Tag Archives: Novels

Thomas Hardy revisited

Around the age of eleven or so, in convergence with my emerging womanhood my consciousness was also awakening. It must have been that early, because I disctinctly remember spending time in my grandmother’s house in Transylvania with Thomas Hardy’s books. Summers were hers, I spent many of them with rabbits, cats, a dog, lots of poultry and even pigs. (On my way back to Bucharest my first period came, which was a horrific disaster involving a blood-soaked train compartment, a similarly soiled taxi, and almost fainting on the subway from the extreme bloodloss. But this is just a minor detail I happened to remember now; it is connected, I think.)

At my grandma’s place I read a lot. Once tired of the animals, I read. Not sure what I read, probably all sorts of things I found there on the shelves. I do remember one author very clearly. There was a library from which I borrowed all of his available writing in Hungarian translation. For many years (now I know it was twenty-four years) I only remembered the fact that I read them all in basically one go. There were memories of romance and drama floating in my consciousness, but I didn’t remember much else other than the fact that for some reason Thomas Hardy was my favourite author for some time, in fact, he was my first favourite author by whom I read several pieces. Later, I read even more; I got to university and there the world of Anglo-Saxon literature opened up to me like an endless vast ocean. I forgot all about Thomas Hardy. I was fascinated by Canadian novelists, I discovered Margaret Atwood, and the unique Patrick White, among others. Strange new styles and worlds were introduced to me. Even later, after my graduation my reading became sporadic, as well as eclectic. I read whatever talked to me, a mixture of prose and non-fiction, Jung and Marquez, Tolstoy and Fry. I read a lot of very good stuff.

I’m not sure how Thomas Hardy appeared again. I think a friend of mine was looking for something as a substitute for Charlotte Bronte, and I think among other writers I suggested Thomas Hardy. At a later point she said she had started reading “The Woodlanders” but quickly put it down because “nothing was happening in it”. Since I remembered basically naught from afore-mentioned book, maybe because I never read it, I downloaded the Kindle-version and gave it a try. I think I was sucked in from the second paragraph.

The physiognomy of a deserted highway expresses solitude to a degree that is not reached by mere dales or downs, and bespeaks a tomb-like stillness more emphatic than that of glades and pools. The contrast of what is with what might be probably accounts for this. To step, for instance, at the place under notice, from the
hedge of the plantation into the adjoining pale thoroughfare, and
pause amid its emptiness for a moment, was to exchange by the act
of a single stride the simple absence of human companionship for
an incubus of the forlorn.

At this spot, on the lowering evening of a by-gone winter’s day,
there stood a man who had entered upon the scene much in the
aforesaid manner. Alighting into the road from a stile hard by,
he, though by no means a “chosen vessel” for impressions, was
temporarily influenced by some such feeling of being suddenly more
alone than before he had emerged upon the highway.

It could be seen by a glance at his rather finical style of dress
that he did not belong to the country proper; and from his air,
after a while, that though there might be a sombre beauty in the
scenery, music in the breeze, and a wan procession of coaching
ghosts in the sentiment of this old turnpike-road, he was mainly
puzzled about the way. The dead men’s work that had been expended
in climbing that hill, the blistered soles that had trodden it,
and the tears that had wetted it, were not his concern; for fate
had given him no time for any but practical things.

BAM. As I re-read this now, it once again strikes me. I AM HOME. The way landscape is organically part of the overall atmosphere. The way the solitary character is introduced. The way past drama is hinted at, and in contrast with the man’s personality. How could I NOT be interested, puzzled, intrigued, absolutely engrossed in this character, as well as a story thus introduced? I read the entire novel in this state of utter tension and astonishment at how frighteningly Hardy tugged at my heartstrings. I’ve read a lot, and among my readings there were numerous truly valuable ones, ones I appreciated, even loved. But in all my past twenty years I do not recall one single author whose style reflected ME as much as Thomas Hardy reflects me. He uses moods that are totally mine, and plot twists that not only seemed familiar but also made me weep, literally. I don’t recall one single author who has made me cry, ever, which is surprising because I cry very often. But Hardy made me cry.

After I finished “The Woodlanders” I read a Henry James novellette (“The turn of the screw”, really, truly magnificent to be honest) and even Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. But I longed for more Hardy and so I started “The return of the native”, which, again, mesmerised me.

I am now reading Gabriel Oak’s and Bathsheba Everdeen’s story, which stayed with me since childhood. “Far from the madding crowd” is probably the only famous Hardy-novel with a positive ending, but I’m sure it stuck with me mostly because of Gabriel Oak’s person, who basically starts off the novel:

When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.

His Christian name was Gabriel…

No question about it, I am in love now like I must have been in love at age eleven.

I could quote so many things from all three novels. And I haven’t even mentioned “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, or “Jude the obscure”. I could quote the entire novels as texts that move me, speak to me, inspire me, transport me. The only explanation is that back when I read these, they stayed with me in my subconscious, and later, when I myself started writing, I probably reached deep down and from somewhere I didn’t even know I possessed, I took characters and styles and plots that I had stored and loved, and built on those. I wish I didn’t have to say that basically I’ve been plagiarising for twenty years; hubby says we (Hardy and I) must have been interested in the same things. I prefer the latter alternative, albeit I am pretty sure that my little adolescent brain stole many, many things it liked and stored them in my subconscious like a squirrel stores precious winter grub in a treetrunk.

“Miss Everdene!” said the farmer.

She trembled, turned, and said “Good morning.” His tone was so utterly removed from all she had expected as a beginning. It was lowness and quiet accentuated: an emphasis of deep meanings, their form, at the same time, being scarcely expressed. Silence has sometimes a remarkable power of showing itself as the disembodied soul of feeling wandering without its carcase, and it is then more impressive than speech. In the same way, to say a little is often to tell more than to say a great deal. Boldwood told everything in that word.

As the consciousness expands on learning that what was fancied to be the rumble of wheels is the reverberation of thunder, so did Bathsheba’s at her intuitive conviction.

I’m sorry, I must re-quote right now:

Silence has sometimes a remarkable power of showing itself as the disembodied soul of feeling wandering without its carcase, and it is then more impressive than speech.

I always scorned those who had palpitations reading certain very popular English pieces. Yet here I am like a teenage girl who discovers life’s treasures anew: love, passion, reflection. I’m a Hardy-groupie, and I’m saying this with the utmost reverence possible.

For now I’m enjoying this journey. I marvel at Hardy’s language, at his characters, the psychological insight he had, the landscape descriptions. I marvel and am inspired by his novels. I fear I may draw from him later, but I’ll try not to.

If only I could go back to when Jude was published and he decided to stop writing, because of the scathingly negative criticism he received to his last two novels, Tess and Jude, which, we now know, are basically masterpieces. I wish I could tell him that he must never stop writing, that he will offer humanity a unique literary heritage which he must expand as much as his mundane existence allows him.