Those of you with a keen eye on this blog will be aware that I have something of a love for the writings of Thomas Hardy. I’ve read the majority of his novels (though not all of them reviewed on this blog) but this was my first reading of his first published novel (he did write one before this, but it never saw the light of day – I’m still wishing the manuscript will be discovered one day). Prior to reading it, I was led to believe that it was quite un-Hardy-esque in every conceivable aspect. I took this to mean it was quite unlike his other writings in style, themes, use of language and of characterisation, etc.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is not a wholly accurate description of Desperate Remedies at all. In fact, it’s really a rather good book with many features in it that readers of Hardy’s more famous works may well recognise.
The story revolves around the affairs of one Cytheria Graye, whose father dies at the start of the novel and who leaves no inheritance of any value. So her desperate remedy, encouraged by her protective brother, Owen, is to take up residence as a domestic assistant to a middle-aged spinster, Miss Aldclyffe (who seemed to have been somewhat inspired by Miss Haversham from Dickens’ Great Expectations). The opening of the book takes the reader down some tunnels, with sudden twists and turns in the plotline, though with such a tight focus, I will admit that something of the locational scale of Hardy’s later writing was missing.
Eventually, the story settles to a more rural pace and we find ourselves in a story of unrequieted love, foiled affairs and underhanded manipulation of the characters. Mid-way through the book, almost the whole cast of characters are thrown together in a tumultuous event, with the remainder of the book dealing with the fallout thereof. I hesitate to be more specific, lest I spoil the book for anyone. It is only in the resolution that Hardy really goes in a different direction than that which he took with his later novels. Yet one can clearly see early hints here of later writings such as Far From The Madding Crowd, Jude The Obscure and The Return of the Native.
The pace of the book is a little uneven, with turgid, aimless passages suddenly giving way to a flurry of prose of exciting events and vivid imagery. While it may be a little off the beaten track in terms of the Hardy canon, it is by no means the weakest of his writings and I’d encourage you to dive in.