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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-05-16 16:55
The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy
The Woodlanders - Patricia Ingham,Thomas Hardy

As part of one of my Goodreads groups, I am doing a Hardy project this summer. The Woodlanders isn't the first Hardy I've read - in 2015, I read Far from the Madding Crowd and I read The Mayor of Casterbridge some time prior to 2011. As is my custom, I saved the scholarly introduction for my edition until after I read the book.

 

The Woodlanders is one of Hardy's later books, published in 1887, and is set in the woodland village of Little Hintock. It explores many of the usual Hardy themes: marriages (not good), sexuality (unrestrained), and social class (snobbery), especially class mobility (resulting in misery). It wouldn't be Hardy without a fair amount of melodrama, including several assaults, a man who dies because he is deathly afraid of a tree, and attempted maiming with something called a "man-trap," an off-screen murder, and a lingering death from typhoid. I don't think that Hardy hits the melodrama meter quite as aggressively as he did with Far from the Madding Crowd, but since that book was basically bat shit, that's damning with faint praise.

 

The primary plot revolves around a young woman, Grace Melbury, and her romantic travails. She is in love with a young man, Giles Winterbourne, who is a "woodlander," by which I mean that he works in the woods cutting down trees and pressing cider and the like. Grace is the only daughter of Mr. Melbury, who is a bit more affluent than most of the citizens of Little Hintock, and he has made substantial financial sacrifices to send Grace away from her home to a school. She returns after completing her education, and, as a result, is "neither fish, nor flesh, nor fine red herring," as the old expression goes.

 

From her father's perspective, she has been elevated above Giles, and he encourages to look a bit higher in marriage than an impoverished woodlander who doesn't even have a house. Along with Giles & Grace, we have Edred Fitzpiers, a young doctor who comes to Little Hintock to practice medicine, and Felice Charmond, the wealthy and beautiful young widow who owns a nearby estate. Notice that on the one hand, we have two very staid British names - Giles & Grace - and on the other hand, we have two poncy French names - Edred & Felice. This is not a coincidence.

 

Edred falls hard for the lovely Grace, who is persuaded by her father to let him pursue her. Initially, it seems that Edred has less than honorable intentions, but he ultimately marries her. It's unclear if this is because he knows that she won't engage in a dalliance with him, or if he actually falls in love with her. 

 

Once Grace & Fitzpiers are married, the book grows much darker. Fitzpiers strikes up an affair with Felice, which Grace learns of from her father. Winterbourne mopes around like Bella after her sparkly vampire abandoned Forks, going into a decline. It's sort of fun to see the Victorian male version of a decline, since it's usually the Victorian woman who fall into a decline for no apparent reason whatsoever. It involves typhoid and a cider press because a man's got to eat, even if he is desperately unhappy over the loss of his beloved. There is weeping, gnashing of teeth, a spot of assault, and a flight to the continent. Things end badly for Felice - who is murdered by a stalker that she has bewitched with her saucy flirtations - and Giles - who expires in noble sacrifice, nursed by Grace, clearing the road for a reconciliation of the miserable couple.

 

The Woodlanders explores the unhappy impact of unwise marriage. Victorian society was moribund, and social mobility was out of the reach of most people. The single exception to that rule was really marriage - through marriage, partners reach one another's level. It pulls up lower classes and pulls down upper classes. We are left with the impression that it was Mr. Melbury, by educating Grace above her station, put into motion a series of events that resulted in misery pretty much across the board. As a well-educated woman from the twenty-first century, this sort of irritates me. On the other hand, I get his point.

 

This book has a semi-happy ending, with Edred and Grace finding some equilibrium. It was apparently one of Hardy's favorites of his own books, which makes me pity his wife. A lot of people find Hardy very difficult to read because he is so grim. I can't take him seriously, however. There is just too much drama.

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review 2017-03-06 00:00
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy I'm pretty sure I read this back when I was living in London and had hour-long commutes, which gave me time for reading long books. The only thing I remembered was that Tess had some hardships and spent time one winter digging "Swedes" (Swedish turnips; actually, rutabaga) out of the frozen ground. Well, actually, that doesn't happen until well into the book, and is not exactly all that important in the overall story.

Quick synopsis: Tess, a beautiful, good hearted country girl, is driven insane by two privileged, egotistical assholes, one who takes pride in being rather a rake, the other a pompous, holier-than-thou moralist with a few skeletons in his own personal closet. But despite the gloomy plot trajectory, this is really a good book. Thomas Hardy was a gifted writer.

So, actually, Tess Derbyfield, is a beautiful, strong, hardworking country girl. Oh, I already said that. Anyway, her parents are rather silly, especially her father. The father hears that he is actually a direct descendant of a noble family, once prominent in their part of Wessex. The family was then known as D'Urberville, but all traces of the family seem to have disappeared. Tess' parents discover a rich, old lady not all that far away who goes by the name of D'Urberville, so send Tess off to claim kinship, hoping to get some support thereby. Tess goes, but meets only the roguish son of the old lady, not the lady herself. But, Tess is offered a place tending to the old lady's chickens and teaching her birds to sing. That works for a while, but the son, Alec, continues pressing his attentions on Tess. Eventually, Tess runs back home. But Alec insists on helping her flee from him (weird, huh?) and then seems to "seduce" her. Probably, he raped her, but books weren't all that explicit in olden days. All we know is that Tess returns home pregnant.

Eventually, Tess has a baby. The baby dies a few months after birth. Tess gets depressed. Eventually, she goes off to a farm in the opposite direction to become a milk maid. There is a well-off, third son of a clergyman, Angel Clare, working the farm. His father refused to send him to university (because Angel wasn't theologically pure enough, or something), so the son must learn to make his way. His approach is to apprentice himself as a farmworker in a number of places so as to learn all the intricacies of farming. Then he'll buy a farm, either in England or in America (or the colonies). All the milkmaids fall hopelessly in love with Mr. Clare, but he clearly favors Tess. Tess, for her part, because she has been besmirched, tries to turn his head toward one of the other milkmaids, but he won't have it.

Eventually, stuff happens and Angel and Tess marry: she relents after repeated refusals. She tries to tell him why she is "unworthy", but doesn't get to why until the evening after their wedding. Once the wedding is over, it's confession time. Angel first, then Tess. Well, he's no Angel, having sewed a few wild oats in his time, so to speak. But for some reason, he takes amiss that Tess was "disadvantaged" by another egoist who was "sewing a few wild oats" himself. The old story that rules for the goose don't apply to the gander. So, Angel decides they must not consummate the marriage. Rather, after a few days, they part. Angel goes off to try his hand at farming in Brazil. Tess soon loses what money Angel provided, mostly by trying to help out her imprudent family, and she is too proud to apply to Angel's parents for additional funds. Thus, Tess is off looking for farm-labor jobs and ends up at the place where she was digging Swedes in wintertime.

Naturally, bad things happen. Angel gets very sick in Brazil and loses touch with Tess. Alec shows up again and renews his attempts to "seduce" her. Tess' father dies and her mother and siblings are evicted from their house. And so forth. It's not a happy book.

But, although it might not be a happy book, it is a very good one. Hardy is a gifted writer and does a wonderful job of "showing" the lives of his characters. One gets a great feel for the lives of the farm folk working the farms, of the changing of the seasons, of the various aspects of the countryside, and so forth.

I've taken rather a shine to Hardy in the past year. And to think my interest in Hardy was all because I fell in love, via a picture in Time magazine, with an actress who was playing one of his heroines in a recent movie adaptation of one of Hardy's works. Please don't tell my spouse.
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review 2017-03-04 17:31
Far From the Madding Crowd
Far from the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

I may be the odd one out, but I really liked Far From the Madding Crowd. I liked the sheep, I liked the character of Gabriel Oak and above all, I loved Thomas Hardys descriptions of the landscapes and the weather. Since I know that a lot of people don´t like his writing style, I´m very pleased by the fact that Hardy seems like an author that I enjoy reading.

 

I have to admit, though, I´m not the biggest fan of the heroine, Bathsheba. She is selfish, condescending, at times cruel, vain and, which is my biggest complaint, utterly stupid. I didn´t feel sorry for her once and during the whole Valentine cards fiasco I just wanted to punch her in the face. How she can have three suitors in the first place is beyond me and the falling in love of Gabriel in the beginning was extremely poorly developed. Why is he falling in love with her? Right, it must have been her looks, because they didn´t talk that much to each other.

 

And I still have the same problem with the book as I had with the Carey Mulligan movie way back then:

 

Gabriel proposes to Bathsheba on page 20 or there about. And after 400 pages of drama and stupidity on behalf of Bathsheba, she ends up with the guy, who proposed to her in the first place. Yeah, she is a daft cow.

(spoiler show)
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review 2016-12-25 00:23
La brughiera - Thomas Hardy,Ada Prospero,Attilio Bertolucci

Il concetto tragico che Hardy ha della vita è qui, nella tetra e selvaggia brughiera di Egdon, luogo immaginario che racchiude in sé le asperità e le incertezze della natura e dell’esistenza umana.

Protagonista e spettatrice è la brughiera di Egdon, dove le stagioni passano, i destini s’incontrano, si attraversano e si compiono.

Nella lentezza dello svolgersi del tempo, una figura si staglia lassù, sul poggio. Immobile, come il colle su cui posa. È lei, Eustacia, selvaggia come la natura che la circonda, bella come una dea, capelli neri e anima in tempesta. Diversa dalle altre donne di Egdon, sgradita come una strega. In questo luogo desolato, il suo unico desiderio è essere amata. Amata alla follia. L’amore era per lei l’unico cordiale che potesse distruggere la divorante solitudine delle sue giornate.”

Non brama un innamorato, auspica l’amore.

Nella brughiera, in questo melodramma carico di passioni e debolezze umane, si consumano amori e rancori fra i sogni di chi torna per restare, e i miraggi di chi ne è prigioniero e anela di fuggire.

Il fato, intanto, tesse la sua tragica tela.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-11-28 03:07
Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

2014: ...What? (2 stars)

2016: I remember the first time I finished this book, in bed in my college dorm room with my mouth hanging open from the moment Tess declared "I have killed him!" A second reading really was necessary to process.

I think I care more for Tess than I usually care about characters, somehow. My heart aches for her in all the ways her life goes wrong. And I cheer for her because she really is a strong and mature character. She's very well-written.

Alec D'Urberville, on the other hand is sufficiently annoying infuriating, as is Angel Clare. Alec makes me want to scream when he just won't leave Tess alone. I want to smack him. But that didn't do Tess any good... And Angel with his hypocrisy and self-righteousness... Ugh. Poor Tess. I should want Tess to find a better man than Angel, but she loves him so much, I tend to want him to come to his senses instead.

In regards to Tess' experience with Alec, the writing of it frustrates me a bit. To me, up through that moment, it is very clear that Alec raped Tess. She never liked him, never showed him any affection. She blatantly wiped away his kiss. He made her very uncomfortable. Her behavior through that point gives me absolutely no reason to believe that Tess would willingly have sex with Alec. Afterward, however, the writing makes it seem more like they had been in a relationship and she had willingly slept with him, though she regretted it later. And those two interpretations just don't jive. After thinking about it, I've decided on my interpretation. I think it is kind of both of the above. I think Alec raped her. And then because of the society she lived in, after that happened, Tess felt like she belonged to Alec or was tied to him in a way. It's even said in the book that she's more married to Alec than she is to Angel. Of course, I don't believe that, but I think that would have been her thought process. So, I think that after Alec "claimed" her, she continued working at the D'Urberville estate, and probably allowed him to have sex with her again, though she still didn't want that kind of relationship with him. Until finally, she couldn't live with it anymore, and she left for home.

Through all that, it really is a surprisingly feminist book for one written by a man in the 1800's. I should read more of his work (any suggestions?). I also think this book could inspire a really good modern film adaptation.

I think my only complaint (aside from maybe the ambiguity of the rape/seduction) is that it can be quite slow, especially during Tess' employment at the dairy. I almost only brought my rating up one star because of that, but I love Tess so much and the story itself is so beautifully tragic that I rated it 4 stars.

I want to write a better review of this book. Maybe I'll edit this sometime.

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