Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Reading Thomas Hardy backwards.....

Jasper Fforde once claimed to read Thomas Hardy backwards; the endings of a Hardy novel being what they are ( Jude, Tess, Return of the Native, Casterbridge..... ) how could one not try any plausable means to change the dismal outcome?


Currently reading the advanced copy of Claire Tomalin's excellent Thomas Hardy : The Time Torn Man (see also her Life of Jane Austen ) I have been engaged in a re-evaluation of one of my favourite Victorianists. Like Woolf and LM Montgomery, Hardy straddles the Victorian period he loved and romanticized and the modern period inevitably closing upon him. Hardy's magnificently melancholy poem The Darkling Thrush, written on the cusp of the millenium, seems to lyrically battle Hardy's ascerbic frustration with the dawning of a new age. In fiction, Hardy revisits his fear of change on numerous occasions in numerous different guises. Perhaps the lightest book to express his disenchantment is Under the Greenwood Tree. The choir at a small parish is threatened to be replaced by a new harmonium commissioned by the forward-thinking Parson Maybold. Underneath Fancy Day and Dick Dewey's enchanting and lighthearted story of wooing and romance ( wooing and romance in Hardy ....who'da thunk?! ) , is Hardy's age-old battle with resistance and change.


Whether or not you read Hardy backwards ( Wessex Tales, Greenwood Tree and the lesser-known A Loaodecian suggest that is not always a necessity ), the thematic elements stringing Hardy's novels rarely stray from their intrinsic core: the pending certainty of change.


I am fascinated by authors who write their personal problems again and again into their fiction; hoping that with each instance they seep themselves into their words they will be automatically healed or, in Hardy's case, absolved from the pressures of transition.


So, Hardy gets depressing ( I can think of little worse than the scene solidifying the demise of Jude and Sue's children in Jude the Obscure or Tess and Angel's parting steeped in a bile-tasting double-standard ) I cannot wholly blame him. His cocoon was slowly evolving around him, enmeshing him in uncertaintly and doubt. For all of the Tess in the Western Canon, there are the Greenwood Trees. Hardy straddled dark and light as much as he struggled with the present and the future. Yes he paints a golden age and blemishes it with strife. Was the oncoming 20th Century not that very thought incarnate?


Jasper Fforde can keep reading him backwards: Knowing Hardy's absolute obsession with the things that have been and his terror of that before him, he would probably heartily approve.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I tried to read Tess when I was younger. I don't remember if I ever finished it, but I have no desire to read any more by Hardy.

melrose plant said...

Booklogged: I feel badly about that. Hardy is like Dickens in the fact that each of his works is decidedly different than the others. He is one of the Victorian giants and I think worth a perusal. However, you might try "Under the Greenwood Tree", "Wessex Tales" or "A Laodecian" instead of some of his more famous albeit darker works.

Danielle said...

I am really looking forward to reading Hardy. I am actually glad I didn't read him when I was younger as I think I can appreciate him more now. I hope my expectations are not too high!! He is definitely on my list of classics I plan on reading! Maybe I should read the biography, too?

Carl V. said...

Not sure why I've never tried any Hardy. Probably its mostly because of the large pile and list of books to be read.

Sam said...

I have heard about the depressing endings in some of Hardy's books and it made me leery picking up anything from him, but I was recently considering giving one of his books a try. I was going back through some of my old Victoria magazines and found an article about him that made me want to take a look at some of those Hardy novels that I've had gathering dust in my TBR pile. It's funny how I spent all those years in college collecting books I figured I'd get knocked out the first year after school was over- seems like I had more reading time when I was working and going to school!Another motivating factor for me is noticing that NPT will be showing a movie from one of his books and I usually like to see the movie after I read the book.