Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
jfp

Thomas Hardy/The Time-Torn Man

Recommended Posts

As a teenager I found Thomas Hardy's major novels totally absorbing, his rural world totally different from the one I was growing up in, his characters totally engaging in their humility and their simplicity. Where Dickens seemed hard going (particularly Hard Times, the first one we had foisted on us at school) and sometimes recklessly over the top, Hardy's gentle rustic realism always seemed that much more believable.

 

This flawlessly researched and meticulously written biography has taken me back to Hardy's world, all that stuff about the pathos underlying the grandeur and the grandeur underlying the pathos (I think that's how it was encapsulated somewhere...) The major novels will all have to be shifted on to the re-read pile now... But, as befits a biographical approach, it is Hardy the man who comes astonisinghly to life in these pages, and he comes over as a man racked with contradictions, a man who rose up above, even rebelled against, his humble background, and yet never quite forgave himself for doing so. A God-fearing atheist as well (in rather the same way in which Byron has been decribed as a revolutionary aristocrat). The only one of four children not to heed his mother's advice never to marry, remaining steadfastly loyal to his first wife while often cordially detesting her, and never quite coming to terms with the way he was, basically, manipulated into a second marriage by a woman nearly forty years his junior.

 

Claire Tomalin has already written critically acclaimed biographies of, among others, Shelley, Katherine Mansfield, Jane Austen and Samuel Pepys. Her style is smooth and polished, with just the odd surprising jagged edge sticking out, as when she comes to Jude The Obscure:

Reading Jude is like being hit in the face over and over again.

I well remember the unbearably depressing effect of reading Jude, but I would never have expressed that effect with quite such a simile.

 

Tomalin also strikes me as rather too simplistic in her division of certain of the novels into "masterpieces" and "failures" (with Two On A Tower, about which she seems unable to make up her mind, classed as an "interesting oddity").

 

After the scandalised reception of Jude The Obscure in 1895, Hardy turned definitively away from the novel and devoted the last thirty years of his life to poetry, new and old (some of it having been written many years prior to publication). Tomalin draws attention to the enormous variety to be found within the poetry, and singles out highly acclaimed poems such as "The Darkling Thrush" and "The Ruined Maid", a highly amusing dialogue between a naïve former acquaintance and a countrygirl-turned-harlot:

- 'Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak,

But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek,

And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!' -

'We never do work when we're ruined,' said she.

The epilogue to the biography concentrates, unexpectedly, on the wrangling over where Hardy should be buried: with his family, as he had stipulated, or in Westminster Abbey, as his influential friends thought appropriate (in brazen defiance of Hardy's own will and testament). The way the dispute was resolved is the most shocking revelation in the biography (and I still can't quite believe what I read in those final pages...)

 

I've always had reservations about biography, thinking that the life of a human being, especially a creative one, is so complex that any attempt to present it will either just scratch the surface or else be too obviously subjective in its approach - or even both. But this one has made me start to think otherwise. Tomalin is indeed, as one reviewer puts it, "the most empathetic of biographers", and I look forward to getting to know Jane Austen, and possibly Katherine Mansfield, in her genial company.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have this on my shelf, but I haven't read it properly. I scanned it and used a lot of it in an essay on Hardy/FFMC this year - so what I have read of it is very good indeed. I must get round to reading it properly.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

On A Good Read yesterday all three agreed how good the biography was. I must get round to it as thoroughly enjoyed Tomalin's biog of Samuel Pepys.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have spent the summer slogging my way through this biography.

The slog is my problem, it has nothing to do with the quality of the book, which is full of interesting information, and is really an easy read.

 

I was fascinated by the history of the Hardy family, and the way this feeds into the novels, although I did feel at times that Tomalin perhaps drew conclusions about Hardy's life that were a bit speculative. But then, his life is sparsely documented as many personal papers were destroyed before and after his death.

 

The most interesting aspect of Hardy's life was the conduct of his marriage. Although Emma was reviled and looked down on by Thomas's family and his literary friends, he was responsible for much of her 'odd' behaviour, as he really treated her very badly. It was too late when he remembered how much he had loved her at the beginning, and he poured out his grief and guilt in some magnificent poems.

Jemimaa Hardy advised her children never to marry and, as the only one who did, Thomas certainly proved her correct. He fell in love very easily, but couldn't commit himself to sustaining a domestic relationship, and both marriages suffered for it.

 

From what I remembered of the novels I had always thought of Hardy as a writer who espoused the rights of the rural poor, and as a thorough Dorset yeoman, so was somewhat taken aback at the amount of time he spent cultivating the rich and famous up in London for 'the season', year after year. I suppose this was necessary for his career, but it was a surprise.

 

In fact, there are a lot of surprises in the book, and like jfp, I feel the need to return to his writing now I have 'met' the man.

 

Those of you who saw the recent TV programme about Hardy will know what conclusion was reached regarding his burial, so that will not be a surprise, but in some respects it was a shorthand representation of his life.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

After reading the above, I went to my library today to get a copy of this book. I am certain it is going to be a great help towards my presentation on the man's life and work at our U3A. Thanks for the reviews Meg and jfp.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
After reading the above, I went to my library today to get a copy of this book. I am certain it is going to be a great help towards my presentation on the man's life and work at our U3A. Thanks for the reviews Meg and jfp.
So how did the presentation go?

I am still fascinated by Hardy, and was intrigued to hear a little titbit recently that Tomalin did not include. Apparently he asked his wife to read Walter de La Mare's poem The Listeners to him as he lay dying. I wonder what significance there was, if any, in the choice of that particular poem.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So how did the presentation go?
Still working on this one Meg. The presentation is actually in January. I will let you know though.
I am still fascinated by Hardy, and was intrigued to hear a little titbit recently that Tomalin did not include. Apparently he asked his wife to read Walter de La Mare's poem The Listeners to him as he lay dying. I wonder what significance there was, if any, in the choice of that particular poem.
Isn't life full of coincidences. Did you by any chance listen to Adventures in Poetry on Radio 4FM last Sunday at 4.30 p.m. They spent half an hour discussing this very poem. It was fascinating the way different people interpret The Listeners. I'd say for Hardy there could have been a lot of significance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Did you by any chance listen to Adventures in Poetry on Radio 4FM last Sunday at 4.30 p.m. They spent half an hour discussing this very poem. It was fascinating the way different people interpret The Listeners. I'd say for Hardy there could have been a lot of significance.
I did indeed, and it was fascinating. What caught my attention was that The Listeners had been published the year that Emma died.

I wonder if Florence knew what resonances the poem might have had for Thomas?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So how did the presentation go?
Just thought you would like to know meg, that I really enjoyed giving the presentation and it seemed to be well received.

 

What I tried to do was show how influences in Hardy's early life permeated his writing and then how Emma's death affected his poetry. What I learned whilst researching for this and also tried to show was that primarily Hardy was a poet who wrote to provide a living, yet his best poetry came from what was perhaps the greatest failure in his life - his marriage to Emma.

 

I have to say Claire Tomalin's book was a huge help whilst preparing this presentation.

 

After I presented my biography several of the literature group presented parts of his writing and his poetry. I think the whole session went off very well. We usually judge these things by how many people fall asleep - I didn't see one person nod off, so by that standard I think it went well!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sound like you covered the main points of accepted Hardy 'scholarship'. I wish I could have been there to join in the discussion, and read some of my favourite Hardy poems.

I have finally moved on from my Hardy-themed reading, but will be returning to more of his novels later.

Still listening to the music, and reading the occasional poem.

 

Hardy went to a lot of trouble to control how he was viewed after his death, so although The Time Torn Man brings Hardy alive, Tomalin does tend to jump to conclusions, and fill in the gaps with supposition.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nothing of importance to add other than to say how much I enjoyed this biography. Claire Tomalin knows just how much to include unlike some biographers who overdo things.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...