Why do I always forget to mention Thomas Hardy?

John Purcell reflects on the frustrations of drowning in honey.

It occurs to me that I never mention Thomas Hardy. When I rattle off the authors I love, my mind runs to George Eliot, George Meredith, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens quite easily and then I realise I have mentioned only nineteenth English authors and I quickly add Christina Stead, Willa Cather and I may if I have time throw in Thomas Mann and Ernest Hemingway. And there I stop. I know I have said both too much and not enough.

While I pause for breath I remember Clarissa and think of Samuel Richardson, Tom Jones and think of Henry Fielding. The name Richardson makes me think of Maurice Guest and I find myself moving from Henry Handel Richardson to George Johnston and Xavier Herbert. And then I realise that I haven’t been paying attention to the conversation I have been engaged in.

tess-of-the-d-urbervillesAnd I find myself exhausted. Because it occurs to me that although I have been afforded the opportunity to read some of the finest writers of the last few centuries I cannot easily share or express the enjoyments and lessons of this reading in any meaningful way. I can enthuse – I have a passionate relationship with literature. I can list the titles and authors one should read – I have a good memory for these things. I can quote or read a passage aloud – I have noted down many impressive scenes and quips. And I can encourage others to read as I have read – I have a teacher’s zeal. And in doing these things I quickly become a bore to myself and to others.

In the end there is always silence and bitterness. And I turn away.

And suddenly there he is, Mr Thomas Hardy. He stands so close beside me I forget he is there.

However, by then the moment has passed. The opportunity to mention him has gone.

But I am secretly pleased about this really. Because he doesn’t fit in with the other great names. He is an outsider amongst outsiders. And I know that those who really appreciate him, those millions who have devoured all of his works and taken him into themselves probably discovered him on their own and at the right time – I have learnt that to recommend Hardy is to damn him.

I’ve been told Hardy is too dark. That he is humourless. Dull, unrealistic, pessimistic and cruel. And in these moments I wonder if they have been reading someone else. So I now forget to recommend him.

When I first read Hardy much of the world’s ugly scaffolding fell away. In Return of the Native, Far From the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, The Mayor of Casterbridge and the others it was his great love of nature and humanity and the beauty each possesses which shone brightest for me. And though the shadows this bright love cast are deep and very dark they only serve to accentuate the good, the worthy, the beautiful.

So where some see pessimism I see great optimism. Hardy asks us to cut through the fog of day to day life so we may recognise and cherish what is good in our environment, in others and in ourselves.

So I won’t recommend Thomas Hardy to you. I will just point out that he is there on the shelf ready to be read. When you are ready, that is.

Taken by John’s love of the classics? Find more classics he loves here

Five books I want to read again and why.

When I am considering the big question:

What shall I read next?

I instinctively look toward the big pile of books I have yet to read – with so little time to read in life,  it makes sense to keep trying new things.

But every so often, while looking for something new, I stumble across something old, something I read long ago. Holding it my hands, I realise it is at best, half remembered. Flicking it open, I discover parts of myself pressed and dried between its pages – fragile emotions unused to light and air which disintegrate before my eyes. I acknowledge that the person I was when I read the book is lost to me forever, but the book itself is not. But do I dare read it again?


Here are five Penguin Classics I want to read again and why.

The Red and the Black

by Stendhal

Why I want to read it again:

I was overwhelmed by this book when I first read it. I read feverishly and quickly. I had never come across a mind like Stendhal’s and was thrown off my guard. The Red and The Black is a powerful novel, blindingly honest at times, which leads the reader deep into the heart and mind of a man ruled by ambition. I hope on a second read I can keep my head and read with more circumspection, for I would love to know how Stendhal managed to entrap me so entirely the first time around.

Good Bit:

Only a fool, he said to himself, loses his temper with other people. A stone falls, doesn’t it, because of its weight? Must I always be a child? When shall I acquire the sensible habit of selling just so much of my soul to people of this sort as their money warrants? If I wish to be respected by them and by myself, I must show them that, while I barter my poverty for their wealth, my soul is a thousand leagues out of reach of their insolence, in a sphere too high for their petty marks of favour or contempt to affect it.

Publisher synopsis:

Handsome and ambitious, Julien Sorel is determined to rise above his Continue reading

Penguin Classics UK: Top Ten Cruellest Classics

In my inbox today was a newsletter from
Penguin Classics UK in which they list the…

Top Ten Cruellest Classics (wah, ha, har!)

They didn’t say ‘wah, ha, har!’ that was me. I thought it needed something.

They did say this, however:

Despite some sunny days recently, we wouldn’t dare argue with T. S. Eliot – and since it’s April, here is our top ten of the very Cruellest classics:

1. Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola

‘It was like a lightning flash of passion, swift, blinding, across a leaden sky’

In a dingy apartment on the Passage du Pont Neuf in Paris, Thérèse Raquin is trapped in a loveless marriage to her sickly cousin Camille. The numbing tedium of her life is suddenly shattered when she embarks on a turbulent affair with her husband’s earthy friend Laurent, but their animal passion for each other soon compels the lovers to commit a crime that will haunt them forever. Thérèse Raquin caused a scandal when it appeared in 1867 and brought its twenty-seven-year-old author a notoriety that followed him throughout his life. Zola’s novel is not only an uninhibited portrayal of adultery, madness and ghostly revenge, but is also a devastating exploration of the darkest aspects of human existence.

Robin Buss’s new translation superbly conveys Zola’s fearlessly honest and matter of fact style. In his introduction, he discusses Zola’s life and literary career, and the influence of art, literature and science on his writing. This edition also includes the preface to the second edition of 1868, a chronology, further reading and notes. Buy


 2. Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov

“Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster.”

Thus begins Vladimir Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark; this, the author tells us, is the whole story–except that he starts from here, with his characteristic dazzling skill and irony, and brilliantly turns a fable into a chilling, original novel of folly and destruction.

Amidst a Weimar-era milieu of silent film stars, artists, and aspirants, Nabokov creates a merciless masterpiece as Albinus, an aging critic, falls prey to his own desires, to his teenage mistress, and to Axel Rex, the scheming rival for her affections who finds his greatest joy in the downfall of others. Buy



3. Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Ah, why should wrath be mute, and fury dumb?
I am no baby, I, that with base prayers
I should repent the evils I have done;
Ten thousand worse, than ever yet I did
Would I perform, if I might have my will.
If one good deed in all my life I did,
I do repent it from my very soul.  Continue reading

Tamara Drew is a film of the graphic novel which was the compilation of the Guardian serial which was loosely based upon the great work of Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd. Got that?

I shouldn’t mind being a bride at a wedding, if I could be one without having a husband.

Thomas Hardy – Far from the Madding Crowd


Tamara Drewe is a brilliant graphic novel inspired by Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd by Posy Simmonds the author of the widely acclaimed Gemma Bovery

Tamara Drewe has transformed herself. Plastic surgery, a different wardrobe, a smouldering look, have given her confidence and a new and thrilling power to attract, which she uses recklessly. Often just for the fun of it.

People are drawn to Tamara Drewe, male and female. In the remote village where her late mother lived Tamara arrives to clear up the house. Here she becomes an object of lust, of envy, the focus of unrequited love, a seductress. To the village teenagers she is ‘plastic-fantastic’, a role model. Ultimately, when her hot and indiscriminate glances lead to tragedy, she is seen as a man-eater and a heartless marriage wrecker.

First appearing as a serial in the Guardian, in book form Tamara Drewe has been enlarged, embellished and lovingly improved by the author.

Click here to see inside this book…

By all means, see the film and read the graphic novel but, please, make sure you read the original, too.

Bathsheba Everdene arrives in the small village of Weatherbury and captures the heart of three very different men; Gabriel Oak, a quiet shepherd, the proud, obdurate Farmer Boldwood and dashing, unscrupulous Sergeant Troy.

The battle for her affections will have dramatic, tragic and surprising consequences in this classic tale of love and misunderstanding.

It may have been observed that there is no regular path for getting out of love as there is for getting in. Some people look upon marriage as a short cut that way, but it has been known to fail

and…

We learn that it is not the rays which bodies absorb, but those they reject that give them the colours they are known by, and in the same way people are specialized by their dislikes and antagonisms whilst their goodwill is looked upon as no attribute at all.

Far From the Madding Crowd

Pause: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this – the roll of the world eastward is almost a palpable movement. The sensation may be caused by the panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects, which is perceptible in a few minutes of stillness; or by a fancy that the better outlook upon space afforded by a hill emphasizes terrestrial revolution; or by the wind; or by the solitude; but whatever be its origin the impression of riding along is vivid and abiding.

The poetry of motion is a phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, first enlarging the consciousness with a sense of difference from the mass of civilized mankind, who are horizontal and disregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars.

After such a nocturnal reconnoitre among these astral clusters, aloft from the customary haunts of thought and vision, some men may feel raised to a capability for eternity at once.

Thomas Hardy – Far from the Madding Crowd.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,051 other followers

%d bloggers like this: