Tag Archives: Thomas Hardy

Book Review: The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy

If you know me well and follow this blog (which narrows it down to about 4 people) you may have noted that I haven’t read that much Thomas Hardy lately. Aside from having other reading to do, I am fairly close to the end of the Hardy canon. Having been hooked by Jude the Obscure quite a few years ago, before this blog started, I have worked my way through his major works and am now going through some of lesser known novels. After this, the only ones I will have left to go are:

  • Two on a Tower
  • The Hand of Ethelberta
  • A Laodicean

After which, I expect to start again with those haven’t been reviewed on this blog. But enough of the future plans, what about this book?

This was the first of the books I received for Christmas. Starting a Hardy novel often takes a little time to tune in, as the cadences of the speech and some archaic words, as well the regional accents spelled phonetically, can confuse the modern reader who is more used to plain English. In this respect, the book’s opening reminded me of a slightly less shambolic start to that which greets us in Under the Greenwood Tree.

Our two main characters which come into sight are the Trumpet-Major himself and Anne, who is quite fond of the arrival of an army regiment in Overcombe in the Wessex downs. Unlike most of Hardy’s novels, set in the latter part of the 19th century, this is set in the early years of that century, particularly against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. Indeed, the reason the regiment take up their post on the south coast is because there is a belief (or is it fear?) that Buonaparte, as he is referred to, may be about to launch an invasion.

There is something of a friendship developed between the man of the army and woman of the village, but their social status is not the primary driver between them. Other suitors are nearby, not least the character of Festus Derriman. To him is afforded the very worst of characteristics. He thinks of himself as a gentleman, but is a misogynist of the ugliest character, with lines such as “Haw, haw; why, I thought your “go away” meant “come on” as it does with so many of the women I meet.” Charming.

The other contender for Anne’s affection is a character called Bob. Here, Hardy’s storytelling skills fall down a little, as it is not until second half of the book that we work out (though it is not a startling revelation, as though it were a plot point) that Bob is in fact the brother of trumpet major, who is sometimes referred to as John, sometimes as Jack. This creates some confusion when a character is then referred to simply by their surname, as the reader cannot immediately tell if it is Bob or John who is being referenced.

As with some of Hardy’s best work, somebody dies and somebody falls in love, though I shan’t disclose here the final outcome. The level of drama ramps up, making the second half of the book much better than the first, not least because some of the background characters drop out of the picture, leaving us with fewer characters to focus on, though I wasn’t overly impressed with the depth of characterisation. The climax of the book was marvelously entertaining and I still wasn’t sure what the final outcome would be right up until the final few pages.

It’s a wonderfully entertaining book that kept me distracted for little over a week, but I can see why it’s not considered part of Hardy’s “core” canon.

Book Review: A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy

If you were to ask the average person on the street to name 5 Thomas Hardy books, I doubt A Pair of Blue Eyes would appear very often in such a list. Being one of Hardy’s lesser known works, I began my reading in a state of perplexity as it has all the makings of as fine a romance as Hardy has written. The main character, Elfride Swancourt, is the owner of the titular eyes and is said to have been based on Hardy’s first wife.

A vicar’s daughter (oh, how I know the dangers thus!), Elfride soon attracts the attention of an architect from London, come to do some restoration on her father’s church building. But the path of love never does run smooth in Wessex and circumstances of family status conspire to confound them. Even an attempted elopement fails when Elfride’s fickle nature gets the better of her and she hastily retreats, though the couple retain their affection for one another while further circumstances ensure that they are physically apart for a while.

Hardy makes some slyly self-deprecating remarks in this book including, “The regular resource of people who don’t go enough into the world to live a novel is to write one.” This advice is offered to Elfride, unbeknownst that she already had and that a copy had made its way to a reviewer, a friend of the architect.

Though Elfride shows some affection to this reviewer, it is not reciprocated. Well, at least not at first…

I could continue but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. The more I read the more I was puzzled as to why this is not considered one of Hardy’s best works. The only reason I could think of was that there are early shadows of Tess here and that it comes second in a direct comparison between the two. Hardy’s sense of place, societal pressures and the passions of individuals are as strong as ever. It was a delight to read, with the ending leaving me a little choked up and possibly something in my eye too.

Book Review: Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy

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.

Book Review: Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

As it’s summertime, it seemed only right to read another of Thomas Hardy’s novels. I’ve now read the majority of his works, and this is the last of the more well-known Wessex novels for me to tackle, even though it was one of the very early books that he wrote.

Though not usually considered as one of his best in popular circles (that title usually goes to Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Far From The Madding Crowd or Jude The Obscure) but to aficionados of Hardy, this is a perennial favourite. Perhaps some of the reason behind this is that the overall tone is much more optimistic than those more tragic novels. I confess though that the book took me a while to get into. While the very opening was a wonderful description of place, as became typical of Hardy’s later writing, he then launches into a very confused scene.

As a reader, my preference is always for characters to be introduced fairly slowly, one at a time, so you can get to distinguish between them and learn to love or hate their various characteristics. What we have here is a whole choir (sometimes spelled colloquially as quire) who are introduced to us all at once. In such an introduction, I found it very difficult to tell them apart. From there, much of the dialogue in the first half of the book was hard to follow. This is compounded by one of Hardy’s notable features: his writing in the rural vernacular. Though noticeable in his later books, the speech here is particularly impenetrable at times.

The story really only then picks up in the second half, where two main characters emerge out of the crowd: Dick Dewey and Fancy Day. There is a very gentle romance between these two which is very engaging and shows off Hardy’s great talent as a writer of romance. But things in the world of Hardy’s Wessex rarely run without a hitch. Some family objections are thrown into the path of the two lovers, seemingly hindering them from their path to matrimony. Also, though they may seem young and innocent, at least one of the two parties, during the course of their engagement, does not exactly rebuff all advances made their way. As for the ending, I shall leave for you to see who it was that wore the wry smile and why.

I could not say that I agree with those who think this one of Hardy’s best novels. However, as a work of fiction, it is as good, if not much better, than most other works of the 19th century. Though it is very short, the denseness of the language in the first half of the novel should not be underestimated. But if you can find a tree to sit under for a couple of sunny days, then this would find accompaniment to that idyllic scene.

Book Review: The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

To the best of my knowledge this is considered one of Hardy’s better written books, though having not discovered Hardy until my 20s, it doesn’t appear to be one of the most well known. I must confess that I got about 50 pages in, but hadn’t really absorbed much of it given that I found it quite dull and made myself go back and start again. The reason for this is that in the opening scene (which is similar to The Return of the Native) just seems to happen and then bears little relevance to the rest of the start of the book.

The book begins with a lone traveller on the road. The traveller in question is looking for a tiny hamlet called Little Hintock which is the setting for this story. It is buried away in a woodland and out of the way for most people so that it remains unfound to all except to those who seek it out, as this traveller does. When he does reach his destination, the first major dialogue is between himself and a young girl named Marty South.

The trouble is that neither of them play a very big part for most of the rest of the novel. So when I was getting into the rest of it I found myself thinking what had happened to them and didn’t really take notice of the main characters as they are introduced.

The plot, not entirely unlike Far From The Madding Crowd, focuses on the relationship of one woman with more than man. The woman in question is Grace Melbury, a resident of Little Hintock and childhood sweetheart of Giles Winterbourne. Giles’ father was a good friend to Grace’s father and the senior Mr. Melbury had promised that he would allow Grace to marry Giles.

Through circumstances beyond his control Giles ends up as a man of very modest means and Grace’s father decides that his daughter’s marriage to Giles is no longer the best option. Enter onto the scene Dr. Edred Fitzpiers. He is a newcomer to Little Hintock, trying to create a medical practice for himself between two neighbouring towns. He approaches Grace’s father and asks for permission to court and marry Grace. Deciding that the wife of a doctor is a reasonable future for Grace, Mr. Melbury agrees.

However, all is not well in the marriage. Though I shan’t spoil too much, Grace is given cause to become greatly unhappy; news of which reaches her father. Through a sequence of meetings, news comes forth that there may be a legal loophole through which Grace may divorce Fitzpiers and be married to Giles. In Hardy’s time, this would have been most scandalous, and it is a major feature of his writing in general that he challenges what were the socially accepted norms.

Yet again, though, things do not work out well to the say the least. But I would recommend you read the book to find out exactly how.

For much of the first half of the book, I was wondering if it really was one his better written books, as it didn’t seem to come close to the likes of Tess of the D’Urbervilles or my own favourite, The Mayor of Casterbridge. By the end, though, I was brought around to the writing. The reason is that the first half of the book has, as I pointed out, some seemingly disjointed sections which don’t sit well within the narrative. But by about 2/3rds of the way through Hardy starts pulling these threads together and the reader finally gets to the see the whole picture. The main climax to the narrative doesn’t come at the very end, so as I was reading I was wondering how the novel would actually end, given it seemed to be petering out.

Then, at the very last, the final piece of the puzzle is put back in place, which harks back to the opening scene. So I now recognise the brilliance of the writing, though the actual plot itself I felt lacked a little of the richness that his more novels have.