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Tony Grist

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Reading Thomas Hardy [Jul. 10th, 2014|11:08 am]
Tony Grist
There are two Thomas Hardys- a 19th century novelist and a 20th century poet. I'm reasonably familiar with the second but the first I've ignored. I read Tess at an age when reading it was a chore and I've never gone back

Until now.

We were in Wessex and I bought a boxed set of the novels in a charity shop because the price was bonkers.

I've started with one of the less famous ones. The Trumpet Major. So no preconceptions, no misleading images from the movies, no memories of teenage boredom to over-ride.

It's the early 19th century, Napoleon has an invasion fleet waiting in Boulogne and it's just like 1940- right down to the Dad's army brigade of farm workers being drilled by a sergeant who's been in uniform for three weeks and has to keep referring to his notes. Three rather silly young men are in love with a rather silly young woman. But then everybody in Hardy is rather silly; it's the human condition. The tone is mainly comic, but Hardy has the knack of switching the emotional register and catching us off guard with a sudden profundity.  The silly young woman stands on Portland Bill watching the ship carrying her silly young lover pass slowly- so slowly- beyond the horizon- and the name of the ship is Victory and it's going to Cape Trafalgar.

This is a typical Victorian novel in some ways- and yet fidelity and moral seriousness are not rewarded while sexiness is. Life is full of little ironies. People pass, landscape looms, time stretches out to eternity in both directions. Towards the end of the story we catch a glimpse of men stripping back the turf on the side of the hill at Osmington to create the great chalk image of George III which is still there...

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Comments:
From: cmcmck
2014-07-10 10:24 am (UTC)
I have to admit that while I love Hardy's poetry, I'm not a great fan of his novels.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2014-07-10 10:47 am (UTC)
I thought I didn't like the novels, but that seems to be changing. Have you read The Trumpet Major?
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From: cmcmck
2014-07-10 11:08 am (UTC)
I haven't. I suspect having to read 'Tess' way too young put me off!

Edited at 2014-07-10 11:08 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2014-07-10 11:58 am (UTC)
Well that was my experience too. I don't think Hardy is for kids.
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From: artkouros
2014-07-10 11:49 am (UTC)
Good old George. He was our favorite king.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2014-07-10 12:41 pm (UTC)
As kings go he wasn't a bad old stick. I don't suppose it was his fault you guys took off on your own.
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From: artkouros
2014-07-10 05:08 pm (UTC)
As I understand it your parliament wouldn't let our pirates, err... patriots, have free reign to smuggle, err... import, tax free goods from the Caribbean.
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[User Picture]From: davesmusictank
2014-07-10 12:55 pm (UTC)
I also have found some of his novels not to my liking ever since i had to read Tess at high school.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2014-07-10 03:09 pm (UTC)
Hardy is too grown-up to be a school book.
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[User Picture]From: puddleshark
2014-07-10 02:18 pm (UTC)
I loved The Trumpet Major - it's a charming book. Though I think Hardy got the ending wrong.

It came as a bit of surprise to find I liked some of Hardy's novels - we were made to read Tess and Jude at school and I hated them with a passion.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2014-07-10 03:16 pm (UTC)
The ending is unexpected- and that's the cleverness of it- because while it thwarts the reader's expectation it's entirely true to life. Of course she prefers the lively, devil-may-care sailor to the morally upright, emotionally constipated soldier.

I've just started The Return of the Native. The opening is just tremendous.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2014-07-10 03:54 pm (UTC)
The silly young woman stands on Portland Bill watching the ship carrying her silly young lover pass slowly- so slowly- beyond the horizon- and the name of the ship is Victory and it's going to Cape Trafalgar.

And a writer who can do that without HA HA GOTCHA IRONY is a great writer.

Towards the end of the story we catch a glimpse of men stripping back the turf on the side of the hill at Osmington to create the great chalk image of George III which is still there...

I did not know that was there. How neat.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2014-07-10 07:43 pm (UTC)
I didn't understand why Hardy was so highly regarded- and now- at long last- I'm finding out.
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