recent re-read, when it seemed more magnificent than ever.  But I agree, it's just too sad as an introduction to his work!  Tess is equally devastating, but not as relentless, not quite as bleak, perhaps.  I am filling up with tears just thinking about Hardy!!

I was about to say, Tess is fairly bleak too - perhaps Far from the Madding Crowd is a better starter? but maybe they all have strains of tragedy running through them. I think I may make Jude my next one, having had it on the TBR for years.

Yes, Far from the Madding Crowd would indeed be another good place to start.  I find it hard to be objective!!  But while not about to win any prizes for joie de vivre, it is not in the same tragic vein as some of the others, and in Gabriel Oak has one of Hardy's loveliest characters as its hero.

I have been meaning to write a review of Jude since I re-read it late last year, so maybe it's time I got round to doing that.

Well, I got the Mayor of Casterbridge, A Pair of Blue Eyes and the Return of the native from the charity shop so I guess it will be one of those I start with, any hints as to which one?

Evie wrote:
It's so hard to explain - as with any great writer - quite what is at the heart of his brilliance, but his books end up deep inside me

That sounds very much like the "It" factor which I was trying to explain!

Return of the Native is another favourite of mine, but in some ways a bit less accessible than some of the others, or at least not as immediately engaging - though I really love it.  It's quieter, somehow.  I love Diggory Venn, the reddleman.  Eustacia Vye is a marvellous creation, and the descriptions of Egdon Heath and its use in the novel are astonishingly wonderful.  Mayor of Casterbridge is judged by some to be his best, and another good place to start, maybe - the eponymous Mayor is such a flawed figure, but a truly magnificent creation.  It has a more urban setting than most of the others.

I would say just delve in anywhere, frankly!

And don't forget his poetry either! Some of the wartime ones may be right up your street, Apple. This is about a soldier in the Boer War.

Drummer Hodge

     They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
     Uncoffined - just as found:
     His landmark is a kopje-crest
     That breaks the veldt around;
     And foreign constellations west
     Each night above his mound.

     Young Hodge the Drummer never knew -
     Fresh from his Wessex home -
     The meaning of the broad Karoo,
     The Bush, the dusty loam,
     And why uprose to nightly view
     Strange stars amid the gloam.

     Yet portion of that unknown plain
     Will Hodge forever be;
     His homely Northern breast and brain
     Grow to some Southern tree,
     And strange-eyed constellations reign
     His stars eternally.

[quote="Apple"]Well, I got the Mayor of Casterbridge, A Pair of Blue Eyes and the Return of the native from the charity shop so I guess it will be one of those I start with, any hints as to which one?[quote]

Apple I hope you enjoy long descriptions?  Wink
I'm just four chapters into A Pair of Blue Eyes , so far it's all good.

Yes, he is a very descriptive writer!  It's an art that most contemporary novelists have completely lost, sadly.

Excellent! - Thanks County lady, so.. very descriptive - Dickens or very descriptive Zola?  I am hoping very descriptive Dickens and if so that should be right up my street!

Apple as I've not read Zola I'll just say it's Hardyesque. Very Happy

He's nothing like Dickens.

I should say, he's nothing like Zola either!

Tess is sometimes compared with Flaubert's Mme Bovary, but more in terms of a tragic female heroine (Anna Karenina sometimes put alongside them) - stylistically, Hardy is as unique as Dickens is.  It's not just rural vs urban - they just write differently.  Both, I suppose, use description to set scenes and atmospheres and create a rich background to their human stories - that much they do have in common.  But I'd say the similarity ends there.

Well I guess I'll just have to read it and find out for myself then!  Smile - I've got Mort by Terry Pratchett on the go at the minute and having cleaned up all my half read books I'm not inclined to start another one but I think I'll tackle a Hardy when I've finished Mort - the one which is pulling me most at the moment is Mayor of Casterbridge so we shall see!

Also thanks for your comment Chib - I didn't know he wrote poetry as well!

Have you tried the short stories?  My favourite is "The Withered Arm". And of course he was a major poet as well. And very prolific.  His Collected Poems is packed with marvellous things.

I've just finished A Pair of Blue Eyes. This wasn't as tragic as others by Hardy but doom was predicted very early on and hung over the first half of my read like a black cloud. I actually cared for these characters so Hardy is working his way in but it will be sometime before I get round to my fourth of Hardy's novels and that will probably be Far From the Madding Crowd.
Joe Mac

One thing that impresses me so far about Hardy's writing in 'Tess' is the great care he takes in describing the rural scenery. I can't recall another writer that makes such a point of describing the effect of light upon the scene, for example. As someone interested in the role natural light plays in photography, I find this quite striking, not to mention very helpful in picturing the scenes described.
Just as I write that, it occurred that there were rural scenes in 'Anna Karenina' that were perhaps equally as vivid.

Of course this is all quite apart from the human intercourse in the story, about which I'm not sure I have anything useful to say, yet.

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