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A Pair of Blue Eyes

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(1873)



'A violet in the youth of primy nature, Forward, not permanent, sweet not lasting, The perfume and suppliance of a minute; No more.'



A novel drawing on Hardy's courtship of his first wife, this was the first published under his own name. First serialised in Tinsley's magazine between September 1872 and July 1873.



The term "cliffhanger" is considered to have originated with the serialised version of this story, in which Henry Knight, one of the protagonists, is left literally hanging off a cliff.





This novel describes the love triangle between a young woman and her two suitors. One is the socially inferior, but upwardly striving young man who adores her and connects her with her country past, while the other is the respectable, established, older man who represents London society. The heroine is caught between multiple expectations (those of the men, her parents, and society)and the desires of her own heart, which she does not always seem to know. The story is told lightly, however, never burying the reader with a gloomy shroud (until the very end). This is a good read for someone who enjoys Hardy and wants to sample his early works. This novel is of special interest because of the strong autobiographical parallels between the characters and circumstances of Stephen Smith and Elfride Swancourt and those of Hardy and his first wife Emma Gifford. This was the third of Hardy's novels to be published and the first to bear his name. -- A pair of blue eyes is a romance and adventure novel. It is about the woman, Elfride, who doesn't know whether to choose her heart or mind in loving Knight, her second lover. She is afraid that he will leave her when he learns of her past with her first lover Stephen.--Submitted by Ghadeer Faris


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Recent Forum Posts on A Pair of Blue Eyes

Perfect book to get to know Hardy

This is the only book I’ve read by Hardy up to now, so I can’t compare it to any of his later, more famous works. However, I can say that I have loved “A Pair of Blue Eyes”. It was remarkable to me how strong was the softening influence of Hardy’s poetical language on the story, which in its essence was intense, stormy and scandalous. The omniscient narrator draws the characters very accurately – and I may also say, passionately - apart from including some beautiful comments about life and love in general, like: “Love is faith, and faith, like a gathered flower, will rootlessly live on”. This book was a great encourager for me to read more by Hardy and see what other things he wrote, so I’d recommend it to anyone who doesn’t know him yet.

Not Surprising

I've read quite a bit of Hardy, and the dreary end comes as no surprise. This story strikes me as unusual for Hardy in 2 respects. First, there are points in he book where it looks as if things are going to turn out OK for almost everyone. It's positively giddy with promise. Second, Hardy usually just ruins one or two peoples lives in his stories. In this one he's taken out 4, if you don't count Parson Swancourt and the first lady Luxellian (and her children who end up motherless twice).

It took me a while to understand Hardy. Certainly he's got a cruel streak, if not for his characters then certainly for his readers. If you are feeling too good about life and the world, you can always read some Hardy and get that brooding winter-storm feeling. His plots leave me with the feeling that he lost sleep working on convolutions which will eventually destroy his characters. But what was his motive? Did he seek to build an audience of depressed people? I don't think so. I think he wrote these depressing dramas to make a point. Are these stories morality plays? The knee jerk reaction is yes, but I think it's more complicated than that. Besides, where is the fun in being the kill-joy ALL of the time? I don't think that these people (his characters) got what was coming to them simply because they were sinners or transgressed societal norms. No, why go through all the trouble of creating these tortured plots just to make that point? and honestly, if Blue Eyes were a morality play, Hardy would have killed off Knight on the cliff as punishment for luring Elfride from Smith (albiet innocently, but still ...)

No, Hardy doesn't speak to us of the dangers of breaking society's moral code, he points out the danger in having a strict moral code. I feel that Hardy, in his soul, wanted to be the voice of moderate middle class liberalism, drawing attention to the corrosive nature of high morals and low tolerance upon otherwise good people. In Blue Eyes, as in most of his stories, Hardy had to go to great lengths to avoid a happy ending. This is because he likes to make the his character's downfall the result of their own opinions, which were acquired unquestioned from their social superiors. All of his characters in Blue Eyes knew what they wanted and what would make them happy (Elfride sometimes not so sure). Whenever the opportunity for a happy ending came around, Hardy would invoke a societal prejudice, irrational taboo, stigma or some other intolerance to twart the it. The first opportunity for a happy ending came early on, when Elfride and Steven should have married and lived happily ever after. Hardy wheels social class distiction onto the stage and blocks the romance (Note - one of the few times happiness is thwarted by another character's active intent). Another comes after her introduction to Knight. Hardy uses sexual stereotypes to keep Elfride and Knight from having the kind of honest conversations which would have disclosed her relationship with Smith. Knight could have taken the high road (which he pretended to prefer at the end) right off the bat. Another opportunity for frank discussion was passed by in the crypt. Hardy inflates Smith's sense of personal honor in order to silence him in front of Knight. Here, feelings may have been hurt but a reasonable solution would have been reached. As an ace up his sleeve, Hardy created Mrs. Jethway, his embodiment of society's mean spirited attitude toward non-comformist behaviors. Jethway allows Hardy to derail happiness whenever and wherever it is found by bringing gossip, suspiscion and hatefulness to bear. To back up Jethway and her problems, Hardy finally curses Knight with an exceptionally priggish expectation about 'the woman he will marry' and fears of how society will view his marriage to 'a woman with a history'. Just for the fun of it, Hardy takes a stab at the Church in the form of parson Swancourt. Here's a man more interested in cash, church buildings and the social placement of his daughter's bethrothed than with the souls of those to whom he is bound to serve. He doesn't even write his own sermons.

Anyway, I love to read Thomas Hardy. He points out the self destructive quality of bigotry, prejudice, pride and class consciousness by creating people that we might like and then letting us watch them fall apart.

John V.

1st Hardy for me

As the very first book I've ever read by Thomas Hardy, I give it a genuine "thumbs up". Hardy has a unique way of painting each character. You feel like you know them intimately. It contains great use of symbolism, foreshadowing, and is serious, but lightly told. As the introduction on this site says, it is not at all dreary or dark until the end. Liked it very much.

No Subject

It's also the first Thomas Hardy novel I have read and I love it very much but the ending is so sad. it was so unexpected.

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