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Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

This is the last of my Hardy novels for my Victorian Literature group – you can definitely see Hardy’s increasing maturity as a writer when you read them in chronological order. Having said that, however, I still think The Woodlanders my favourite. I am sure this novel has more literary merit, but Tess’s life is so grim.

Here is the plot summary from Shmoop

Tess Durbeyfield is a (totally and completely doomed) country girl living in the late 19th Century in an English village that seems secluded, even though it’s only a four-hour journey from London. Her father learns in the first chapter that he is the last lineal descendent of the D’Urbervilles—one of the oldest, most aristocratic, families in all of England. He foolishly assumes that his aristocratic heritage will suffice to pull his family out of poverty, and so he sends Tess off to “claim kin” (i.e., to borrow money on the strength of their distant family ties) from a wealthy branch of the D’Urbervilles.

Tess is a very pretty girl, and very “womanly” (i.e., sexy) for her age, and the son of the wealthy D’Urbervilles, Alec, tries to seduce her. He finds her too proud and modest to fall into his snares, and so he tricks her into accepting a ride from him back to the family house at night, and cuts through the woods. After getting lost (possibly on purpose), Alec leaves Tess to fall asleep under a tree while he tries to find the path. He comes back, and, finding her asleep, takes advantage of their solitude to rape her under the trees.

The next phase of the book (“Maiden No More”) opens with Tess back at her parents’ house in the village of Marlott. She’s had a baby as a result of her connection with Alec, and has secluded herself from her former friends out of a combination of shame and pride. She works a few odd jobs to make money, and things are going okay until her baby suddenly gets sick… and dies. Tess is more worried about the baby’s soul than anything else, so she buries it in the churchyard on the sly.

Time passes, and most of her friends and neighbors have forgotten about Tess’s troubles. But she hasn’t, so she decides to go to a neighboring county to work at a dairy farm where nobody knows her. One of the other workers at the dairy, Angel Clare, is the son of a gentleman. Angel is learning about farming so that he can move to the colonies in America and become a wealthy farmer there. He and Tess gradually fall in love.

Tess wants to tell Angel about her past, but she can’t bring herself reveal it to him. Finally, the night before they’re supposed to get married, she slips a note under his door confessing everything. When he doesn’t say anything about it the next morning, she assumes all is forgiven—but really, he never saw the note. On their wedding night, he confesses to her that he’d had a brief fling with a strange woman in London long before he’d met Tess. So Tess feels like she can tell him about Alec, since that wasn’t her fault.

But Angel doesn’t see it that way. He’s shocked and horrified that she’s not a virgin, and runs off to South America to try and forget about her. Tess is heart-broken and wanders from job to job, trying to leave her problems behind her. But her problems keep finding her. Alec runs into her on the road, and even though he’s become a Christian, he becomes obsessed with her again. Eventually he persuades her to live with him, even though she’s legally married to Angel. But she’s given up hope that Angel will ever come back to her.

But he does come back to her, and when she sees Angel, she stabs Alec in their hotel room. Angel realizes that he’s partly responsible for the murder, and runs away with her. They flee together across the countryside, and are finally caught by the authorities at Stonehenge, an ancient monument of huge stones in the English countryside that was built by the druids or even earlier. “Justice” catches up with Tess, and she is hanged.

I listened to this one (it was read by Anna Bentinck), which, as Hardy is a poet first, means I have a much greater appreciation for how his work sounds.

I think Hardy has pyschological insight – like this (Tess has returned home after being ruined (seduced/raped) by Alec D’Urberville

Their chatter, their laughter, their good-humoured innuendoes, above all, their flashes and flickerings of envy, revived Tess’s spirits also; and, as the evening wore on, she caught the infection of their excitement, and grew almost gay. The marble hardness left her face, she moved with something of her old bounding step, and flushed in all her young beauty.At moments, in spite of thought, she would reply to their inquiries with a manner of superiority, as if recognizing that her experiences in the field of courtship had, indeed, been slightly enviable. But so far was she from being, in the words of Robert South, “in love with her own ruin,” that the illusion was transient as lightning; cold reason came back to mock her spasmodic weakness; the ghastliness of her momentary pride would convict her, and recall her to reserved listlessness again.

It must be quite unusual for a 19th century novel to have a working class heroine as its main protagonist. I am intrigued as to what contemporary readers thought.

Hardy is highlighting the complete lack of control or agency that Tess (or any woman) has over her life. Also the incredible hypocrisy and double-standards of the time – Angel cannot forgive Tess for not being innocent despite confessing a prior entanglement. There is a lot of tramping about the country side (Tess walks 15 miles to the vicarage at Eminister and back again in one day), descriptions of lush dairy country and harsh upland country. Country customs and conversations plus the usual Hardy pre-occupation with villages losing their tradespeople as life leases end.


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The Woodlanders – Thomas Hardy

The Woodlanders - Thomas Hardy

The Woodlanders – Thomas Hardy

Continuing my year of Hardy, I read The Woodlanders. This is my favourite so far – the characters (apart from Giles) are more nuanced less black and white. It is typically Hardy – there a love triangles/quadrilaterals, a fabulous sense of place (you could almost here the wind in the leaves), social class issues, pride, vanity and unhappy endings.

Here’s the summary …

The story takes place in a small woodland village called Little Hintock, and concerns the efforts of an honest woodsman, Giles Winterborne, to marry his childhood sweetheart, Grace Melbury. Although they have been informally betrothed for some time, her father has made financial sacrifices to give his adored only child a superior education and no longer considers Giles good enough for her. When the new doctor – a well-born and handsome young man named Edgar Fitzpiers – takes an interest in Grace, her father does all he can to make Grace forget Giles, and to encourage what he sees as a brilliant match. Grace has misgivings prior to the marriage as she sees a village woman (Suke Damson) coming out of his cottage very early in the morning and suspects he has been sleeping with her. She tells her father that she does not want to go on with the marriage and he becomes very angry. Later Fitzpiers tells her Suke has been to visit him because she was in agony from toothache and he extracted a molar. Grace clutches at this explanation – in fact Fitzpiers has started an affair with Suke some weeks previously. After the honeymoon, the couple take up residence in an unused wing of Melbury’s house. Soon, however, Fitzpiers begins an affair with a rich widow named Mrs. Charmond, which Grace and her father discover. Grace finds out by chance that Suke Damson has a full set of teeth and realises that Fitzpiers lied to her. The couple become progressively more estranged and Fitzpiers is assaulted by his father-in-law after he accidentally reveals his true character to him. Both Suke Damson and Mrs Charmond turn up at Grace’s house demanding to know whether Fitzpiers is all right – Grace addresses them both sarcastically as “Wives -all”. Fitzpiers later deserts Grace and goes to the Continent with Mrs Charmond. Grace realises that she has only ever really loved Giles but as there is no possibility of divorce feels that her love seems hopeless.

Melbury is told by a former legal clerk down on his luck that the law was changed in the previous year (making the setting of the action 1858) and divorce is now possible. He encourages Giles to resume his courtship of Grace. It later becomes apparent, however, that Fitzpiers’ adultery is not sufficient for Grace to be entitled to a divorce. When Fitzpiers quarrels with Mrs. Charmond and returns to Little Hintock to try to reconcile with his wife, she flees the house and turns to Giles for help. He is still convalescing from a dangerous illness, but nobly allows her to sleep in his hut during stormy weather, whilst he insists on sleeping outside. As a result, he dies. Grace later allows herself to be won back to the (at least temporarily) repentant Fitzpiers, thus sealing her fate as the wife of an unworthy man. This is after Suke’s husband Timothy Tangs has set a man trap to try to crush Fitzpiers’ leg but it only tears Grace’s skirt.

No one is left to mourn Giles except a courageous peasant girl named Marty South,who has always loved him. Marty is a plain girl whose only attribute is her beautiful hair. She is persuaded to sell this at the start of the story to a barber who is procuring it for Mrs Charmond, after Marty realises that Giles loves Grace and not her. She precipitates the final quarrel between Fitzpiers and Mrs Charmond by writing to Fitzpiers and telling him of the origin of most of Mrs Charmond’s hair.

Another review …


Here is the enotes page for The Woodlanders


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The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy

The Mayor of Casterbridge - Thomas Hardy

The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy

I read this at school. I think it was one of the reasons I never read Hardy again (until late last year) or it could be because of my very creepy english teacher.

I vaguely remember waffling on in an essay about how an event can be like a stone in a pond – the ripples just keep moving outwards (very metaphorical).

I was much more sympathetic this time round to all of the characters, but Henchard in particular.

Here is the blurb …

In a fit of drunken anger, Michael Henchard sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair. Over the course of the following years, he manages to establish himself as a respected and prosperous pillar of the community of Casterbridge, but behind his success there always lurk the shameful secret of his past and a personality prone to self-destructive pride and temper. Subtitled ‘A Story of a Man of Character’, Hardy’s powerful and sympathetic study of the heroic but deeply flawed Henchard is also an intensely dramatic work, tragically played out against the vivid backdrop of a close-knit Dorsetshire town.

And here is the Wikipedia plot summary.

This was different from the previous Hardy novels that I have read. First, there wasn’t a main female protagonist (no Fancy Day or Bathsheba Everdene). It was all about Henchard and how his character flaws bring about his downfall – although the poor man couldn’t get a break (even the bird is sacrificed!). Hardy can be cruel to his characters.

You could also argue that it is a fight between the old ways (Henchard) and the new (Farfrae) and the passing away of a way of life in rural England, but ultimately it is a tragedy –  Henchard is brought low by his own impulsive actions; selling his wife, trying to keep that a secret and rash business decisions.

Here is the cliff notes on The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Thomas Hardy page at Victoria Web and The Mayor of Casterbridge page.

I am really glad we (my Victorian group and I) have embarked on this Thomas Hardy marathon – just Tess to go.

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The Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy

The Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy

The Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy

This took me a long time to read despite not being particularly long. This is the start of what I think of the descent into Hardy grimness – Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd are both lighter with what I like to think are happy endings.

Here is the plot summary from Wikipedia

The novel takes place entirely in the environs of Egdon Heath, and, with the exception of the epilogue, Aftercourses, covers exactly a year and a day. The narrative begins on the evening of Guy Fawkes Night as Diggory Venn is slowly crossing the heath with his van, which is being drawn by ponies. In his van is a passenger. When darkness falls, the country folk light bonfires on the surrounding hills, emphasising—not for the last time—the pagan spirit of the heath and its denizens.

Venn is a reddleman; he travels the country supplying farmers with a red mineral called “reddle”, a dialect term for red ochre, that farmers use to mark their sheep. Although his trade has stained him red from head to foot, underneath his devilish colouring he is a handsome, shrewd, well-meaning young man. His passenger is a young woman named Thomasin Yeobright, whom Venn is taking home. Earlier that day, Thomasin had planned to marry Damon Wildeve, a local innkeeper known for his fickleness; however, an inconsistency in the marriage licence delayed the marriage. Thomasin, in distress, ran after the reddleman’s van and asked him to take her home. Venn himself is in love with Thomasin, and unsuccessfully wooed her a year or two before. Now, although he believes Wildeve is unworthy of her love, he is so devoted to her that he is willing to help her secure the man of her choice.

At length, Venn reaches Bloom’s End, the home of Thomasin’s aunt, Mrs. Yeobright. She is a good woman, if somewhat proud and inflexible, and she wants the best for Thomasin. In former months she opposed her niece’s choice of husband, and publicly forbade the banns; now, since Thomasin has compromised herself by leaving town with Wildeve and returning unmarried, the best outcome Mrs. Yeobright can envision is for the postponed marriage to be duly solemnised as soon as possible. She and Venn both begin working on Wildeve to make sure he keeps his promise to Thomasin.

Wildeve, however, is still preoccupied with Eustacia Vye, an exotically beautiful young woman living with her grandfather in a lonely house on Egdon Heath. Eustacia is a black-haired, queenly woman, whose Italian father came from Corfu, and who grew up in Budmouth, a fashionable seaside resort. She holds herself aloof from most of the heathfolk; they, in turn, consider her an oddity, and some even think she’s a witch. She is nothing like Thomasin, who is sweet-natured. She loathes the heath, yet roams it constantly, carrying a spyglass and an hourglass. The previous year, she and Wildeve were lovers; however, even during the height of her passion for him, she knew she only loved him because there was no better object available. When Wildeve broke off the relationship to court Thomasin, Eustacia’s interest in him briefly returned. The two meet on Guy Fawkes night, and Wildeve asks her to run off to America with him. She demurs.

Eustacia drops Wildeve when Mrs. Yeobright’s son Clym, a successful diamond merchant, returns from Paris to his native Egdon Heath. Although he has no plans to return to Paris or the diamond trade and is, in fact, planning to become a schoolmaster for the rural poor, Eustacia sees him as a way to escape the hated heath and begin a grander, richer existence in a glamorous new location. With some difficulty, she arranges to meet Clym, and the two soon fall in love. When Mrs. Yeobright objects, Clym quarrels with her; later, she quarrels with Eustacia as well.

“Unconscious of her presence, he still went on singing.” Eustacia watches Clym cut furze in this illustration by Arthur Hopkins for the originalBelgravia edition (Plate 8, July 1878).

When he sees that Eustacia is lost to him, Wildeve marries Thomasin, who gives birth to a daughter the next summer. Clym and Eustacia also marry and move to a small cottage five miles away, where they enjoy a brief period of happiness. The seeds of rancour soon begin to germinate, however: Clym studies night and day to prepare for his new career as a schoolmaster while Eustacia clings to the hope that he’ll give up the idea and take her abroad. Instead, he nearly blinds himself with too much reading, then further mortifies his wife by deciding to eke out a living, at least temporarily, as a furze-cutter. Eustacia, her dreams blasted, finds herself living in a hut on the heath, chained by marriage to a lowly labouring man.

At this point, Wildeve reappears; he has unexpectedly inherited a large sum of money, and is now in a better position to fulfill Eustacia’s hopes. He comes calling on the Yeobrights in the middle of one hot August day and, although Clym is at home, he is fast asleep on the hearth after a gruelling session of furze-cutting. While Eustacia and Wildeve are talking, Mrs. Yeobright knocks on the door; she has decided to pay a courtesy call in the hopes of healing the estrangement between herself and her son. Eustacia looks out at her and then, in some alarm, ushers her visitor out the back door. She hears Clym calling to his mother and, thinking his mother’s knocking has awakened him, remains in the garden for a few moments. When Eustacia goes back inside, she finds Clym still asleep and his mother gone. Clym, she now realises, merely cried out his mother’s name in his sleep.

Mrs Yeobright, it turns out, saw Eustacia looking out the window at her; she also saw Clym’s gear by the door, and so knew they were both at home. Now, thinking she has been deliberately barred from her son’s home, she miserably begins the long, hot walk home. Later that evening, Clym, unaware of her attempted visit, heads for Bloom’s End and on the way finds her crumpled beside the path, dying from an adder’s bite. When she expires that night from the combined effects of snake venom and heat exhaustion, Clym’s grief and remorse make him physically ill for several weeks. Eustacia, racked with guilt, dares not tell him of her role in the tragedy; when he eventually finds out from a neighbour’s child about his mother’s visit—and Wildeve’s—he rushes home to accuse his wife of murder and adultery. Eustacia refuses to explain her actions; instead, she tells him You are no blessing, my husband and reproaches him for his cruelty. She then moves back to her grandfather’s house, where she struggles with her despair while she awaits some word from Clym.

Wildeve visits her again on Guy Fawkes night, and offers to help her get to Paris. Eustacia realises that if she lets Wildeve help her, she’ll be obliged to become his mistress. She tells him she will send him a signal by night if she decides to accept. Clym’s anger, meanwhile, has cooled and he sends Eustacia a letter the next day offering reconciliation. The letter arrives a few minutes too late; by the time her grandfather tries to give it to her, she has already signalled to Wildeve and set off through wind and rain to meet him. She walks along weeping, however, knowing she is about to break her marriage vows for a man who is unworthy of her.

Wildeve readies a horse and gig and waits for Eustacia in the dark. Thomasin, guessing his plans, sends Clym to intercept him; she also, by chance, encounters Diggory Venn as she dashes across the heath herself in pursuit of her husband. Eustacia does not appear; instead, she falls or throws herself into nearby Shadwater Weir. Clym and Wildeve hear the splash and hurry to investigate. Wildeve plunges recklessly after Eustacia without bothering to remove his coat, while Clym, proceeding more cautiously, nevertheless is also soon at the mercy of the raging waters. Venn arrives in time to save Clym, but is too late for the others. When Clym revives, he accuses himself of murdering his wife and mother.

In the epilogue, Venn gives up being a reddleman to become a dairy farmer. Two years later, Thomasin marries him and they settle down happily together. Clym, now a sad, solitary figure, eventually takes up preaching.

I never noticed the first time I read Hardy (like many of you at school) how evocative and atmospheric his settings are – the descriptions of the heath, the noise the wind makes through the trees and grasses, how dark it is at night …

Once again, there is a love triangle or an over-lapping love triangle – Eustacia, Wildeve, Clym and Thomasin. Eustacia and Wildeve are lovers, however, she only loves him because there are no worthier suitors available. When she drops him he begins to court Thomasin, which, of course, re-ignites Eustacia’s passion for him. They plan to run off to America together, but the Clym returns from Paris a succesful diamond merchant bringing all of the glamour and allure of Paris and Eustacia is smitten (even before she meets him). I think you get the picture. Clym has no plans to return to Paris, but plans to start a school to educate the poor of Edgon Heath. Eustacia believes once married she will be able to convince him to return to Paris and her true life will finally begin. However, her plans (as they often do) go awry and from there things get worse for our characters.

Eustacia is a woman out of time and place – she wants excitement and action – but she lives in a very isolated and lonely place with only her grand father for company. The only way she can see her life changing and improving is to find a lover who will take her away and thus she brings about her own misery and despair. I have been thinking about Hardy’s purpose with this novel – is it to highlight the restrictions on women’s lives and the effects of social isolation or is Hardy implying that if Eustacia had been ‘a better woman’ or ‘a good women’ she would have been content?

This novel has a lot of literary things going on (are the locals like a Greek chorus? All that imagery – Hardy is a poet after all) and you can certainly read it for the skill of the author. However, I can’t say I enjoyed reading it although I am glad I did.

More reviews …

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n14/tim-parks/bitten-by-an-adder – you do need to be a subscriber to get full access to this one.


There is an adaptation available on youtube (it is not that faithful to the novel)




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Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

Far from the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

Like many people I had to read Hardy at school – Tess of the D’Urbervilles and The Mayor of Casterbridge and I decided there would be no more Hardy after that. However, my book study group are having a Hardy year, so I have been forced to read some more and I have to say I am pleasantly surprised. So far I have read Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding CrowdUnder the Greenwood Tree was charming and delightful (and dare I say fun). Far from the Madding Crowd is darker, but still not the miserable affair I associate with Hardy.

Here is how Penguin describe Far from the Madding Crowd

Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her confident presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted Shepard Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and when tragedy ensues, the stability of the whole community is threatened. The first of his works set in Wessex, Thomas Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.

This edition, based on Hardy’s original 1874 manuscript, is the complete novel he never saw published, and restores its full candour and innovation. Rosemarie Morgan’s introduction discusses the history of its publication, and the Biblical and classical allusions that permeate the novel.

Just a word of caution about the latest penguin edition it doesn’t have the chapter ‘All Souls and All Saints’ (it is an appendix). I personally think this is a mistake because without this chapter Troy just comes across as a cad.

Thomas Hardy describes the novel as ‘A pastoral tale about a young woman-farmer, a shepherd and a sergeant of cavalry’. I guess that’s true but it leaves out the delightful rustics (people like Cain Ball whose mother thought Abel killed Cain and not the other way round), the fallen woman (poor Fanny Robbin), the obsessed (and deranged) Farmer Boldwood and the sneaky former Bailiff Pennyways.

There are a large number of allusions – biblical, classical and literary (luckily I had an edition with notes because most of them would have passed me by). The introduction to my edition tells me that Victorian readers would have loved recognising all of the different allusions and I must say I felt quite smug when I appreciated the irony associated with some of the allusions.

It is one of those novels with a lot of symbolism – the storm wreaking havoc on Bathsheba’s crops reflecting the havoc her new husband wreaks on her workers (they have all passed out drunk and Gabriel is the only one attempting to cover the ricks), the sheep not able to ‘control their passion’ for clover and neither can Bathsheba resist Troy. However, you can just read it and enjoy it as a story of a young woman struggling to be a farmer in a man’s world whose life is complicated by three men: Shepherd Oak (loyal and dependable), Farmer Boldwood (repressed and obsessive) and Sergeant Troy (sexy but a rogue).

Here are few links





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