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Thread: Thomas Hardy - What To Read?

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    Bohemian Marbles's Avatar
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    Thomas Hardy - What To Read?

    Greetings,

    Instead of googling him to read about his works I thought I had better ask for suggestions on LitNet.

    Why is Thomas Hardy good, what is his place in the canon, and which of his work would you suggest as starters to a reader who has not read anything by Hardy?

    Thanks in advance for comments and suggestions.
    But you, cloudless girl, question of smoke, corn tassel
    You were what the wind was making with illuminated leaves.
    ah, I can say nothing! You were made of everything.

    _Pablo Neruda

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I like Thomas Hardy because he is good at describing the lives of ordinary peasant people from the 19th century. He is very good at describing their work. Saying that, sometimes he uses mystical, or magical plot devices. There is usually quite a lot of misery in his stories: marriages are blighted; love is unreciprocated; people die young. I have only read three of his books: Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Woodlanders and Far From The Madding Crowd. I would say Tesswas the best of those, although also a bit sick. Woodlanders felt quite claustrophobic, despite being set in the country miles away from anywhere. FFTMC was less unhappy than those other two, but it was still pretty unhappy. Hardy is often criticised for being rather a slow read, especially by school children.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Difficult to make one recommendation. Like Dickens he was prolific and consistently good. here are my favourites:

    Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) - a wonderful, under-appreciated work. Much less dark than most of his later work. Not to be missed! I actual read this last because of modern critics ignoring it. But I can't think of a better modern representation of a rural idyll.
    Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) - perhaps a good one to start with to get an initial feel for the mature Hardy.
    The Return of the Native (1878) - wonderfully atmospheric, quite difficult because of the large number of classical references.
    The Woodlanders (1887) - another under-rated work
    Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) - a dark work, but reveals his talent to the full. Maybe a good one to start with.
    Jude the Obscure (1895) - Very dark! A great work but perhaps best approached later.

    Maybe the best approach would be to read them in order. I've read a few other works by him, and there aren't any I wouldn't recommend.

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    Registered User 108 fountains's Avatar
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    I've read most of Hardy's work, and based on their other postings, I really respect Kev67 and mal4mac's suggestions. Tess and Far from the Madding Crowd would be good ones to start with , and Jude the Obscure is definitely better left for later because of its darkness and its ponderousness. But in fact, I would recommend The Mayor of Casterbridge as perhaps the best introduction to Hardy's novels. It has all the great descriptions, examination of human relations, and social critiques that are found in Tess and Far from the Madding Crowd, as well as the surprise twists and turns in plot typical of Hardy, but in my opinion the plot moves much faster in Mayor of Casterbridge, starting off off with a bang - a drunken farm laborer actually sells his wife at a county fair - and the rapid rise and fall of the fortunes of the main character, the return of his wife and daughter into his life, the relentless themes of jealosy and secret-keeping, will keep you turning the pages. The ending, while unhappy, contains some of Hardy's best writing. An alternative to starting with one of Hardy's novels would be to start with some of his short stories. He has several collections. I would recommend starting with Wessex Tales.

    With regard to your questions about what makes him good and what is his place in the canon, I've already hinted at some of it - his intricate, circuitous and unexpected plotlines and his very intimate analyses of romantic relationships; the comic interludes in what are usually tragic stories are also worth noting - these often occur in the context of conversations between minor characters (usually rural folk) who are discussing the activities of the major characters. One universal theme to all his writings is the tension that results when romantic relationships do not conform (usually because of differences in class between the two people involved) to the puritanism of Victorian England. In fact, I would say that it is his challenge to Victorian society that places him in "the canon," in addition to his exceptional skills as a writer. Jude the Obscure, which in my opinion is his very best work, took on the challenge of criticizing both the sexual and the religious morality of Hardy's contemporary society with the result that that book was so heavily disparaged that he never wrote another novel.
    A just conception of life is too large a thing to grasp during the short interval of passing through it.
    Thomas Hardy

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    Registered User Frédéric Moreau's Avatar
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    I read 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' and found it brilliant (there is a cheap edition from Penguin Popular Classics for about 3 pounds). I guess that his most popular novel is 'Far from the Madding Crow', but some months ago I came across a review about 'A pair of blue eyes' and thought it was a quite interesting novel. I hope to read him widely, there are many great books to read.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 108 fountains View Post
    But in fact, I would recommend The Mayor of Casterbridge as perhaps the best introduction to Hardy's novels.
    Hello everyone!

    I've read 4 books by Hardy. My first one was 'Far from the Madding Crowd.' But I agree with 108 fountains. I'd recommend 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' to start reading his works.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marbles View Post
    Greetings,

    Instead of googling him to read about his works I thought I had better ask for suggestions on LitNet.

    Why is Thomas Hardy good, what is his place in the canon, and which of his work would you suggest as starters to a reader who has not read anything by Hardy?

    Thanks in advance for comments and suggestions.
    I've read most of Hardy's novels , loved them all , although Jude was too depressing. I started to read him as I am originally from 'wessex'& the stories he told reminded me of how life was back in my ancestors times , & the fact that my grandfather & great grandfathers were all Thomases. Some of the old expressions he uses for the local dialect were ones I heard as a child. So jump in , I love them all but I think Return of the Native is my favourite.

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    No recommendations for Hardy the poet? Definitely look into Hardy's poetry... especially the poems dealing with his conflicted feelings concerning the death of his wife... from whom he had been long estranged.
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
    The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.- Mark Twain
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    Hardy was a romantic person , & I suppose this lasted well into old age. Are all men thus? He knew what it was like to be in love & also the reasons for falling in love, maybe we could learn something from that.

    Good , but not religious good. Thomas Hardy,

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    Quote Originally Posted by Frédéric Moreau View Post
    I read 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' and found it brilliant (there is a cheap edition from Penguin Popular Classics for about 3 pounds). I guess that his most popular novel is 'Far from the Madding Crow', but some months ago I came across a review about 'A pair of blue eyes' and thought it was a quite interesting novel. I hope to read him widely, there are many great books to read.
    I've read 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' and don't rate it as highly as the others I mentioned. (Maybe I wasn't in the mood that week!) Hardy himself considered 'A pair of blue eyes' a lighter, more romantic work, not one of his more serious novels. Here's his classification:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Hardy#Prose

    I've read "Two on a Tower", and enjoyed it, but it's lighter than his novels of "Character and environment".

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    Registered User Frédéric Moreau's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    I've read 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' and don't rate it as highly as the others I mentioned. (Maybe I wasn't in the mood that week!) Hardy himself considered 'A pair of blue eyes' a lighter, more romantic work, not one of his more serious novels. Here's his classification:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Hardy#Prose

    I've read "Two on a Tower", and enjoyed it, but it's lighter than his novels of "Character and environment".
    I haven't read A Pair of Blue Eyes, I came across a review in which a certain scene of this book was highly praised: a man clutching at the edge of a cliff and anxiously waiting to be rescued. I thought it was interesting, but I haven't read it.

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    Snowqueen Snowqueen's Avatar
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    Hi, Marbles, I suggest you better start from The Mayor of Casterbridge. It's my favourite novel by Hardy along with Far from the Madding Crowd.
    Hardy's novels are mostly tragedies. Many of his plots turn on the revelation of a past action coming to light after remaining secret for some time. Moreover, I like his portrayal of women characters especially Bathsheba Everdene, a proud beauty and Gabriela’s 'cold-hearted darling'.

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    All are at the crossroads qimissung's Avatar
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    The only one I've read is Far from the Madding Crowd, which I loved. I have seen Roman Polanski's Tess which I also loved, but I haven't yet gotten up the courage to read it.
    "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its' own reason for existing." ~ Albert Einstein
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    Ooh, Tess is fantastic Qimi, you should give it a go! It was a sad story, yes, but by the end I wasn't in any kind of pain. But then, I have a heart of stone when it comes to sad art

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by qimissung View Post
    The only one I've read is Far from the Madding Crowd, which I loved. I have seen Roman Polanski's Tess which I also loved, but I haven't yet gotten up the courage to read it.
    Roman Polanski's Tess was one of the few DVDs I had to stop watching part way through. I knew what was coming up and I could not bear to watch it. The part I saw was very well acted, except Natassja Kinski's accent was not quite right.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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