Why Victorian works are so everlasting

victorian lit
thank you http://www.leeds.ac.uk for the picture

I can’t agree more with GoodReads statements when I once read its viewpoint on what makes classics books are evergreen. It says that certain works, be they are books or poems or drama, fall under canon literature because they convey messages that are timeless, stay-in-tune across culture and generations.

Whatever social backgrounds that lead authors of the Victorian era, I think the humanness of the fictional characters strongly portraying those living in the era is the one that makes them very memorable to readers.

General themes —- love, women role in society, faithfulness, religion, social interaction, poverty —- remain in the minds of modern readers because they are never old-fashioned. In my opinion, the emergence of the Industrial Revolution plays an important role to have made Charles Dickens’ novels highly applauded. The rise of industry in the United Kingdom at that time inspires Dickens to have raised topics on economy, materialism, consumerism, etc. But I mostly admire Dickens’ stories on people at that time. How industry has driven people to have acted at that time is related with what we see today, the modern world, where industry is no longer a phenomenon but an ordinary one.

The topic of love, particularly the relationship between women and men, I believe becomes the one that’s never enough to be written. But what makes the works in the era set standards for preceding works?

Here, my best reference is Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. So far, there’s no novel that can speak about love more thoroughly than this. To love means to work it out. Loving means compromising, working together for a bigger picture regardless bleak past stories. And the finale of the book says that you can’t have all that happy ending forever. But when you both work your best to be together, brief happy moments are all that you need to be contented.

The Victorian era provides perfect insights on women status, roles in the society, a topic that remains interesting no matter how rapid time has shifted. Referring to a few numbers of Victorian classics that I have read so far, female figures are the centre of all the books. Apparently, when it comes to the society, women take all the blames if they do something against public’ wishes. Take for instance, Hetty Sorrel in ‘Adam Bede’. She does commit adultery but it seems unfair that she is the one who is on the spotlight of all. She’s the one who gets very stressful after she murders her only kid then is put behind the bars.

Bathsheba Everdene, the central figure of ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ provides a clear picture on overwhelming burden women can suffer. In the book, she is an established woman who does not seek marriage to elevate her social status. Despite the already wealthy status, Bathsheba is still a subject to be blamed with all love stories revolving her and a few men who are fallen for her. I get the sense that all of her wishy-washy attitudes in romance taint her image as a successful woman.

In ‘Agnes Grey’ a very somber picture can be learned from the fate of Grey’s mother who chooses to have married against her father’s wishes expecting her to marry a rich man. As a result, she is let to have left her home. She is ‘no longer the daughter of the family’ then loses all her supposed inheritance.

While for some countries women are as equal as men, they sometimes remain a hot topic for debate in emerging or least developed ones probably in different, various cases. For instance, in some African countries, women are forced to marry wealthy men to help her family making ends meet. While for poor women, marriages may be driven by economy, career women may find themselves in contrastive perspectives against public. While many may wish career women to abandon their jobs after getting married, this type of women may hold different point of view.

All I can say is that women throughout time and space, across countries and generations, have been, are and will always be the ones whom public can easily put their fingers at. Those are themes that may sound usual but the creative minds of handful Victorian writers have turned them all into something extraordinary that stand the test of time.

My views on life as told by these Victorian writers

qupteOne of the greatest reading benefits is knowing that I am not a solo fighter to affirm my perspectives on life. From religion, social status, gender… writers share what they think about the world, which in coincidence, matches with my own. And I can say there are things from each of the book that I have read which are just what I feel. As my latest reading experiences are, still, on Victorian era, I’d love to highlight what I and the fantastic four authors have in common:

Thomas Hardy

Oh yes, there he is, again and again. He remains my darling for the Victorian era. His books are endless resources for my writings. What makes me liking this writer is definitely due to his views on life which are similar with mine. Below are some of his works that best describe my thoughts:

Far from the Madding Crowd
Feminism is the first word that emerges in my mind the first time I read about Bathsheba Everdene. She’s the kind of feminist that I adore. I don’t exactly know well the definition of feminism. All I agree is that a woman must be independent, capable of doing her tasks and making ends meet on her own but she, one day, will be a wife and a mother because she wants to be like that. And she does that out of love, not by force. When she is at home, she respects her husband wholeheartedly.

Jude the Obscure
Whenever I think about Jude, the main character in the book, introversion is the first word that perfectly characterizes him. I and Jude both agree that reading is the key to the world, or even, the tool that crafts our beings. Introversion and reading are best partners in life. Perfect mates to live up our dreams. Jude is the reflections of my characterization as someone who sticks at his introversion, lives the life according to his idealism amidst the world that prefers looking at extroverts.

The Woodlanders
Sometimes, the best thing falling in love with someone is limited as standing by his side, giving a helping hand when he needs that, being his best friend even when he’s in love with another woman. So painful yet that experience has brought so much joy for Marty South, one of the characters in the book. The death of Giles Winterborne doesn’t encourage her to immediately find another lover. Is being faithful to an unrequited love is a pathetic romance? You have your say. But for me, her decision to love, to have her heart crushed, to fall until she reaches the very bottom  of her life is a very brave, risky thing to do. She doesn’t mind being so vulnerable and that what makes her heart is so precious.

Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell is really sweet. She’s the kind of writer that nourishes your soul with her poetic, beautiful phrases. She is, what I call, as moderate realist. Neither skeptical nor an optimist. She’s such a refreshment.

Wives and Daughters
Molly Gibson, the heroine of the novel, speaks my stance about womanhood very well in Wives and Daughters. I used to really hate table manners, ladylike sort of things when I was a teenager. I hated make up, wore dresses and girly accessories. They were so nonsense. They took up so much of my priceless time. Womanhood used to be so annoying for me. I even wished I were born as a boy, LOL. At that time, I thought boys were so free. No norms, public statements that would limit their movements. While girls were born with so many duties, stereotypes. And if they went against public norms, their lives would be doomed, filled with gossips.

But that was then. Just like Molly, now I understand the nicest things of becoming a woman. I enjoy them all by the time I was turning, may be, 25. Sounds a bit late but each and every of us has a wonderful journey of his or her own. My time happens when I was 25 years old. But still, I keep my tomboyish trait and let it flourishes once in a while, like when I do exercises and watch sport games.

Anne Bronte

Agnes Grey
By the time I write this post, I almost complete reading Agnes Grey and I really love reading it. I usually prefer to read books with third person narration but Agnes Grey proves me that reading novels using first person narration method can be awesome, too. I am so fond of Agnes, the heroine of the book. Apart from the fact that she’s a bookworm and introvert, just like I am, she’s so bold and brutally honest. She’s so firm with her belief although that means she is risky of losing her jobs.

She does not give up easily pursuing her dreams despite the fact she faces hatred, unfair treatments, harsh words from her bosses and their families. She knows some people view her profession as a governess is no more than a servant but she keeps doing what she feels correct. Oh the last thing I really like about Agnes is that she’s not a people pleaser.

George Eliot

Adam Bede
Dinah Morris, one of the major characters in this novel, amazes me because of her religiosity. She devotes her life for her religion then share what she has with the poor, the depressed or those in need of spiritual help out of love not for the sake of good impressions. She knows well what she wishes in her life, she practices her religious rituals because she knows what they mean to her life.

I, too, my ultimate goal in life is getting closer and closer to Alloh swt. I want to make Him as the best ever friend in the world and the hereafter through questioning, self-learning, doing religious rituals under His guidance as stated in Koran and the sunah from the Prophet Muhammad saw (peace be upon him). To make my life much more meaningful, I’d like to share good things and help people out of love and because Alloh swt wishes me to do so. I’d love to make Islam as my way of life, fully implement it to live the days full of peace even as days go wild because I have Alloh swt in my heart. (the source of the picture: http://www.azquotes.com)

“The Three Strangers” by Thomas Hardy

I thought I would never again find another title other than famous novels by Thomas Hardy in the Kinokuniya bookstore. “Far from the Madding Crowd,” Jude the Obscure”, “The Major of Casterbridge”, “Tess of the D’urbervilles, “The Return of the Native”, and “The Woodlanders”, are his widely-read books, which I have read, too. Usually, the store sells only most popular works from an author, including Hardy, thus discovering his short stories collection is such a rarity for me.

Aside from the glee that I am going to read his less popular stories, the fact that the book is just as Rp21,000 or less than US$2 is perfect for my current pocket.  The 85-pages book contain his three stories – “The Three Strangers”, “The Distracted Preacher” and “The Fiddler of the Reels. So far, I have completed reading “The Three Strangers” which leave me with mixed feelings about the writer.

Before going on the reading remarks, I would like to share what the story is all about:

The loneliness of Higher Crowstairs, the name of a cottage, is broken down by the gathering of 19 persons — men and women from various professions. They dance, talk about so many things while listening to the beautiful rhythm coming from a 12-year old fiddler boy. One of the attendants in the conglomeration is shepherd Fennel and his wife. The blitheness of the party comes to a stop when a stranger knocks at the shepherd’s house.

Not long after that, a second strangeman goes in, too. While the first produces no sign of awkwardness, the second one seems a bit avaricious and mysterious at least for Mrs. Fennel. Although she tells her husband how she dislikes the look of the second man and that she feels he is a bit avaricious for quickly drinking lots of mead, Mr. Fennel ignores her complains.

The night goes on and the second stranger joins the party by singing a song about shepherd which stimulates the wonder among the people because of the man’s strange lyrics. While he is about to resume his song a knock at the door is audible. The third stranger, a man in a decent dark clothes, is about to ask for a direction but he stops saying after his eyes catches those of the second stranger. The latter keeps singing, though, that later makes the third man gets trembling, shaking then running away.

While the group has yet to fully understand the motives of the third man’s sudden departure, a gunshot shocks them. Later, they learn that the police are looking for a shepherd stealer. They then quickly conclude that the third man is their target given his super quick, weird behaviours. The male attendants pursue him, including the second man.

However, he does not follow the overall research and stops by at a friend’s  house. At the end of the search, the people and the authority finds the third stranger then brings him to the police. Surprisingly, the police declare that the third stranger is not the wanted man. The third man then explains that it is the second man who becomes the object of the investigation. He flees from the shepherd’s house after he finds out that the second man, who is also his brother, is there, too. When his brother rises his bass voice, the third stranger quickly learns that the former does not want to be found thus the latter chooses to escape. At the end of the story, the second man is never discovered.

 

 

Let me be honest. Four things I dislike from Victorian novels

Reading less than 30 Victorian novels from four different writers is, I know, insufficient to call this dislikeness list a representation of the overall canon literature era. I have created this list, however, according to my readings so far that will likely change in the near future for I promise to myself to read more books written by authors, except Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot and Oscar Wilde.

Too women centric

This may sound too subjective but I always feel women bear too much in almost each story that I have read. Even if they are heroines I find women during Victorian era suffer too much. The first sample is Molly Gibson in ‘Wives and Daughters’, a super thick novel that has been completed this week after a 3.5-month of an on-and-off reading process. She is a flawless character; honest, really good-tempered, compassionate, very tender, lovable girl. She is too soft-hearted that she acts kindly to her stepsister Cynthia who gets engaged to the love of the former. Even when Molly becomes the subject of gossip among Hollingford people as resulted from her intention to fix the relationship between Cynthia and Mr. Preston, Molly remains in good terms with Cynthia. What distresses me while reading the novel is how much Molly disturbed by the Victorian womanhood standards set by, particularly, her stepmother, Clare or Mrs. Kirkpatrick who later changes her last name as Mrs. Gibson. The stepmother is so noisy and annoyed with Molly’s curly hair, messy dress and her relatively tomboyish traits. I feel this kind of similiar disturbance when reading ‘The Mill on the Floss” in which Maggie Tulliver is often teased by her relatives and is compared to her girlish cousin because of her tomboyish personalities, too. How hard it is to be a good woman in the eyes of the soceity at that time even if Molly and Maggie come from rich families. How complicated their lives are…

For women from low social status their sitution is much more difficult, for instance is Tess Durbeyfield. This heroine is my most unforgettable one because of her tragical, depressive life story. It’s her real life struggles that are just beyond my senses. Not only her romance is so heartbreaking but also her impoverished family forces her to do whatever she can to make ends meet. Although yes she marries the love of her life, Angel Clare, yet their sweet tale lasts so quick, incomparable with their long separation.

Excessive details

There are some novels which I think contain too many details, some of which are unnecessary, making the reading process sometimes burden my mind. For instance in ‘Adam Bede’. George Eliot allocates a number of pages about Methodist whenever she wants to describe the characterization of Dinah Morris. Apart from my limited knowledge about Methodist, I think that it does not really shape Dinah Morris as a distinctive character compared to, say, someone who is a Catholic follower but not a Methodist one in particular. She is really a religious person who spends a lot of time to help those in need but what makes her especially distinctive to those who are close to God without any certain sect is uncertain. Or may be you can shed another light on this topic for this is beyond my understanding.

Another sample for this point is in ‘Wives and Daughters’. As this super thick book wants to depict the growing period of Molly and another character, needles to say that Elizabeth Gaskell needs to write this really long story. Yet there are some chapters which I think are insignificant to the formation of the characters. For instance is when Gaskell puts a chapter on Cynthia’s visit to the Kirkpatrick family in London which although she meets Mr. Henderson whom later she marries with, I don’t think this should be a certain chapter for another visit to the family takes place later on.

Too depressive

Some stories in this Victorian era proves to be too somber with “The Mill on the Floss” is my leading example. It is very miserable to recall what happens between Maggie and Tom Tulliver for it costs their lives to eventually realize how much the latter loves the former.

Another fine example is of course “Jude the Obscure”. Very desolate, dark, pathetic. Sorrowful tone is all over the book even if yes, there are some lovely moments between Jude Fawley and Susanna Florence Mary Bridehead or called as Sue. Hardy’s attempts to go against social norms by presenting the affairs between Jude and Sue, who are distant relatives, turn out to be disastrous. Their decision to elope then register their marriage only after they get sick of people’ gossips make the matter even worse. You can find almost all tartness here: divorce, poverty, sickness, death, rumours, forced reunion. And the finale sparks my anger as Sue gets back to her old lover Mr. Richard Pillotson while sadness leads Jude to death.

Some of you may choose “Jude the Obscure” as more depressive than “The Mill on the Floss” but I select the other way around because “The Mill” is very heartbreaking while “Jude” is sometimes like a karma as they should not get married given their relative status. While Hardy ignites controversy at that time due to their forbidden romance and illegal union the end of the book suggests you that he advices readers not to go against the norms.

Where is the romance?

 

If you want to read Victorian novels for finding romance story, like major scenes about romance, well I think you’ve got a relatively wrong reason although this depends on which books you choose. I think most of Victorian writers put society norms, family mattters, materialism, manner aspects above love stories. From Oscar Wilde to George Eliot, they have the same tendency; that society completely influences characters’ personal affairs. Worse, there are some books that reveal happy love stories after the novels almost come to a close. For instances are ‘Mary Barton’, ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and ‘Wives and Daughters’. Elizabeth Gaskell reunites the love of Mary and Jem just after they have gone some misunderstandings and have escaped from death penalty.

In ‘Tess”, things get much wretched. While the joy between Tess and Angel begins at the center of the novel when they meet in a dairy I think their most enduring lovely moments start only when they have separated for quite a long time. Their joy lasts too quick for Tess is later executed for killing Alec.

Although ‘Mary’ and ‘Far’ are written by different authors yet Gaskell and Hardy’s views on romance is similar in a way that the love story can only tasted only when characters have gone through difficult moments that test their faith. In ‘Far’, Batsheba and Gabriel Oak gets married in a very quite, modest ceremony just when the book is about to end.

I get dissapointed with the ending bond between Roger Hamley and Molly Gibson for they don’t even verbally confess their true feelings. In the last chapter, Roger is seen to have given gestures that attract Molly’s attention. It’s too bad Gaskell leaves this novel unfinished after 766 pages long yet readers can fancy that both Roger and Molly share the same feeling. And that happens just a few pages after the book ends.

How I wish to complain to those authors who give little enjoyment when it comes to real romance!

Seven Tips How to Enjoy Super Thick Victorian Novels

After some trials and tribulations with Victorian novels, I would like to share these following tips not only how to complete reading these super thicks book but also to enjoy literary journeys with classic canons.

  1. Mood matters

Honesty is number one rule in reading. Pick a book that perfectly suits current state of emotion. I, for instance, choose ‘Far from The Madding Crowd’ because I want to read something a little bit about women and men equality at that time. It turns out that this second Victorian reading becomes the first experience that kicks off my years-long trip with the Victorian books.

  1. Commitment

For such a serious person like me, reading, no matter how pleasant it is, requires a commitment. This is so important as it consistently reminds me not to be a quitter. I have to end what I start. That is to say I must complete reading all books that I buy, not only because I spend some money on them but also I must stick to what I begin. As such, I will attempt to make use of any vacant time to read. I may abandon some books for certain time but I will return to them unless I find they are really hard to digest or I don’t enjoy reading several titles that I will leave them for good.

  1. Being selective

It’s really helpful to search on the internet on which titles you are going to read. You can start with reading some titles of the favorite authors that you haven’t read or you can randomly select some books via topics. Or even if you have no ideas at all you can simply go to bookstores, take a look at the brief summary that is usually written at the back cover. If you are still unconvinced with the summary, you can read books’ first few pages as I always do.

  1. Big picture, big picture

Knowing book summary is the key to the overall journey. Victorian novels are so rich that they can be tricky in a way that there will be so many minor characters, events that may carry you away too far from the core of the book itself. Just remember that whenever you come to the points where you seem get lost in the story because of encountering new, minor characters or small incidents, you’d better temporarily halt your reading. Be quick to recoqnize that they are not really essential. That’s why reading the summary, understanding what books are all about, knowing the names of the major characters are very vital to guide you throughout the book. Aren’t main messages, big characters that make books worth your time?

  1. The devils are in the details

Victorian books, as I often say, are such priceless arts. The language, story, characterizations, for me, are marvelous. But the enjoyment they provide may distress those, like me, as non native English speakers, for understanding each and every word they convey. Those beautiful, flowery, mind-blowing phrases are surely too precious to be just taken for granted. But, paying too close attention to those will burden us as we will spend too much time to open up dictionary finding out what they actually mean.

  1. Taking some notes, asking help from internet

I sometimes forget to do this step or as reading process goes on I stop taking some notes but I strongly you to stick to this tip. Given its long plot with again, many minor characters, small events that can distract your reading focus, it’s good to have some notes on certain moments of the novels that matter most. Or you can write several names that come up as your reading proceeds as I sometimes experience to have met new, important characters in the middle or even in the third last part of the novels.

And if you remain puzzled with the story or the significance of certain characters, internet is always abundant with information. There are always other readers, especially native English speakers, who understand better. Yet, it’s better for you to ask their help only whenever you are in great difficulty or after you finish reading books but still find some aspects or characters that puzzle you. And yes, avoid spoilers.

 

  1. Trials and errors

I don’t remember how many fruitless efforts I have made with Victorian novels. Even after applying some of the aforementioned strategies, I sometimes find myself get cheated. There are some books that turn out to be so boring that I take so many efforts to have eventually finished reading them all. Some are even left unread. But I never give up. I learn from my mistakes though, yes, I keep making similar mistakes once in a while. Never mind, though. That won’t stop me from reading another title and another title. I now regard enjoying Victorian masterpieces, or novels in larger extent, as never ending trip that is going to surprise me in remarkable ways, either good or bad, but the point is I try to enjoy all trips in all those books. And I sincerely hope you do, too.

Under the Spell of Gaskell’s Magical Words in “Mary Barton”

“Mary Barton” is such a beauty. I lack of adjectives to describe how magnificent the language of the book is. Beautiful words are all around in the thick book. I even type many lovely, memorable phrases and sentences in my BlackBerry to make me easier reread them all whenever I wish to read something artsy.
It’s the first book that I would like to put it into my most favorite novel list because of its language. If there were people who later ask me on why they should read the novel, I would say the language is all what makes it really worth your precious time.
Mind you. Almost all of the novels that I have read so far, particularly those by Victorian writers, are indeed artistic. “Far from the Madding Crowd”, “The Mayor of Casterbridge” and “The Mill on the Floss”, to name a few, fall into this category. I am completely hooked by “The Mill on the Floss”, by the way, but its sentimental, sad plot is the most memorable aspect that is left in my mind until now. “The Mayor of Casterbridge”, for me, is outstanding for its characterization. “Far from the Madding Crowd” is the kind of story that leaves me with contentment because of its relatively gloomy plot, unconditional faith that ends in a happy, modest marriage among its two protagonists.
I can say I feel so sad reading “Mary Barton”. There are some quite funny moments but most of the time the book is all about bitter facts faced by the working class people in Manchester where the poor really suffer from unfair payment while the rich keep living luxuriously. Coming to the parts where several minor characters, one of them even passes away, due to hunger, is indeed heartbreaking. But nothing is more depressed than the scene where John Barton says farewell to his only kid, Mary Barton, on the night before he sets out a journey to Glasgow for labor-related affairs. I almost cry when I read those parts. So sorrowful because, as I expected, nothing is not the same again after that. John goes away without any news, and when he returns home, he looks lost. Although Mary and Jem are two characters that become the centre of the novel, I think it is the traits of John that makes the book “a complete story of human being”.
While Mary and Jem are described to be those who are mostly kind-hearted, John is the one that makes me hard to define. He is the one who is so overwhelmed with the labor condition at that time that he neglects Mary. He puts the interests of others above Mary’s future. He feels so miserable when he is out of work. Even when George, his best friend, dies, John looks unmoved. He says to Mary that is better for George to have passed away than to watch the worsening condition in Manchester.
I have sympathy for him for voicing, representing the needs of the laborers. However, I pity him for being unbalanced between labor-related affairs and his domestic matter. The way he abuses Mary after his London mission is fruitless triggers my anger. And my reaction gets harsher whenever he ignores her super tenderness with all the meal service despite his joblessness.
And the climax when he shots Harry Carson to death is unbearable. I pity him even more because the burden of all the labor issues carry him so far away from he used to be. When he admits he does not even know why he acts as cruel as that, I completely understand.
I can not blame John, though. He suffers a lot. He loses Mary’s brother because he can’t afford paying hospital fees. He witnesses the death of his fellow because of poverty. He has no pride when he does not work. He sometimes says he does not need meal, even when he is about to depart for Glasgow he refuses to eat. All he wishes to have is a job as the source of his dignity. John’s agony reaches his peak with the murder story. Probably, the only thing that he should have not opted is getting too much involved with his comrade in arms in fighting for their rights. He should have focus on his daughter. He makes a choice, somehow. The one that really costs his life. Again, he has faith in his option and that what makes the novel leaves a crack in my heart.
While for Mary.. what can I say about this character? Almost flawless. The only thing that causes my disrespect is when she has a giddy flirting with Harry Carson that makes the latter to put a high hope on their future marriage. It is this trivial act that causes the two male figures to have come in a misunderstanding with the final consequence of putting Jem’s life at the risk of being executed. But, Gaskell brilliantly makes Mary to pay her foolishness. She sacrifices her life to rescue Jem. When she almost dies to do this, I regain my respect for this protagonist. The way Jem loves her and vice versa is very touchy because their actions speak it all. This is what I really like with the romance story in the Victorian era. I once read this kind of love-based action when I read ‘Far from the Madding Crowd.’
Mary is the best daughter one can hope for. Her obedience is beyond everything. Her beauty is far deeper than her skin. And the one thing that makes me feel relieved with the fate of Mary is the presence and the love from Job Leigh and his granddaughter, Margaret. It would be so wicked should Gaskell leave Mary to face the hardness without their help throughout the book. She might not have a full love from her father but she has a best friend and best neighbor of all who stand by her side whenever she needs them all, especially when Jem is at the prison.
All in all, the book is perfect. It has a simple good story that really reflects people at the time the novel is written. The romance is influenced with social status and society perspective when the potency of the marriage between Mary as the daughter of the poor and Harry Carson as the son of the employee emerges. The complicated trait of John Barton, the innocence of Jem and the compassion from Job Leigh and Margaret confronts me with mixed feeling. And the reading journey is paid off with its pleasant closure. The very last, as it becomes the first point that I say here, is the language. To close this post, I’d like to share some of my favorites:
The passionate grief of youth has subsided into sleep
She could catch a wink of sleep
A lovely girl of sixteen, fresh and glowing, and bright as a rosebud
The mists and the storms passed clearing away from his path, though it still was full of stinging thorns
… used to dazzle her eyes by extraordinary graces and twirls
Where the distant horizon is soft and undulating in the moonlight, and the nearer trees sway gently to and fro in the night – wind with something of almost human motion, and the rustling air makes music among their branches, as if speaking soothingly to the weary ones, who lie awake in heaviness of heart. The sights and sounds of such a night lull pain and grief to rest. (This one is my most favorite.)

Humans’ dark sides and literature

Let me begin this long piece of story from my thoughts after reading Jude the Obscure. Before I read this novel a couple of months ago, I had known the title from its movie under the title of just Jude. I stumbled across this movie as I searched every movie Kate Winslet starred. This not-so-famous movie earned her many praises. As curiosity grew, I visited my favorite bookstore and found the book. But I didn’t buy it at once although it first pages stole my heart right away. The reason was I knew beforehand the core story of the novel so I didn’t want to spoil my reading with such bleak, pessimistic story. So instead, I firstly read Far from the Madding Crowd and The Mayor of Casterbridge, both of which have left me with outstanding remarks about Thomas Hardy.

But I always have this kind of tendency; the more I avoid something, the more curious I am. So, it’s only a matter of time that I eventually bought the novel. The book is quite thick but never mind. And as expected, I read it quite fast. About a month to end up reading the thick book and I was completely into the book. I mean, I enjoyed reading it a lot. I was really satisfied; the language, the characters (Hardy is always brilliant in characterization), the plot (he is always focused on major characters), the settings, the story, all main elements met my expectations. But there’s one thing disturbs me a lot, until today: the suicide of Jude and Sue’s three kids, one of whom is the son of Jude and his first wife, Arabella.

I knew that this book is very dark but I never thought that it is that frosted. I would wholly understand if Jude or Sue decide to commit suicide, but their little children? No wonder that many critics condemned the book once it was published. And I understand why Hardy finally gave up writing novels after this one came out. Not only this book earn many negative critics about its pessimistic themes, but also people attacked the novel due to its strong oppositions against marriage institution and definitely Christianity learning. Moreover, Hardy includes incest as the foundation of Jude-Sue’s romance, such a taboo theme when the book was published in late 19th century.

In relation to these after-reading feelings, I would like to bring up subjects about humans’ dark sides that surprisingly (or may be not) put some books into top 100 literary works of all time according to The World Library, a list of 100 best ever literary works as voted by 100 writers across the globe.

Of all the 100 titles, I learn one of the major reasons that make some of the titles to be included in the list is because they highlight human beings’ negative trait. The point of these titles is the characters can’t control their own dark sides that these cause them into downfall. Let me pick up some titles (FYI, I don’t read these titles, I just read their synopsis):

1)    Lolita

id.wikipedia.org

image source: id.wikipedia.org

This novel is so phenomenal that it produces terms, like Lolita complex, famous heart-shaped glass that is strongly identical with Lolita. Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov is so brilliant in creating a character so complicated as Humbert Humbert (even the name is already confusing, I mean, why double Humbert?). The book is about Humbert’s possessive love toward a girl, much younger than his age namely Dolores Haze or usually is called as Lolita. As the book progress, Humbert becomes her stepfather after her mother dies. Humbert declares that he loves Lolita but I can see that he turns out to be very possessive as a father and as a lover. Is a love like that a normal thing or not? Or .. Does Humbert have problems with his mentality so that he makes use his true love to justify his deeds? Surely, I don’t want to read this book. I already find it very disgusting to read a love story like this one.

2)    Medea
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image source: historyforkids.org

This old Greek drama written by Euripides is about the myth of Jason and Medea. Medea is Barbaric woman who takes revenge of his own husband, Jason, because he marries Glauce, the daughter of Creon king. What makes this story is so tragic as ever is that Medea kills their son to completely break Jason’s heart. My question is simple: Why does she do that? Killing her own son to torture his husband’s heart?

3)    Mrs. Dalloway

en.wikipedia.org

image source: en.wikipedia.org

This book is the best ever story written by Virginia Woolf. And to be honest, this is the most difficult novel I have read so far. Too many implicit stories with difficult language I find it hardly to digest. Apart from self-identity issue, I think this very high level of language difficulty also contributes this book into the list. I entirely accept the suicidal decision in the book. That matches the plot. But, suicidal themes always trigger me to question on why many authors opt to end their stories with suicides? Has life been that desperate?

4)    The Stranger

www.guardian.co.uk

image source: http://www.guardian.co.uk

I don’t know what to say about the novel. Albert Camus is definitely such a brilliant, sophisticated writer that my brain will be hardly able to cope with his ideas. The book is about a man namely Mersault who smokes cigarettes during his mother’s funeral then makes love with his friend. He then shots dead an Arabian that later put him into jail. During his trial, he is as cold as stone. He gives no regrets about his deeds and refuses to ask for God’s forgiveness. Understanding one’s strange qualities can never be this hard.

5)    Sons and Lovers

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image source: www.csaword.co.uk

This used to be my would-be-read book but after reading this synopsis I give it up (probably) for good. The book is about the love of a mother namely Gertrude Coppard toward her two sons; William and Paulus. The novel stirs a debate as Gertrude, who is unhappy with her marriage, clings her happiness on her sons. Her relationship changes from a tender love of a mother to a romance between a man and a woman. At first, she loves her first son who later passes away due to pneumonia then she shifts her love to the second son. The deep connection between the mother and both sons make them unable to intertwine love stories with girls they meet. Even Paul’s latest girlfriend, Clara Dawes, is unable to bring their relationship into marriage because the mother dislikes her. To this, Paul chooses her mother.

A mother loves her sons like a woman devotes her heart for a man? You know why I find it so difficult to understand the characters’ traits.

In my opinion, exploring humans’ unthinkable deeds or strangest traits are always interesting and disgusting at the same time. People always have the bright and dark sides that make them normal. The problem arises when people can’t put everything into a balance hence makes them suffer at the end. Literature provides such a good way for many authors to bring up taboo topics. And I think that’s good. We can’t turn a blind eye on the aforementioned themes as they do exist, like it or not. What must be put into concerns is that I hope readers have their own filters when reading the books. The purposes of the novel, I believe, is to make their eyes open on the presence of the topics, understand the reasons then avoid doing similar things. I strongly hope readers won’t take these kind of books as justifications to make other people believe that their misdeeds are normal, or can be normal, as these have been debated in old literature.

The C factor

I have never read a book as surprising as The Mayor of Casterbridge.  Its first 10 pages shock me already. The story of Susan Henchard’s sale is very unusual and ridiculous. Be it because of liquor or Micheal Henchard’s ill behaviour, the scene shows how worthless women are at that time. Throughout the whole novel, the theme is obviously seen through the characterizations of Elizabeth-jane and Lucetta Templeman.

Elizabeth-jane, who grows up from poor to high-class woman, strives to adjust herself from outer appearance to ladylike manner. It seems like all eyes on her hard efforts. Then we know Lucetta, who gains respect from people in Casterbridge, after she receives precious possessions from her late aunt. Prior to that, she is no more than a poor woman begging a love from Henchard.

Compared to Far from The Madding Crowd, this book is stronger in many ways, particularly in characterization. Women position in the society I find in The Mayor of Casterbridge acts as the red line that makes it a bit similar with Far from The Madding Crowd except that the leading woman role namely Batsheba Everdane acts as heroine and defends her voice regardless opposite opinions in the latter novel.

What makes The Mayor of Casterbridge so powerful is undoubtedly Hardy’s ability to create such perfect main character as Henchard. At least, the writer is capable of making me to have hated, despised, loved, admired, and had pity on Henchard. Thus far, he is the perfect leading character in a book I have read. And I enjoy reading his mind and attitude.  He is a real human being portrayed in the book. His battle with evil and kind acts amazes me. I think everybody has problems on that. His character development succesfully leaves readers, at least me, to decide on whether I should put him as a protagonist or antagonist. Is he a good or a bad person? I find it more comfortable to say that he is as normal as human being can be.

In almost 400 pages, Hardy never fails to keep my eyes set at the book. How can not I? Conflicts, be they are trivial or strong, are numerous. Even when Henchard is almost at ease with his relationship with Elizabeth-jane as his stepdaughter, he turns out to be possesive thus forces him to create lies that separates her with her real father, Captain Richard Newson.

Everything is perfect for Henchard’s imperfect traits and behaviour. What about other characters? Sadly to say, I have to admit Mr. Hardy does not do that good job. Elizabeth-jane and Donald Farfrae are too good to be true to appear in such strong novel. They are too kind, naive, too innocent. May be their amazing traits serve as Hardy’s motive to connect them in a grand marriage at the end. Perhaps, the author wants to show us that patience and unconditional love are keys to attain a happy life.  Apart to that, these two characters do not move me as much as Henchard does. I put respect to Elizabeth-jane who stands by Henchard regardless how coarse has he been to her. But she should act more boldly in response to that even though she still regards him as her father.

Also, in her relationship with Farfrae, I think she should show her ignorance and her dissapointment when Lucetta marries Elizabeth-jane’s man of dream instead of being silent all the way.  The description of her success to be the most-admired woman in Casterbridge is not a good ending for the novel.

I feel Hardy forces himself to end the story in a joyful tone. He should close the book with the death of Henchard. That would be very tragic but that how it should be. The sadness and loneliness haunting Henchard’s life speaks it all in the end.
Donald Farfrae is handsome, humble, good-tempered, faithful lover, devoted husband, good friend, and very successful businessman. Despite Henchard’s suspicions and hatred, Farfrae still admires him as the one who contributes much to his bright life in the town.  After Lucetta passes away, he marries Elizabeth-jane who is as beautiful as his late wife. His strategy is always fruitful in business. Isn’t he lucky?

Somehow, the personalities of Elizabeth-jane and Farfrae make them as an element that unfortunately brings a loophole in the novel. So sorry for that. Anyway… The Mayor of Casterbridge is a wonderful book, exceptionally classic work that confronts readers with never ending conflicts in a search of blissful life.

Back to Basic

Thomas Hardy is the first name that pops up in my mind when I am about to write a graduating paper back in the last two semesters of the university period. The major reason is ridiculous. I really like his last name: Hardy, which is almost the same with my relative’s Hardi. I know that’s irrelevant.

Anyway…I search for his books in the faculty library then find dozens of titles. Other reason is that I am curious about the writer since his books are not discussed in novel or literary subjects in the classes.

I cancel to talk about Hardy’s novels or poems eventually. Not because of his thick books or French titles, but because I don’t see any relevance between old values in classic readings and modern problems. I don’t even know yet indicators that put certain books into classic category. What makes them classic anyway?

So, I choose a famous drama called Cat In A Hot Tin Roof by US-playwright Tennessee Williams. The reason is simple. The drama presents post modern matters — loneliness, materialism, prejudice, social labeling, lack of love, and even homosexuality. So, I guess those problems are best to be the core of my papers. I bring up major themes on the falsehood of leading characters in the drama. Each of them hide their actual pain in their struggle for financial security or material fulfilment. At the end, honesty hurts so bad but worth knowing. I love this kind of themes: honesty versus social constraints. I set aside old topics in classic novels like gender inequality or caste problems in the 18th or 19th centuries simply because they pose no threats in modern human beings. Loneliness and social recognition do present real obstacles.

I continue reading post modern books later on. John Steinbeck is my beloved writer or all time, at least until now. He brings up social problems commonly faced by laymen during his life in the early of 1990s. Economic hardship, American dream, and women role often come up in his novels. His books are very real. What he writes may occur in any kind of society we live on. That’s why he is said to be the most daring author for American people at that time, may be until the time being.

That is why I search for similar writers like he is for my reading reference. My choice falls on Indian writers. The reason is the same. I am hungry for realistic problems in the society.I dislike imaginary world thus I don’t read Harry Potter or Lord of The Rings. I select Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Aravind Adiga, and Amitav Ghosh. India has such amazing writers. They speak about cultural identity, caste curse, poverty, corruption, and even politic in a witty and brave language. After six books I am fed up. I need a fresh kind of reading. I’ll never know that my choice is back to those ancient books once I see Thomas Hardy’s Jude The Obscure that is written in interesting fonts that encourage me to read some pages of it. I do not buy the book because I already know the story plot.Instead, I select Far From The Madding Crowd. First few pages of the book already dazzle me. Very beautiful words, deeply moving story. Even if it tells us about a love story, I don’t mind due to its clear descriptions of all. Landscape, people, emotions.

Throughout the book, I want to slowly read, digest, then imagine how beautiful all scenery is. I wish I can see how those characters dress, act, and communicate each other. All words are powerfully created to bring up such amazing book. On the surface, perhaps the book doesn’t portray different theme but it takes a very careful learning to really understand what lay beneath them all.

I am going to say the book is more than a love story. It gives us a broad issue on how low women position at that time back in the middle of the 19th century. Bathsheba Everdene is such a breakthrough character. She lives in her own way and is sometimes against people’ views. She really believes in her own voice. She rejects two marriage proposals, an uncommon deed from women at that time. she does what men can do except in some jobs that require more physical skills. That is the most universal theme. Even feminism or gender equality already persist in the UK in the era. When they are no longer problems in the country, some still face them.

Apart from larger issue, the book also presents individual yet very close matters that we may face. And this what makes my previous view is completely wrong. The book already comes up with faith, infidelity, social constrain related problems. Along with wonderful description on the background of the story, the novel becomes so rich. Now, I know what makes it as a classic. It stands against the test of the time. It has an everlasting issue that may influence modern writer. And one thing that I rarely find in modern writer that is obvious depictions written in flowery words. You may call them as an exaggeration but still…once you absord the words, you don’t want to finish them. Or once you complete reading them, you want to go back and reread them.

So, I guess it’s time for me to back to the period when I am forced to read classics. But this time being, I feel no pressures from my lecturers. I will read classics with all of my heart. Aside from fulfilling emotional need, I am eager to learn history from them.

For the last part of the crap, I’d like to present a brief birography of Thomas Hardy:

Thomas Hardy was born at Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, on June 2, 1840. His father teaches him a lot on music while his mother gives him a knowledge on learning about his rural home. As a frail child, he could start schooling at eight years old. He moved to London for a brief time given his poor health. He returned to Dorset after his earlier writings were rejected by publishers.

In 1870, he met Emma Gifford whom encouraged him to write again. They got married in 1874. His first novel Desperate Remedies was published in 1871 but brought no success. In the following year, he finally gained a massive acclaim through Under the Greenwood Tree, featuring his childhood place. This made him to write a serialized novel called A Pair of Blue Eyes that drew his relationship with Emma. His financial success that made him leaving architectural practice is Far from the Madding Crowd. The Hardys lived in London for a short time then moved to Sturminster Newton where he wrote Return of the Native, considered many as one of his most enduring works. In 1885, he created

The Mayor of Casterbridge, then The Woolanders a year later. Many considered Tess of The d’Urbervilles as his finest work.
His most controversial work is Jude The Obscure (1896) that tells about a love scandal. This outraged Victoria morality and was regarded as an attack toward the institution of marriage. Its publication led to a rift between him and Emma.

For the rest of his life, he focused his work on poetry, one of which was Wessex Poems (1898). Emma died in 1912. Hardy remarried to Florance Dugdale in 1914. He died in 1928.

Feminism and love karma in Thomas Hardy’s classic “Far from The Madding Crowd”

Credit for informatik.uni-hamburg.de

Three good-looking gentlemen fall in love with Bathsheba Everdene the first moments they catch her glimpses. Well, who doesn’t? Young, pretty, confident, and smart. What makes Bathsheba worth loving is her strength amid hardships she is facing in early pages of the classic reading. That is such a rare quality for a woman living in the middle of the 19th century back in rural areas in England.

Gabriel Oak, a skillful farmer and shephard, meets her unintentionally when she enters the village he lives on. Oak can’t take his eyes off from her ever since the meeting. He then seeks for information about her whereabouts then finally he overhears her conversation with her aunt in a night. They are poor and Bathsheba is clueless on what she has to do to make ends meet.

Oak tries hard to approach her. But Bathsheba plays a hard game. Feeling so deeply in love, Oak then proposes her given the fact he is a well-to-do farmer while she is a poor girl. But Bathsheba turns it down, saying she does not love him. Despite his disappointment, Oak moves on with his life while hoping Bathsheba changes her mind one day. Meanwhile, Bathsheba leaves the village.

A misfortune falls for him one night. All of his sheeps are dies. His place is burned down. Oak is at the bottom of his life. Having nothing expect some clothes and a flute. He wanders all along for a livelihood. Back in his mind, he always wants to search for Bathsheba.

A coincidence occurs when he unintentionally rescues a house from a fire. From some servants working in the house, Oak learns that the mistress is looking for a shephard. They tell him to talk with the mistress who is walking out from the burning home. Oak chases her and begs for a job. When he looks up, he is surprised to know that he is speaking to Bathsheba.

Oak is a very diligent servant. And Bathsheba now turns to be an elegant mistress. Her uncle bequeathes a very large farm for her. She runs the place all alone with the helps of some servants. She enjoys taking care of jobs that are usually done by men. She shops, sells, instructs her servants quite well. All of her servants respect her just like a master.

Oak and Bathsheba’s relationship comes naturally more as a servant and mistress. Sometimes, they act like close friends, especially when Bathsheba asks for advice from him. Earlier marriage proposal is out of the topic since Oak knows how low his position is.

Bathsheba is very close to Liddy, one of the female servants in the house. To her confidante, she tells a lot of secrets, including when she meets respectable nearby farmer Mr. Boldwood.

From Liddy, Bathsheba knows his tragic love fate. He has love relationships with some women but to no marriages. Liddy says they leave him for some certain reasons. Bathsheba seems to develop an admiration for him. So in the Valentine’s day, she has a crazy idea to send a love letter to him containing words “marry me”, anonymously.

Puzzled by the very short letter, Boldwood comes to Oak and asks for the riddle. By looking at the handwriting, Oak knows well who writes that.

Boldwood, who adore Bathsheba’s beauty, encourages himself to visit her during a busy day. He boldly ask for her to marry him since he believes she does want that because of the letter. To his surprise, Bathsheba declines his proposal. She apologizes for what she has done. She blames on Liddy who succesfully persuades her to write that kind of letter. She admits she only admires him. But her confession comes a bit too late for Boldwood has had a high hope on her. So Bathsheba asks for more time to give best answer for his proposal. Boldwood is quite relieved.

Oak is unhappy with what Bathsheba does with Boldwood’s feeling. Despite previous rejection, Oak will be contented should she marry Boldwood thanks to latter’s good reputation. Oak gives honest critics that puts her in anger. She expels him. Oak leaves the farm immediately.

Bathsheba does not calculate the consequences from all of this. Shorly after Oak is gone, many of sheeps and lambs are died. After receiving some suggestions from her servants, Bathsheba has no other choice than begging Oak to return. Looks like everything goes well with both resumes their good relationship as either good friends and servant-mistress. So does her love story with Boldwood. Bathsheba is trying to love him and asking for deadline to marry him.

Boldwood goes on a business trip with a relief upon hearing her words. Just a quick moment then she is likely to be his mine. But just when the deadline is approaching, Bathsheba meets a very charming soldier namely Sergeant Francis Troy. Bathsheba can not resist his temptation. Little did she know about his past story. A lot of people already warn her about Troy’s womanizer attitude, but Bathsheba does not care. They get married not long after their meeting.

Only then Bathsheba knows her newly husband is not the kind man of what she used to think. He turns out to be a spender with his horse racing. Bathsheba complaints a lot but Troy ignores her. Bathsheba’s life becomes so miserable. She strives to win his husband’s heart.

In an unexpected night, when both of them are having an easy walk at night, Troy catches a glimpse of Fanny Robin, his old lover whom he leaves. They exchange a few words. Troy asks for her to wait for him in a secret place where which he will hand in some amount of money. Fanny, who is still in love with him, nods and goes there.

Troy and his wife are involved in a fierce verbal fight when Troy asks for some money to be given to Fanny. He does not say how will he use the money but Bathsheba is suspicious. She keeps questioning him about this and his weird act lately. Again, Troy ignores her.

Bathsheba is devastated. She is powerless and does not understand on why her husband is heartless. She goes out to the farm and meets one of her servants. She is shocked to know that Fanny, her former servant, is found died because of illness. Bathsheba demands for a proper funeral afterwards. She is still clueless about the ate relationship with her husband.

From Liddy, Bathsheba knows about that later on. One night, she pays a visit to the chuch where Fanny’s body is laid. She even gets completely sad when she knows that Fanny is pregnant. Both are passed away.

When she is still looking at Fanny’s body, her husband emerges. Troy gazes at his wife’s eyes when she does not answer his question on the identity of the corpse. When he knows that Fanny dies, Troy caress and kisses her, showing his deep affection. Bathsheba holds him from behind. She is jealous that her husband still loves Fanny but not her. Even if Fanny already dies, Bathsheba is still unable to get over her.

Bathsheba seeks for a brief escape in a jungle nearby her house. She repeatedly asks for Liddy’s updates on the funeral. She looks pale and sad. Troy, on the other hand, treats Fanny’s coffin and tomb very well. He puts beautiful flowers and takes care of everything. As their fight is still on, Troy wanders around the jungle and steps in a bay. There, he swims then meets with a group of sailors. Thinking how he is useless to his wife, Troy decides to follow them until the United States.

The news about her husband’s death shocks Bathsheba that she gets fainted when she is in a market. She disbelieves that at the beginning because Troy’s body is not discovered. But as everyone informs her about his clothes left in the bay and the last moment witnesses see him, Bathsheba then gradually tries to believe. Nine months pass and still no news about her husband’s whereabouts.

Bathsheba continues to move on with gloomy look. Boldwood, on the other hand, still wishes to marry her. He continues approaching her and even her servant for a little information on possible second marriage. Oak focuses on his career. He gradually becomes a respectable farmer who manages both Boldwood’s and Bathsheba’s farms.

There comes a shephard festival where which all farmers join and sell their animals in the party. Bathsheba and Boldwood are closer to each other in the event. Troy makes an unexpected appearance after nine months of missing in action. He joins a drama group that will peform in the festival. He is surprised to see his wife with Boldwood at the event and tries hard not to be noticed by everyone. But his effort is futile. One of the servants recognizes him.

Bolwood makes an overwhelming approach toward Bathsheba. Despite her polite refusal, Boldwood keeps on begging for her to marry him by reminding her about the secret words “marry me” years ago. Feeling cornered, Bathsheba promises to give a final answer during a Christmas celebration.

She consults to Oak about this. Oak tells her that may be Boldwood is obsessed with her. When he meets with Boldwood later, Oak hints that Bathsheba may likely to say no over his marriage proposal. But stubborn Boldwood believes Bathsheba will keep her word.

So, the D-day comes. Bathsheba, likely or not, has to meet Boldwood to give her final say. At first, she rejects the proposal but Boldwood pushes her. Tearfully, Bathsheba nods. She vows she will marry him in six years from when they join the party. A ring comes out. Bathsheba initially declines to wear it but she does what Boldwood wants after being intimidated by him. Along with the ring, Boldwood brings a box full of clothes belonging to Bathsheba Boldwood. He already prepares everything for his imaginary marriage six years later.

A very tragic incident occurs just when they leave the room. Troy comes up. “Come home with me my wife,” he says. Bathsheba’s mouth opens. She is in a full shock even after her husband takes her hand home. She screams and tries to get away from her husband. Seeing this, Boldwood takes a gun and shoots Troy. Blood coming out from Troy’s body, making the party turns out to be a chaos. Bathsheba takes Troy’s body to her home after asking for Oak to send her a doctor. All is too late. Troy dies afterwards while Boldwood surrenders himself to the authorities.

Years pass by. Through hard times, Bathsheba grows up into a mature woman. She learns to get over her past time. She determines to visit Oak, whom she rarely meets on a daily basis. When they meet, Bathsheba feels much more depressed than ever after knowing Oak is leaving for California. Even after this, they do not meet much. Oak prepares for his departure whilst Bathsheba is coping with her greatest loss, much worse than what she suffers from Troy’s sudden death.

Feeling so miserable, Bathsheba takes an initiative to visit Oak’s place one night. He welcomes her modestly since only a few people comes in. Through jokes and chats, they both admit their feelings. Oak confesses Bathsheba is the only woman he will marry in his life. Throughout all bitter life experiences and tough love lessons, both eventually tie a knot in a very simple wedding ceremony in front of several servants and friends.