The missing piece: Thomas Hardy’s less popular books

bored

I completed reading the short story anthology by Robert Louis Stevenson a few weeks ago and I haven’t bought any new novels. This makes me feel a little bit hollow. On one side, I feel lighter because I have no commitment of reading a number of pages within a day or a week. I have no self-appointment to be met. I can read online articles whenever I want without feeling guilty.

On the other hand, something is missing. An important piece of my life is wandering, waiting to be found. And I know I need to read a decent book. In particular, I want to read another title by one of my most favorite authors, Thomas Hardy. I want his books BADLY. The problem is I don’t know how I can find them in the offline bookstores in Jakarta. The store I frequently visit sells only his popular works, such as The Mayor of Casterbridge, Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I read all of them years ago.

The point is I have to buy his lesser known stories via online, something that I haven’t done. May be you wonder why should Hardy’s books? Well, I have to admit that there are no writings that suit my taste better than his. I like Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing style and his descriptive writing technique yet his chosen themes don’t match up with my likeness. They are incomplete, some things remain unresolved, as seen in Olalla and The Treasure of Franchard. Although, yes, they definitely entertain me so much.

In addition, I think it is because Hardy’s works or say, Hardy’s viewpoints are similar with my own; idealistic, realistic and pessimistic (I am working on the latest point to be more positive tone). His view of life and society and romance are comprehensive and contains a lot of critics. His writings are very reflective, prompting me to think on issues in broader ways possible. Romance in his eyes are not just a matter of feelings. And I am always captivated by his fictitious characters, so humane with flaws here and there.

For the sake of enjoying good writings, I am going to buy Hardy’s books. Let’s see how can they fill up the voids in my heart for I can’t take it anymore. I am really in dire need of beautiful words, thoughtful writings.

The picture is taken from this.

Thomas Hardy’s best women

thomas-hardy

Women in Thomas Hardy’s best fictions are complicated, some are even hard to be understood. Reading their personalities challenge me and mixes my feelings. Hardy crafts these heroines so unique that they remain eternal in the minds of many literary lovers.

Below are five female heroines in Hardy’s novels who stuck in my brain:

Bathsheba Everdene

My most beloved female figure in all Hardy’s leading books. Independent, hard-working and persistent. These prove helpful when chasing after wealth. But her overly independence makes her learning choosing the right life partner the hardest ways. She refuses a marriage proposal from Gabriel Oak out of emancipation. She later plays the heart of William Boldwood, her aggressive admirer until the game turns ugly with the arrival of Sergeant Troy, the man she loves but can never move on from her former lover, Fanny Robin. Both men fight for Bathsheba Everdene’s love, leaving William Boldwood living in a prison after shooting Sergeant Troy. Only after the tragedy that she finally realizes the only man she completely can’t live without is Gabriel Oak.

Tess Durbeyfield

The favorite for many. One of the most enduring female figures in the classic literature. The struggles of Tess both in working life and romance are unbearable. Not only she has to work very hard to make ends meet she also has to face her fate as a victim of rape. Things get much depressed when Angel Clare, her husband leaves her on the first day of their wedding after finding out Tess is no longer a virgin. What happens to Tess disturbs my senses because almost of her entire life is all about torments. Her decision to kill Alec D’Urberville sets her free. This, too, makes me feel relieved for her act is understandable; that human patience can run out sooner or later.

Sue Bridehead

The most inconsistent, unpredictable female personage in Hardy’s books. Her union with Jude Fawley, the protagonist of the book, is unlikely wonderful. It is the matrimony of two different human beings on the surface; Sue the outspoken and Jude the soft-spoken one. Sue the wild person and Jude the quite one. But on the inside, both share similar personalities; avid reader, marriage adversary, deep thinker. Her critical thinking impresses me at first. How she handles rejection from public on her elopement with Jude wins my attention until she can no longer help it. That is when she 180 degrees turns into a completely different person than she is used to be. Not only she leaves Jude after all the things they go through but she also returns to Mr. Phillotson, her former husband, whom she detests after she meets Jude. She now becomes a disgusting person, at least for me.

Eustacia Vye

She is the perfect portrayal of Hardy’s view on spoiled, materialistic woman. She marries to Clym Yeobright after she finds out the fortune of the native of Egdon Heath. She hopes she can leave the place and depart for Paris yet this plan is against her husband’s wishes who wants to stay at the place and sets up a school. Eustacia is my kind of favorite antagonist because I can totally hate her. Beautiful face but ugly heart. She disrespects her mother-in-law, makes use of Clym’s good-heartedness for her benefits and worse, she is still in touch with her former boyfriend, Damon Wildeve.

Marty South

Although she is not the leading female figure in Hardy’s The Woodlanders, Marty South has a special place in my heart. She is so devoted to Giles Winterborne, the main man in this book, despite his love to his wife, Grace Melbury. She keeps loving him after he dies. She becomes the only person to take care of his graveyard after Grace become less frequently visits it as she is now with another man, Edgar Fitzpiers. What happens to Marty is very rare, touching but some may say her decisions is pathetic and useless. All in all her presence successfully stirs emotion as previous characters do.


The picture is taken from this.

So, where do the desolations in the works of Thomas Hardy come from?

I have written a lot about Thomas Hardy’s most well-known novels; their summaries, analysis, comments, joys, frustrations, and as far as I remember, none of his personal life has been included in this blog. Separating authors’ private lives with their works is inevitable though I want it to be untrue.

I have been wondering what makes Thomas Hardy’s novels are too hard to bear. I have been questioning how come the endings of his best books leave me with mixed feelings. Even the ending of ‘Far from The Madding Crowd’, which I think is his only happily-ever after-finale book among ‘Tess’, ‘Jude The Obscure’, ‘The Woodlanders’, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ and ‘The Return of the Native’, doesn’t thrill me. It does relieve me but not excite me.

And today I reread the writer’s biography, particularly on his marriages. I have once read about it but missed some great points on his love life; that he and his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford, were happy in the first years of the marriage but later grew distant. Secondly, Hardy, though perhaps is spurred by his first childless marriage, began visiting some other women, one of whom was Florence Dugdale, his second wife, while he was still married to Emma.

However, his second marriage proved to have been bleak as well. Hardy, despite his aging period, became so glued at his study while Florence was in the shadows of Emma, whom ironically he ignored when she was still alive. After Emma died, Hardy regretted how much he neglected her and how bad her illness was. He had a wreath containing “From her lonely husband, with the Old Affection”.

I can’t imagine how miserable his life back then. The saying that goes “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” is quite suitable to describe his life after the death of Emma. Hardy can’t remedy the things that have been gone away. This is the most saddening of all.

Despite the rumors that Hardy was an unfaithful husband, I put another concern on how complicated Hardy’s personality is. On one side, he had affairs with some women, including Florence, but in another side, he neglected her, too. He preferred working to have lived his second marriage, taken care and loved Florence as his wife. May be his only friend was his jobs, his writings, his views about life in general.

I myself sense that his personal stories either directly or indirectly add dreary tone in many of his novels. Although they don’t explicitly tell readers about Emma, or Florence or his childless marriage but there’s a lot of things to wonder beyond that somber atmospheres.

In ‘Tess’, Hardy mostly brings out its most dramatic, bleakest sides. Not to mention is his standpoints on the faith, trust and an almost long-life regret by Angel Clare.

“The Mayor of Casterbridge” is attached with sadness because Micheal Henchard dies amid the ending of the book that is sealed with the marriage of Elizabeth Jane and Donald Farfrae.

And oh, “The Return of the Native”. Although it’s better that Clement Yeobright lives alone after the death of his unfaithful wife, Eustacia Vye, I can’t help feeling a bit gloomy after reading the book. The union of Thomasin Yeobright, Clement’s cousin, and Diggory Venn, doesn’t help me much.

All I remember about “The Woodlanders” is the unrequited of Marty South, a faithful, peasant girl who is in love with Giles Winterborne although he loves Grace Melbury. Marty South remains faithful to Giles, visits his graveyard while Grace returns to the arms of Edgar Fitzpiers.

While for ‘Jude the Obscure’, Hardy’s last completed novel, is way too much heartbreaking. Besides “Tess”, this book puts Hardy and Emma in heated arguments. The outcry from churches and public at that time is said to have made Hardy no longer  writing novels then devoted much of his time composing poems. For those who haven’t read the novel, “Jude” revolves around the love of Jude and his cousin, Sue Bridehead, which was controversial at that time. Furthermore, they eloped,  were against license marriage though they later got married due to people disapproval on their romance.

Again, while my opinions may be incorrect, I think it’s worth noting how Hardy’s life say something about his forlorn ideas seen in his major novels.

 

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)

Four things that make Thomas Hardy’s books are difficult

I’m thankful that I come at Thomas Hardy’s books after reading lighter topics from other writers because Hardy’s works are challenging. It feels like I have been trained for some years before taking the real adventure of literature.

And fortunately, I unintentionally pick up “Far from the Madding Crowd” as the starter that perfectly suits my mood and expectations at that time. This pleasant impression makes me wanting to read another novel. I can’t imagine what would happen should I select “Jude the Obscure” as the opener. May be I would never become Hardy’s biggest fan like I am.

For me, or may be for some, reading Hardy’s books require the readers to entirely focus on the books because these four aspects can be the greatest challenges, which, once you can overcome them all, you’ll want more and more instead:

  1. Highly specific, powerful, implicit descriptions

Hardy is the worshiper of nature. He loves describing what nature has to offer. While the readers are wowed by his rich vocabulary, driven to get into his imaginary world, they may be puzzled with what they signify. Honestly, after reading some of his books, I can’t always associate the depictions with what he wants to convey. I am still on the surface when it comes at this kind of thing. Or in another word, my ability is still at the surface; enjoying his expressions, word per word. Not yet deeper than that.

  1. Digging so deep into major characters

Characterization is definitely Hardy’s most unbelievable mastery. He never lets any slightest parts of his major characters left untouched. Reading his novels means you really learn the major figures in the books. You feel as if they were real people. Hardy never fails at presenting the big names on the books as normal human beings, with all of their flaws, mistakes, stupidity, greatness, and such. Again, I applaud Hardy’s ‘Micheal Henchard’, he remains my most favorite fictitious character of all time.

Learning each of his major character in such personal ways makes the readers feeling ‘so complete’. And to enjoy this, the readers must devote a lot of time not only to understand the major characters’ motives but also to imagine what if they were in their positions. You know what the most precious lesson that I draw after reading his major characters? I have no right to judge. I become much more tolerable to other people because each and every one of them has reasons for what they do.

  1. Breaking the hearts when it comes to the conclusion

Spoiler alert: Hardy’s books are not for romance enthusiasts. Those wishing happily live ever after may find his novels are a disappointment despite the fact that he falls under the Victorian Era writer which is identical with love stories. I have only read his popular books but I think my experiences may support my findings that even if his novel ends with a marriage or a union, some holes left unfulfilled. His finales are complete, meaning that some characters end up living their lives in happy modes, but some are not. You can even find that some of his most enduring heroes or heroines are dead. ‘Tess’ is the best example for this.

  1. Unthinkable bleak, gloomy view of life

If you have read ‘Jude the Obscure’, you know what I mean. Until now, I still wonder what’s on his mind when composing the book. Do all that happen following Jude and Sue’s ‘illegal union’ reflect his opinions about the society? That once you go against public wishes you’ll get the wicked of all? The death of their illegitimate child, the return of Sue to her formal husband is beyond my understandings. Then, eventually, Jude intentionally takes no care of his own life, return to his former legal wife and dies slowly. Here are my thoughts about his perspective: Rebellious, stubborn, realistic cum naive and hopeless.

“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.

 

 

Five fictional characters whose personalities resemble my own

fictional characters

picture source: virtualvictorian.blogspot.com

One of the most surprising things that can happen when reading novels is knowing that one or several characters in the books have personalities that resemble my own. When this occurs, I have mixed feelings; sometimes I feel my weirdness is no longer special because there are even artificial people who behave or think like what I do. On the other hand, I feel that I’m not alone in embracing my oddity; that there are a lot of people who are just as unique, melancholy, overly sensitive, whatever kind of traits that label my personality.

So, these are the characters whom I find some parts of my overall personality are embedded in them:

  1. Jude Fawley

I discover most parts of my personality in this character; a deep thinker, an introvert, a loner, a hard worker, an overly sensitive person. One thing that we share in a common; we work hard on our goals no matter how often we get confused on whether we are pessimist or realists. Oh not to forget: we are both bookworms.

  1. Cynthia Kirkpatrick

She is one of the puzzled characters I have met so far; elegant, educated, very pretty,classy woman. No.. I’m not that physically charming or may not be as intelligent as her. What shocks me when I read about her is that she’s moody and is full of masks. One moment she can be so happy in front of her parents but in another moment she can be look so down in front of Molly Gibson, her stepsister. She seems calm, cool when she talks with Mr. Gibson, her stepfather, whom she respects highly but she looks disrespectful when she is with her mother. She wisely chooses her words when speaking in front of her stepfather or strangers but she does not watch her mouth when she has discussions with her mother.

And she’s so smart in hiding her problems. She won’t tell her matters unless she is forced to do so. Even if she does that, she is opened to certain people only. My similarity with her lies on our mood swing trait. Sometimes I can be extremely joyful then quickly be gloomy. But oftentimes, I can control emotion. On average, I’m a peaceful person.

  1. Molly Gibson

Molly is a very loveable character. She is innocent and super kind person who becomes the best confidante for almost all characters in the ‘Wives and Daughters’. I’m not that agreeable loveable like her but yes I’m a nice person. I see my tomboyishness in Molly. And her rebellious character is just like me. She dislikes ladylike conduct, fashion mode and table manner that are highly held by her stepmother. I have the same saying for this matter as well.

  1. Marty South

It’s too bad that Thomas Hardy does not put her as a major character in “The Woodlanders’ for I think her loyalty to Giles Winterborne is outstanding. Although I can’t foresee myself to be so faithful as Marty South when it comes to romance but I regard myself as a loyalist almost in all aspects of life. I have only John Steinbeck as my most favorite novelist, Juventus as the sole football club, Alessandro Del Piero as the one footballer that sticks in my heart and Westlife as the once-and-for-all musician in my music preference after all these years. And I’ll be way much more faithful when Alloh swt finds me and him one day, ameen..

  1. Tess Durbeyfield

Tess is the perfect person once could ever be in the Victorian era. Among the positive list of her characteristics; decent, patient, good-tempered, Tess properly suits with this trait: the love that I have to my family. And as hard as she works for her family, I do the same thing all for the sake of the ones that I unconditionally love until the very bit of my heart.