It seems to me Thomas Hardy gets very little attention in the U.S. – he is not read in school or included as part of a common culture the way Twain, Dickens, Austen, Dickinson, Salinger, and so on are. And so I passed through many years without reading a single Hardy novel. This tragic error was finally corrected a year or two ago when I finally read Tess of the d’Urbervilles – a powerful, haunting book. Tess kept popping up in my brain until I ultimately decided to read another Hardy and see if they would all stick with me so tenaciously. The choice of book both times came as an accident – that is, I found 50 cent used copies at Goodwill or a library sale and tucked them away for future reading.
This time, the book was Far from the Madding Crowd which, I have since read, is the only of Hardy’s books with a semi-happy ending. Well, lucky me. If I had to deal with another Tess haunting me, the strain might have put me off Hardy for a bit, no matter how great his skill.
The way I think of Hardy is this:
If a teacher asked, “What is a novel?”, Far from the Madding Crowd would be the kid wiggling in his seat hand stuck as high in the air as possible puffing “OOH! ME! ME!” Hardy is truly the master of the traditional novel – he brings all the elements together seamlessly: characters, prose, setting, plot. This conventionality is not a flaw, though nowadays many authors strive to break the mold. Can we really complain of lack of originality with such characters, such prose, with a whole little world so perfectly constructed and a plot paced so that it is gripping but allows space for reflection, time to catch up? But beyond how pleasant the book is to read: Hardy seems to stir up all kinds of thoughts in me. The depiction of women, the consequences of one’s actions, the individual characters, the nature of relationships. These are the issues I wish to touch briefly upon.