I am about a quarter of the way through this book it having been recommended to me by a friend. Having read a number of Thomas Hardy books in the past she remembers this of all of them as being her favorite. Having read many books by Thomas Hardy myself I have to admit that I am not sure so far why she was so keen on this book in particular.
As with all Thomas Hardy books the book is beautifully written. So far the reader has met few but the main characters as the story takes place in a very small community. The main characters are Elfride the daughter of the local vicar, the vicar himself and Stephen Smith an assistant of a London architect. Stephen comes to stay with the family for a short time to complete drawings of the church and tower which are in need of repair. Although perfectly likable Elfide and Stephen are no Gabriel Oak or Bathsheba Everdene and the story so far although pleasent is very slow moving. As my friend, whose recommendations are usually sound, enjoyed the book so much I can only assume that the story will get going eventually.
The passionate Eustacia Vye feels herself imprisoned, living in her grandfather’s isolated cottage on wild Egdon Heath.
'To be loved to madness - such was her great desire', and to live a life of idleness and luxury in some more entertaining and vibrant setting.
Her ex-lover, Damon Wildeve wasn’t able to provide these things for her, and before the story begins has gone off to marry local girl Thomasin Yeobright, who adores him. Her Aunt disapproves of Wildeve, and has previously forbidden the banns. She had hopes of her niece marrying Clem, her son - and ‘The Native’ of the title, who is making a career in Paris as a diamond merchant.
For a technical reason the marriage between Wildeve and Thomasin has not taken place, and she is brought home in distress by Diggory Venn, a wandering reddleman who comes across her on the road. Venn had been a local dairy farmer, but having had his proposal of marriage turned down by Thomasin some years before had given up the farm and taken to the road, making and selling ‘raddle’, which was used for marking sheep. This trade has impregnated his clothes and skin with red dye, so he is excluded from community life, and is used as a 'bogeyman' to scare children.
Still loving Thomasin, Venn takes to keeping a caring eye on her, and a suspicious one on Eustacia and Wildeve, who he suspects, correctly, to have recommenced their relationship.
Mrs Yeobright is aware that Thomasin’s reputation will be ruined if the marriage to Wildeve does not take place quickly, now actively promotes it, but Wildeve no longer seems so keen.
Into this situation comes Clem Yeobright, ostensibly returning home for Christmas, but with hidden long-term plans to stay around. Eustacia decides that a life in Paris would suit her just fine, so encourages Clem to fall for her. Damon Wildeve marries Thomasin, but continues to haunt the Heath in order to see Eustacia, and Diggory Venn watches and acts in what he believes are the interests of Thomasin.
It all, of course, ends in tragedy (or at least that was Hardy’s original intention). However, a sort of epilogue to fit in with the magazine format in which it was first published provides a happier conclusion for a couple of the main characters.
In addition to the five central characters, there is a cast of Egdon Heath residents who provide commentary and comedy giving some light relief from the intensity of the emotions between the various lovers, and Egdon Heath itself plays such a major role in the action of the plot that it is almost a character also.
I have loved Hardy’s novels since my early teens, but have found them, and other novels of the period, more difficult to read in recent years, as the descriptive passages - which used to be my favourites - seem to slow the action down so much, and my eyes tend to slide over the words until I reach someone doing or saying something Too many plot-driven modern novels, action led TV, and the busy busy pace of modern life I guess.
Fortunately I had this on audiobook, wonderfully read by Alan Rickman,
. Not only is it not possible to skim over the wonderful descriptive passages, he makes Egdon Heath almost visible to the listener.
He also gives the characters believable voices. The basic narration is in his ‘normal’ voice, but he does a very credible Dorset accent. - Sorry, several credible Dorset accents, modulating them from the light accent of the more educated characters, to the broader ones of the furze cutters on the heath.
I'm almost done with this book and like it or not I keep relating to the comment in this thread http://www.bookgrouponline.com/forum/showthread.html?t=3884&highlight=jude+obscure that reading Jude is 'like being hit in the face over and over again'! It really is, I am reading it and constantly groaning at what new misadventures befall Sue and Jude, shouting at Sue for being so pig-headed and at Jude for being so weak.
That said, I wouldn't say I dislike the novel - I've been compelled to keep going back to it, I want to find out what happens in the end, although I'm dreading it really as I'm sure it's not going to make me feel any better about it! I always knew the gist of the story, was aware of the incident with the children, but I really was unprepared for just how depressing a read this book is.
It's definitely made me want to find out more about Hardy's life at the time, e.g. was his marriage unhappy, what were his religious views, as if he wasn't writing from personal experience, where did all this seeming bitterness come from? Is it just a story or does it reflect Hardy's life?
Interesting. I may post again when I've finished (only another few chapters to go).
By The Bard
I've just finished reading The Woodlanders , which I hadn't re-read since the ice age, and I was somewhat surprised at how ponderous I found Hardy's style in the novel. Very long-winded, more circumlocutions than you can shake a stick at! They struck me as particularly inappropriate given the elemental nature of much that Hardy is writing about. However, I was interested to come across the passages concerning the 1857 Divorce and Matrimonial Act, on which, of course the last part of the plot hinges. I had forgotten all about that, but shouldn't have since I use extracts from the Act as a contextual document in my edition of Pinero's The Second Mrs Tanqueray which I've mentioned in another thread. The Act is but background for the play, but quite crucial for Hardy's novel.
Based on this thread, this is week one's discussion. Everyone is welcome to participate, though this is primarily geared towards people who appreciate poetry but have not studied it in any academic programme.
<blockquote>The Voice, Thomas Hardy
Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.
Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!
Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to existlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?
Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves about me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.</blockquote>
And one of the following three questions
I'm quite happy for this to sit in Writers' Corner if it's better there.