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The last couple of evenings Jan and I watched John Schlesinger‘s Far From the Madding Crowd. We liked it, a lot: except for how blatantly it followed the novel: accurately, that is to say! Hardy beats up his characters, then acts as though it’s their fault!
“Fate is character,” Victorian critics credited his fiction as saying.
No, no, says pk: neither fate nor character has a chance with a sadistic improbable author loosening this string, pulling that one tight.
It’s a crime. I loved Hardy as a poet, loved him. My sister read his novels, I read his poems: modern and traditional at the same time.
I pitched my day's leazings in Crimmercrock Lane, To tie up my garter and jog on again, When a dear dark-eyed gentleman passed there and said, In a way that made all o' me colour rose-red, "What do I see - O pretty knee!" And he came and he tied up my garter for me. 'Twixt sunset and moonrise it was, I can mind: Ah, 'tis easy to lose what we nevermore find! - Of the dear stranger's home, of his name, I knew nought, But I soon knew his nature and all that it brought. Then bitterly Sobbed I that he Should ever have tied up my garter for me! Yet now I've beside me a fine lissom lad, And my slip's nigh forgot, and my days are not sad; My own dearest joy is he, comrade, and friend, He it is who safe-guards me, on him I depend; No sorrow brings he, And thankful I be That his daddy once tied up my garter for me!
Isn’t that wonderful? Not counting Shakespeare, or Blake … who wrote more wonderful poetry? poetry that goes straight into your heart? the way Stevenson’s does? And only a few others.
For the novels, I began reading them only in graduate school, haven’t read them since.
I love the English country side tradition: sheep shearing, dairy dailies … music, song, dance … harvest, winnowing: teams of humans, nature too getting a voice, sometimes a peremptory voice: Christianity in evidence but Druidism showing through: Anglo-Saxonism with Celtic culture showing through.
And I love the improbable independence, courage, unconventionality, of the characters, especially the women! Bathsheba opens Fanny’s coffin! sees the dead baby inside with the dead mother: another girl betrayed by Sgt. Troy. How many other Victorian heroines would have done that? How many heroines from previous ages?
But at the same time I can’t stand how stupid they are, how deeply rooted in self-destructive inertia. Jude uproots himself and moves to be near the university he lusts for: then lives and dies without ever troubling to find out what the entrance requirements are: what’s the tuition? should he already know how to read? should he be able to quote half the Bible? …
Damn moron, who cares if he suffers? after doing nothing sensible for himself.
And Tess! Hardy conceals from the reader how Tess responds to her seduction, then assumes that we got it! Damn, stupid Victorians.
One more point before I close for the time being: Jude was the first Hardy character I met from the novels, so Jude was the first I held in contempt. Tess, Bathsheba, Gabriel Oak … soon followed. No character though pissed me off at Hardy like Michael Henchard, The Mayor of Casterbridge: but: his suffering, self-inflicted or not, is magnificent: transforming, mystical. This novel is a grand tragedy, one of the greatest of literary experiences.
Michael Henchard, on the way to the fair,
with wife and child.
Image evaporated, never mind.
Still: let’s take two examples. Gabriel Oak sees that he has a rogue sheep dog. The dog works mischief, not order: order that is for the profit of the herdsman. Oak falls asleep, the dog drives the whole herd of fat, wool-full sheep over the cliff where they die on the rocky beach below. Now: misfortune can visit anyone: but how likely is that misfortune to visit any experienced shepherd in a culture of shepherds? How many reliable sheep dogs are there for one rogue? Leave it to the Hardy character to get the improbable rogue. Leave it to the Hardy character to neglect to put the rogue down.
In Mayor, Michael Henchard gets drunk, quarrels with his wife, auctions off his wife and child, becomes mayor but never lives down his drunken stupidity.
But wait a minute: he auctioned his wife? his child? people let him?! Someone bought them? and didn’t sell them back the next morning? Did Hardy know of any real examples? Have you heard of any?
Hardy shows Tess dancing the May Pole. Ah, now that’s real Druidical England, I love it. But by the time she’s sleeping at Stonehenge, Brit tradition has gone a little haywire.
Her father thinks he’s an aristocrat? Who isn’t? Homer is filled with slaves who were king someplace else last year.
I may think I’m the rightful owner of 5th Avenue in NY, but I shouldn’t bet all my marbles that my claim will be honored: not easily.
2014 04 01 Jan and I just watched Under the Greenwood Tree: loved it: loved loved loved it.
Thomas Hardy’s second novel: Thomas Hardy’s last novel published anonymously. It’s not great Hardy, it’s not a great movie, it’s not even great TV; but it is Hardy! It is quintessential Hardy: from before there was such a thing. It’s simple, rural … mostly good-hearted: it depicts the forthright rural life we’ve lost (threw away with both fists in America). Hints of Hardy-the-pessimist, Hardy-the-saboteur-puppeteer are there but he’s not yet saturating his plots with the malevolent god-Hardy.
It’s so English. It’s the English that’s older than Great Britain: maybe not quite Druidic, but older than Christianity: in that part of the world at least. [Whoops: an N-draft repetition] It’s the England of a lot of tradition, a lot of inertia, but a little free will too. It’s the England of the southwest, the Celtic side of things: the England if not of King Arthur and Merlin, at least the England of virgins and Maypole dances.
My sister read Hardy when we were in high school: The Return of the Native. She loved it: loved loved loved it. [Whoops: more N-draft repetition] (Maybe that’s why I didn’t read it myself, still haven’t read more than a page or two of it, while I devour huge volumes of the poems and the later novels.) It was in college that I fell ardently in love with Hardy’s poetry: indeed he became my favorite early modern. I never read any of the novels until grad school: there I started with Jude: and hated it! Then I read Tess: and that was worse. But I loved Far from the Madding Crowd, was half-hating The Mayor of Casterbridge before deciding that it was great tragedy: one of the greatest novels in English!
But then I’d said some of that above, hadn’t I?
It was Professor Dupuis who put Hardy’s poetry under my nose in the late 1950s. I still recite “I pitched my day’s leazings on Crimmercrock Lane”, cited above, at any excuse. May 1959 or so I entered the hall for the final: Dupuis passed out the questions. One section gave quotes: we were to name the poem the quote appeared in. I’m no longer certain which poem it was, it could even have been Yeats, not Hardy. I’ll tell it as though it were
Right at the top was a poem I loved every line of and could recite letter-perfect in any tone of voice: but spotting it, I saw a foul: that poem had not been named on the reading list at the beginning of the course. Dupuis had discussed the poem in class, more than once: but he’d never assigned it! How could we be held responsible for something not on the reading list? I went up to him: “Professor,” my finger on the item, “That’s …” Wait: getting this far I realize I don’t remember which poem it was. Indeed, maybe it was Yeats, not Hardy: I’ll tell on as though it were Hardy’s Dear Dark-Eyed Gentleman:
|No sorrow brings he
And thankful I be …
“That’s Dear Dark-Eyed Gentleman, isn’t it?”
“That’s for you to answer, not me to tell you,” he answered abruptly, aghast at my gall, my stupidity.
“No, no”, I said, “that’s not what I mean. I know perfectly well it’s Dear Dark-Eyed Gentleman; what I mean is, you have no right to ask the question: Dear Dark-Eyed Gentleman wasn’t on the reading list!”
I held the original assignment from the beginning of the semester under his nose. “You can’t hold us responsible for what you didn’t assign: however much we may all know it and love it”. His jaw dropped, he sucked his breath, paused a beat, then said, “You’re a son-of-a-bitch to point that out to me now.”
Well, I couldn’t have pointed it out then: I hadn’t known the poems yet!
1974 I arrived in California, I’d heard that Dupuis had retired there. I looked in the LA phone book, Fred Dupuis. I called him up, reminded him of that story. “No, no”: he denied it. “I didn’t really call you a son-of-a-bitch, did I?” “Yes, Professor: verbatim.”
I just met Jan’s brother for the first time. What she tells me of him, that his wife is a proselytizing born-again Christian, reminds me of Mrs. Thomas Hardy. Hardy was the first writer I researched in grad school, 1963. Hardy was an architect. He wrote a novel, then another, got them published. Hardy was also a musician, played the fiddle, would provide music at the dance till dawn (Greenwood shows country musicians making q quire for their church, loving the music, going caroling at Christmas, living the music. Yes, yes.) Then Hardy becomes not only a novelist but a novelist with a readership, a readership that loved him: Hardy has fans!
Meantime there is of course a Mrs. Hardy: as there was a Mrs. Dickens, as there had been a Mrs. Shakespeare: never forget the wives: some helpers, some albatrosses. So: fans come up to Hardy, praise him: Mrs. Hardy says (the equivalent of) Well, I write too, you know. People are forced to say, Oh, OK, let us see: and Mrs. Hardy shows them her utter conventional claptrap in which Mrs. Thomas Hardy is welcomed into heaven: where she will sit on the right hand of God and Jesus!
2014 07 22 By now Jan and I have watched a bunch of Hardy movies: now we’re sampling The Return of the Native.
I gather Hardy mentions from a couple of other posts:
2014 04 01 Jan and I just watched Under the Greenwood Tree: loved it: loved loved loved it.
Reading sections of The Return of the Native to Jan we’re feeling strong parallels with Faulkner’s Light in August, just finished: between Lena Grove’s journey and Thomasin in Diggory Venn’s van: between the reddleman and Byron Bunch: the nerd loving and serving the girl who’s rejected him. Eustacia Vye and Joe Christmas; Eustacia Vye and a whole stack of religious symbols … Wildeve and a whole stack of Hardy characters: some by contrast, some by parallel …
I need to return her and scribble something about the British moors as nature the farmers, herders, and industrialists can do nothing with: wasteland, enemy of civilization: right up my alley.