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.

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Three novels that inspire me to write my own

Although ‘Of Mice and Men’ is my all time most favorite novel it’s not one of the books that encourage me to create my own one day. Here I’d love to share three novels that I quickly take inspirations from when it comes to write a novel:

  1. East of Eden

This title is the door of all the novels that I have read so far. It’s true that “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is the first one that leads me to read more about classics but ‘The East of Eden’ is the first that opens my perspective in understanding the truest value of great novels. I love the book, and it remains one of the titles that is very memorable. The story between Caleb and Aron which is inspired by Cain and Abel from the Bible is the part that interests me so much. The different reactions from the brothers when it comes to receiving the fact that their mother, Cathy, is a prostitute, suggest me in learning that imperfection is what makes humans so natural. That’s the grandest message of the book that I don’t only remember but also get my views right. What I’m trying to say is that I have to firmly understand the most essential point of writing great books lies on characterizations. No matter how big topic or social circumstances that become the background of the story, still, stunning novels are all about humans. Thankfully, I read the book at the beginning of the years-long literary trip thus I am not carried away with various, historical events that form some titles that I have read along the way because what I have on the top of my mind is characterization.

 

  1. The Mayor of Casterbridge

 

I think there is no better book to enjoy human inner journey from a bad to good one than ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge.’ What makes the book more fascinating lies on the way Thomas Hardy flawlessy transforms Micheal Henchard through ups and downs, unexpected events, foolishness, wise acts throughout the book. I think Henchard’s life journey perfectly reflect that of us, as human being, though we may not as goosey as him by selling his wife and daughter to a stranger when he is so drank. What I like more from the book is that it doesn’t sound preachy. It describes Henchard as a normal person with all of his mistakes and dark sides. His effort to fix the wrong things that he has done in the past is one of the best lessons that I can draw from it.

 

  1. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

There are three sensations that I get by reading the book. The atmosphere, criminal acts that are mentioned in the book successfully terrify me as I read along the book. Robert Louis Stevenson deploys everything that later on produce thrilling, frightening effects to all its readers. While this has been sufficient for making me glued at the book, Edward Hyde’s struggles to tame his devious side has made the story becoming more complicated. How he acts as a good person in the day then turns into a monster in the night is a good thing to observe. The fact that the evil side eventually triumphs becomes the climax of all and this turns out to be so devastating. Isn’t this so common? That oftentimes are are bound to either follow our good or bad side? The last one if feeling high over heels with the beautiful, civil words despite illicit tone and the puzzled story plot that keeps me reading the book until the last page.

 

 

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.

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

thank you to http://www.pearsoned.co.uk for the picture

Young Micheal Henchard and his wife Susan Henchard were walking side by side with a baby girl in her arms. Both spoke only a few words as their poor condition forced them to contemplate on what they would do to make ends meet. They embarked on a fair in a quite crowded market later on then stopped by to take a rest.

Emotional Henchard had a drink with unknown guests at a stall. As they began talking about nonsense, Susan was trying to get her husband out of the place but to no avail. Henchard kept on talking and talking till he came to the silliest idea of selling his wife and his sole child. At first, Susan nodded as she knew that must be a joke. But Henchard convinced her on his initiatives. Five shilling was more than enough for him to start a new life in a new place. While Susan, who was tortured by her husband’s ill-temper, said “yes” after she received confirmation from Henchard on his decision to sell her and their daughter. The bargain kicked off but no one was willing to spend the amount of money Henchard had set.

Just when all men interested at buying Susan and her daughter gave up, a handsome man came up and agreed with the bargain. Richard Newson, a young sailor, had been standing for five minutes when Henchard kicked off the sale. So, all was decided and off they went away whereas Henchard sat with the money in his hands.

The following day, Henchard woke up feeling clueless on what had happened. When he opened his eyes, the place was quiet. Soon, he realized on what he had done to his little family and started to regret it all. He began searching for their whereabouts for few days but no luck. He wandered all along till he saw a church. There he made a vow that he would not drink for twenty years ever since that day.

Years passed by. Two women, one was in her middle age while the other was in her teenage, were going along streets leading to the place where the bargain had occured. Susan took her daughter Elizabeth-Jane to the site in a hope they would discover Henchard. Luckily, they met the stall owner who gave little clue on his whereabouts. Soon afterwards, both left for Casterbridge, the place where the store owner had indicated.

Both survived on their own after Newson was missing during his duty in the sea. He was regarded to have died since no news was heard. Once reaching Casterbridge, they sought for information related to Henchard.

Susan quickly made up her mind not to extend their journey as she heard that her husband was still alive and a reputable person in the town. Furthermore, Henchard was now a successful farmer that upheld his current position as the mayor of the city. Susan felt worthless should she meet him by now. Elizabeth, on the other hand, opposed her mother’s desire as they had walked miles to find him.

As such, they went on to a hotel and encountered a group of people gathering in one of the rooms of the place.

Susan was astonished to recognize one of the faces was the man whom they were looking for. Yet she was reluctant to meet him after knowing his recent condition. She sent her daughter instead to join and listen to their conversation.

The essence of the talk was about people dissatisfaction with Henchard’s bread products that tasted bad. They urged him to improve the plantation but he insisted he knew no better method to make it better. Elizabeth-Jane did not really care about the discussion somehow. Instead, her eyes fell to those of a charming face who immediately left the hotel after he left a note for Henchard.

She persuaded her mother to stay at the King of Prussia, a modest inn nearby the hotel where the man, namely Donald Farfrae, chose to spend the night. The inn might cost them a bit, thought Susan, upon their arrival. To minimize the bill, Elizabeth-Jane offered herself to arrange the meal for herself and other guests. To this, the inn owner agreed as she had few persons to help her.

Farfrae did not notice when Elizabeth-Jane entered her room with a tray. Feeling a bit dissapointed, Elizabeth-Jane joined with her mother to discuss further ways to either meet with Henchard or not. Unintentionally, they overheard the dialogue between Henchard and Farfrae as the latter’s room was beside the women’s.

Henchard was attempting to make Farfrae to work at the former’s plantation. Henchard was sure the Scotchman was the manager he has been searching for. But Farfrae politely declined this offer even after Henchard was willing to pay him a handsome amount of salary. Farfrae preferred to leave for the U.S where he could seek better lives there.

Susan changed her mind. She would send her daughter to let him know his wife was in the town and was expecting that both should meet.

the picture is taken from http://www.thenewspaper.net

Henchard was surprised to see Elizabeth-Jane standing at the door of his big house. He then allowed her to sit while he was reading a letter from Susan. Happy yet still shocked, Henchard replied the letter while looking at the eyes of the girl whom he had been searching for so many years. But as the letter suggested, Henchard did not tell Elizabeth-Jane that he was her real father.

Like Susan, Farfrae changed his mind, too. He decided to receive Henchard’s offer as the latter seemed so earnest. Thus, he stayed at the house and led the plantation on a daily activity.

After more than 10 years, Susan and Henchard finally reunited. Henchard apologized on his foolish acts years before and stopped drinking ever since. Susan received his apology and both agreed to start a new chapter in their life.
Henchard suggested Susan and Elizabeth-Jane to stay in one of the cottages nearby his house so as he might visit her. He would pay all bills. And they would remarry in a short notice without any knowledge about their past.

Their plan ran smoothly. No suspicions aroused, including those of Elizabeth-Jane. After the marriage, Elizabeth-Jane and Susan stayed in Henchard’s house. Farfrae continously won Henchard’s heart as the latter told him about his past lives, including Henchard’s secret love with a woman who helped him to attain his success.

Farfrae’s well-behaved and smartness earned respect from his workers that they chose him over Henchard. To this, Henchard could not help his envy till finally he dimissed Farfrae and cut their relationship. Henchard even forbid Elizabeth-Jane to meet Farfrae as he sensed something special was growing in between the two.

Farfrae did not leave the town however. He bought a land from a resident then succesfully managed the plantation.

Susan’s health was worse then passed away. She left a letter for her daughter that had to be opened after her wedding day.

Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane shared mournful days after Susan’s death. In one of the evenings, Henchard encouraged himself to tell her the truth that he was his father, not stepfather as she used to know. Though initially she found it hard to believe but Elizabeth-Jane eventually accepted the fact then started to call him as “father”.

Susan was sleeping when Henchard entered her room. He was curious to open up a letter inside the drawer of the room. Even if there were warnings to not open the letter in the envelope before Elizabeth-Jane’s marriage, Henchard kept on unfolding it. He considered the cautions as trivial things.

Shocked than ever before, Henchard could only stare at the writings inside the envelope. Susan said that Elizabeth-Jane was not his. Henchard’s daughter died three months after the bargain and Elizabeth-Jane was Newson’s. She intentionally named her the same with Henchard’s.

Henchard changed his attitude toward Elizabeth-Jane after the truth was unveiled. He became ignorant, harsh, and made fun of her stepdaughter’s efforts to be a proper lady. On the other hand, he still kept his mouth close on her identity as his stepdaughter.

Feeling gloomy and lonely, Elizabeth-Jane paid a visit to her mother’s grave. There, she caught a glimpse of a woman, a bit older than she was but beautiful, elegant, and ladylike.

They befriended immediately. The woman, who was no other than Lucetta Templeman, was actually Henchard’s secret lover from the past. She offered Elizabeth-Jane to live at her place. Given Lucetta’s sympathy about her grief, Elizabeth-Jane welcomed the kind act. Henchard allowed his stepdaughter’s decision as he did not really care about her. He left her some amount of money after all.

Elizabeth-Jane did not know on her new friend’s purpose of coming to the town. Little did she know that Lucetta expected to meet with her stepfather. Lucetta now became a wealthy woman after her aunt left her with enough possessions to raise her position as a well-sought lady in the society.

Lucetta was waiting for Henchard after she sent Elizabeth-Jane away. Instead of Henchard, it was Farfrae who knocked the door. He wished to meet Elizabeth-jane on that day. Farfrae’s good-looking face bedazzled Lucetta while the Scotchman liked her smart joke and outspoken attitude. They soon fell in love and got married.

Learning all these facts, Elizabeth-Jane decided to move from Lucetta’s house after Farfrae moved in there. She made use of Henchard’s money to rent a room and started learning by herself. Meanwhile, Henchard felt dissapointed as he actually wanted to renew his relationship with Lucetta.

Mrs Farfrae, on the other hand, was not completely joyful as she feared Farfrae knew about her past. Thus, she demanded Henchard to return all of her letters containing her love toward the Mayor and how much she wanted to be his wife.
Farfrae’s business climbed and overpassed Henchard’s. The mayor eventyally filed for bankruptcy after he failed in a corn business. He was a great debt thus was forced to sell his belongings, including his large house and furniture.

Worse thing occured when he was present in a court to hear a trial involving a woman whom was accused to conduct badly toward a man in public. The trial turned out to be a nightmare for Henchard as the woman was the owner of the stall where which he made a bargain about his wife almost twenty years ago.

The woman, who was the defendant of the case, unwrapped the secret that Henchard was not worth it to be the mayor given what he did years before.
Henchard was a bit startled but admitted his wrongdoings. He left the court and let the event reached the ears of the residents days forward.

Amid his material loss and tainted image, He moved to Jopp’s house, his former worker whom he once refused, accepted, then befriended again. Elizabeth-Jane continued to search for Henchard’s updates despite his ill recipient toward her kind deeds. Being so poor did not come as a surprise for Henchard for he once built his empire from zero. But still, live was harder for him, who obviously was much older than his arrival in the town.

He eventually worked for Farfrae and left the town oftentimes so as he did not meet with his former friend and his wife. The newly wed, to Henchard’s surprise, occupied his former house. Farfrae even purchased Henchard’s belongings.

Lucetta found it hard to be at ease with her love letters was still in Henchard’s hands. Her world was too centered upon Farfrae that she was afraid she would lose her husband once he found out her past story with Henchard. Given Farfrae’s new position as the new mayor of the city, of course Lucetta was in a deep anxiety the news would ruin their reputation.

So, she sent a letter to Henchard and directly asked for them to meet in secret. There, she begged him to send all the letters back at her. Henchard, who was initially angry with their marriage, now pitied her so much. He promised he would return all letters.

Elizabeth-jane continued to visit Jopp’s house for her stepfather despite the first refusal. She even followed Henchard’s steps when he visited a pub to get his first drink after a twenty-year of self-promise. She seemed not ashamed of his bad behaviour when getting drunk during a gathering attended by high-profile figures in the town, including Farfrae. Given her sincere attitude, Henchard’s heart was melted. Their relationship was getting closer just like real father-daughter’s.

Farfrae became more often to leave Lucetta for business. Her past story still haunted Lucetta’s lives day and night. On one afternoon, a knock was heard upon the door. It was Jopp who was asking for Lucetta’s recommendation so as he could work for her husband. Knowing few about plantation, Lucetta refused to be involved. This left Jopp with a deep hurt.

He met with Henchard once he got home. The former mayor asked for Jopp’s help to hand a bundle of letters to Lucetta. Still feeling dissapointed, Jopp secretly opened the letters without Henchard’s knowledge who shortly shut the door after giving the letters to him.

Jopp did not immediately give the letters to Lucetta. Instead, he let his friends to read them when they gathered in a place thus the news were spread out quickly.

Henchard, who had been soft toward Farfrae, returned to his angry mode, as he heard that Lucetta told people her husband was a born succesful businessman, with or without the help from Henchard. As anger rose to his head, Henchard managed to come and wait for Farfrae’s return from business trip one night.

They were involved in a physical fight. Henchard quickly realized his wrong acts then released his rival. He felt ashamed of himself. Farfrae instead despised him.

Elizabeth-jane came to Lucetta’s room while the latter’s husband was still away. Lucetta finally revealed the secret that was haunting her life so far. Such a good friend Elizabeth-jane was that she continued to support her dearest fellow even after she married the man whom she loved so much. Lucetta fell ill that night and the doctor helped little for her recovery. Farfrae was demanded to come right away.

Feeling guilty, Henchard looked for Farfrae whom he met on a street in the midst of the business trip to other town. But the new mayor disbelieved Henchard’s information about his wife poor condition given earlier fight.

Farfrae soon learned Henchard’s truth once he discovered Lucetta was lying in her bed wanting so hard to meet him. In her latest minutes, she eventually told all of the secrets that no longer meant anything for Farfrae due to her worsening health.

credit for http://www.mysite.verizon.net for the picture

Elizabeth-jane came to Jopp’s house to inform about Lucetta’s death to her stepfather. Henchard already knew about this then allowed her to spend the day at the house. He even made her breakfast. While she was sleeping, a figure knocked at the house’s door. Henchard’s eyes were widely opened once he heard that the man introduced himself as Richard Newson and he was looking for Elizabeth-jane.

Being afraid of losing the only person whom he loved, Henchard replied Newson’s intention by saying that the woman had passed away a year ago. Newson soon left the house and for a quite long moment did not return.
Henchard and Elizabeth-jane rebuilt their life by opening a grain store that developed well.

So it went well for the relationship between Farfrae and Elizabeth-jane that displeased Henchard but he did not forbid them after all. The view of Newson raced through Henchard’s minds though he was relieved that the sailor did not come back.

The time has finally come. Henchard received a report from Elizabeth-jane that a mysterious man wanted to see her at Farfrae’s residence and asked for his suggestion. Henchard allowed Elizabeth-jane to meet with the man.

Unable to imagine how would Elizabeth-jane react to his lies, Henchard prepared for little belongings to live for good. Nothing could be done to change Henchard’s decision. Elizabeth-jane accompanied him till the end of the road and they went separate ways after that.

All secrets were then opened when she met his real father, Captain Richard Newson. She cursed Henchard’s lies and so forth. A grand marriage took place afterwards in the house. Somehow, Elizabeth-jane did not look radiant in her happiest day after many years of waiting to win Farfrae’s heart. She insisted her husband to search for Henchard.

For some months, Henchard was wandering just like an outcast. He made life through any works he could find all alone.

The happy new couple found it so difficult to meet Henchard that Farfrae suggested his wife to give up the attempts. She could not agree more.

But just when they were about the return to Casterbridge, they met Abel Whittle, one of the workers in the plantation, who was following Henchard whenever they went. Unfortunately, Henchard passed away by the time they reached the place where he was staying due to illness. On his will, Henchard wished no one told Elizabeth-jane Farfrae about his death. He did not want anybody to see his corpse. Nor he did not want to be buried in consecreated ground. No flowers were to be put in his grave, and no one should remember his name.

She fulfilled Henchard’s last wishes though she knew the lists were mere lies as he was no more than a lonely human being. She developed herself into a prominent woman figure in the society and earned so much respect from them. She lived the life in more relaxed way by being more grateful. She came to learn that “happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.”