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.