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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hardy's view of life - and death

So I guessed wrong and Hardy did not have that one final twist regarding the parentage of Elizabeth - looking back I see that the long-lost sailor Newson confirmed, to Henchard, the story that the original Elizabeth died in infancy and the young woman in this was his (Newson's) daughter by Susan - which leaves open the question: who wrote the confessional letter to Henchard? I'll put it down as an authorial mistake - when Hardy had Henchard declare ex-wife Susan was illiterate, he'd forgotten about the letter she wrote (only other possibility: Henchard was lying about the illiteracy; but Newson doesn't dispute the fact.) In any event, though I just barely thought the novel would have the father and step-daughter united at the end, even a sorrowful reunion as in King Lear, e.g., Hardy is too dark even for Shakespearean tragedy: Henchard makes his way back to Casterbridge for daughter's wedding, shows up unannounced, and she basically tells him to go to hell - in her first true outburst of feeling or even of personality in the entire novel (Mayor of Casterbridge); he leaves in despair and later she, Eliz., feels remorse - much like the scene in which Henchard regrets his remarks to Newson and pursues him, now Eliz. and Farfrae take off across the Wessex moors in search of Henchard - through a serious of ridiculous coincidences - not worth even going into - they find him about 30 minutes after his death. The description of the ride across the moors is one of the strongest passages in the novel - Hardy at his best describing rugged and foreboding countryside - and the final paragraph, in which Elizabeth realizes her life will be one of foreshortened joy and looming sorrow - is in a sense the essence of Hardy's world view, relentlessly dark - characters doomed to tragic endings not because of their hubris or grandiosity but because of their blunders and character flaws and because they live in a fallen world and beneath a capricious, or, worse, an indifferent god.

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