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Thread: Reasons for liking Hardy

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Reasons for liking Hardy

    I am a member of a running club. One evening we listened to a guest speaker who had written a book about her experiences running around the world (all the way). One of my clubmates bought a copy. When I asked her about it later, she said it was alright, but that she had been reading Thomas Hardy recently and the quality of writing suffered by comparison. I thought it was interesting that she liked Thomas Hardy. Later it occurred to me that this clubmember had been a shop steward, was a feminist, and a local, standup poet. Hardy seems very sympathetic to working class men and women at the wrong end of power relationships. He was a renowned poet too. The fact this club member spends a lot of time running around Wessex probably doesn't hurt her opinion of him either.

    I had another friend at the running club who another time told me he liked Hardy. I can't remember how that conversation came up. Again, I wondered why, because, to me, his books seemed pretty miserable. However, this friend is a professor in agriculture. Reading through Tess, it strikes me there is a lot of description of 19th century farming techniques. I also remember there was a grissly but convincing scene involving the slaughter of a pig in Jude. Presumably this is one of the aspects he likes about it.

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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Yes, reading Hardy is an inclusive experience... You have to like reading about rural life in a pretty complete way and you have to like learning about how things were done back in the days that everything was well (or that is how I feel Hardy saw things...). But, if you have seen how things worked, you can add them to other novels you read where they are not described and so you get a better image.

    I think Hardy, as so many back then, were kind of taken aback by the speed of change. I mean, in the late 18th century you've got machinery that comes in and by the 1850s (and certainly the latter half of the 19th century) England is an industrialised country with milk trains bringing fresh milk, cherries and all kinds of fresh foods to the cities. That's all good, you say, but then there is the other side of the medal: the workers have no work as their jobs have been taken over by machinery. Where before they could live and work at home in the country, now they have to go to a factory to work from morning until night. The Ludites in the 18th century smashed up automatic weaving equiment because they lost their jobs to it or their wages went down.

    Even worse: cities tripled in size in around 10 to 20 years. Manchester, for eample, was not represented in parliament but was one of the biggest cities in the land. People were living with several families in a room and 50 people to one toilet/latrine. They were even living in cellars without fresh air or windows, some of them...

    In the midst of this, Hardy creates a world which is still pretty traditional. As a kind of comfort, I suspect.

    Not everything by Hardy is bleak, though.

    I have only read 4 by him: Far from the Madding Crowd, The Myor of Casterbridge, Tess and Jude. I don't know about the rest, but in these four there is definately a chronological tendency towards more bleakness. FFTMC is still pretty positive. It's got setbacks as novels do, but it ends well, in bliss (aah). Not without a sad note, but still... The Mayor is a bit bleaker (the duality of tradition and modernisation), but not so biting as the latter two. I think Hardy moved with the age, somehow, athough in his poetry he is more Romantic, I believe, and stayed that until the end of his life.

    I think it could be helpful not to read with too many notes. Notes distract and will of course explain the smallest detail you don't need to know. I read The Mayor with notes and that really sometimes bothered me. Some of the things explained were unnecessary and others were not explained. I don't need to know that exactly what they are eating is pig's kidneys or whatever, unless it is important to the story (which it is not to Hardy in all likelihood). Or at least not on a first read. I'll look it u when I'll go into real detail.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'me ne se vide ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scne VII)

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I recently read a book by the 19th century economist, Stanley Jevons, called The Coal Question. From reading that it seems that although things were tough in the 19th century, they weren't as tough as they had been. People may still have died like flies, but not as much as they did. The rural population was was not expanding, but the cities were growing fast. There was less poverty in the countryside because people could find work in the cities, thanks to the Industrial Revolution. Jevons reckoned the Luddites got it wrong: automating a process eventually led to more employment, not less, because products became cheap enough to buy to more people. One of the indicators of general prosperity seems have been the rate of marriages. When things were tough, fewer people married and left it till later. In a book I read about climate and the weather, it said that the average age of marriage for women was 30 around the turn of the 17th century, but 23 by 1830. Times were really tough between 1660 and 1730, largely due to the mini-ice age. Jevons wrote his book in 1866, by which time an even greater proportion of people were getting married.

    There is the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading, which I have visited several times. Although much machinery was mechanized in the factories, that does not seem so true on the farms. If Tess has lived longer, she would have seen tractors and combine harvesters, but wagons were still being built in 1910. Judging by the hand-tools, work in the countryside was very laborious. Having said that, dairyman Crick's new butter churn seems to have been steam driven.

    If I read another Hardy book, I might make it The Woodlanders. It was one of his happier novels and his favourite, according to this rather pretty American PhD student.

    I find Tess emotionally quite difficult to read, and I am taking it quite slowly. Therefore I don't mind reading the notes at the back of the book. When I've finished, I may order the York Notes.

  4. #4
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Far From The Madding Crowd is not miserable or bleak- it's a triumph over the struggles of life, both in farming and love. Tess is tragic rather than miserable, and even then, it does have some amusing bits.

    I think that those who live in rural areas may feel more affinity with it than city people.

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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    That about Far from the Madding Crowd is true. Nice novel .

    I had to read up on this, because I knew that the marriageable age in the 17th and 18th centuries was far higher than in the 19th century (in my husband's family tree that is also evident). I found this article about this issue.

    Although Cambridge Wrigley and Schofield's research is flawed in that you could argue that their population sample is not really representative (depending on the marriage age amongst Jews and Quakers), they shed a light on precisely the argument that marriagable age went down because poverty went down. It doesn't seem so simple.
    Together with the cities, the concept of steady weather-independent labour with wages at the end of it cropped up.

    The old way of 'I need to farm and get enough to feed my family and pay the rent' or 'I need to buy my wool/flax, then weave it with the help of my wife and children and then I can sell my rug at a profit' was no longer applicable. Or in smaller numbers. This way required that you needed to set yourself up as a man before you could even propose. So either had to count on an inheritance (for properties in the family) or that you had to save in order to rent that farm, buy your weaving gear, set up your carpentry shop, or whatever. Saving was done by work like Tess does on Dairyman Crick's farm: she lives in and gets wages. The wages she can save up minus the cost of anything she would have wanted to buy/needed like shoes and clothing. Such work was also not to be called 'steady', it was seasonal work until Michaelmas or Lady Day (don't know when that is) and was six months worth. Even if you had wanted to live away frm your family for six months or forever, you couldn't keep a family on seasonal work like that.

    In addition the cost of setting up a family that could function was considerable: furniture, equipment, buying/renting a farm (at least the first year's rent). In short, a man had to 'establish' himself in order to be able to merely propose (for the rich and middle classes this still applied until 1900 and after). This needed money. Equally from the woman's side: she needed to save together household equipment.

    Death rates dropped a little, but Wrgley and Schofield do not consider that could have influenced the decrease in marriageable age. To them the availability of real wages and not live-in work or compensation in kind (the growing of vegetables in the garden or paying the rent in sacks of grain) constituted a major change. Also the availability of housing, I imagine, offered a possibility to set up earlier.
    They argue that as people had real wages and were encouraged to be independent (not shackled to the family home) meant that people had not much to lose by marrying and that they were confident in the future, 'I have my job and that will pay for my food next month and in a year to come.' Before, if you had no money to rent a farm, you could not set up.

    They argued that the Poor Law was also good in the process (although the student from Cambridge argues that that may just be Poor Law Commission propaganda) as this provided people with a safety net if things didn't go well. Before, they would starve.

    They also sited the availability of jobs as a factor. In the rural days there was only as much work as there was in the village maybe a little further afield. In the cities the jobs could be picked up. Not that workers were paid more (inflation was generally low), but the fact that you could get another job if you lost one, is good in terms of security. In rural areas there were only as many jobs as could be filled (in Crick's farm there are only as many cows as have can be milked, otherwise they get mastitis). Maybe a few more, but not in their thousands like in Manchester.

    They also added that people probably did not believe they had potentially much to lose if they did get married early instead of late.

    Apparently the rural population did not grow much in the 17th and 18th centuries because of reduced fertility (if you marry late, you don't get so any children), so deaths and births were kept in balance. It was at the start of the Industrial Revolution that the whole population of England (I believe) doubled from 7-odd million to 14-odd million. Just because people got married earlier.

    If you apply Wrigley and Schofield's logic to the Little Iceage (the last of which was in the 19th century), you could probably say there was less job security. If a dairyman like Crick's cows starve because of the long winter and reduced hay production, or he doesn't keep so many, then there are fewer jobs for girls like Tess and people like Angel. So they are less likely to get enough money together to set up or are worried that they will find a job next season.

    Be that as it may, that was very interesting.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'me ne se vide ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scne VII)

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    Registered User paradoxical's Avatar
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    What I love most about Hardy's novels is the way he deals with fate and destiny. He seems to touch upon the age old debate of free will vs determinism, and I also enjoy his take on society vs the individual. It seems that much of what he has to say still applies to modern society.

    I love the way the subplots in his novels build until all the threads come together and (usually) end in tragedy for the characters. Wish I could do a better job of explaining what I mean, but that's a brief description of why I like his work.
    "I have never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude." - Henry David Thoreau

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Kiki, I think you may be right about the population increase being due to earlier marriage rather than a lower infant mortality rate. To me, the relative lack of population growth prior to the 19th century suggests that the carrying capacity of the countryside was at full stretch, given the farming methods at the time. It may not be so much that a couple would have to save a lot to get established so much as waiting for an older couple to die or retire. 30+3 = 60 and given the hard lives they lived, the older couple may decide to hand on to someone younger, provided they were still alive.

    Anyway, this is some way from reasons for liking Hardy.

  8. #8
    Anyway, this is some way from reasons for liking Hardy.
    Well for me the bottom line is in the quality of this writing, especially his later work. For me it is as simple as that.

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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Hear, Hear.

    And his psychological insight.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'me ne se vide ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scne VII)

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    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    And his female characters.

  11. #11
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kelby_lake View Post
    And his female characters.
    That's something I've wanted to ask about. Thomas Hardy was a man obviously. Were his female characters convincing? They seem so to me but I have a Y chromosome myself.

  12. #12
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    That's something I've wanted to ask about. Thomas Hardy was a man obviously. Were his female characters convincing? They seem so to me but I have a Y chromosome myself.
    I'm female and I think they are. His women are far from being the perfect Victorian woman- they're modern women with a lot of complexity.

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