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

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

What's original about Hardy's novels

Not only is the eponymous Mayor of Casterbridge a fool for love but so is his arch-rival, Donald Farfrae, and it's totally odd to watch both of these supposedly mature men and shrewd businessmen fall into the clutches of the devious Lucetta Templeman (?) - when she's so obviously a flirt, a schemer, and a phony. The Mayor, Henchard, at least initially reached out to her to make good and atone for dropping her like a stone when his ex-wife turned up on the scene - but when she rebuffs him, because of her new interest in the younger and, lately, for prosperous Farfrae, he gets competitive and out of joint and pursues her aggressively - it also helps that she's wealthy. Farfrae, meanwhile, who seemed such a level-headed guy up to this point, it now head over heels so to speak, bedazzled be her attention. All of this fuels the rivalry between the two men - so far, Farfrae getting the best of everything, but, in the Hardyesque scheme of things, you have to suspect that he, too, is headed for a fall. Meanshile, the unfortunate Elizabeth, the Mayor's step-daughter, is now more or less just a witness to events: in a just world, she would win, or re-win, F's affections, but Hardy seems at least at this point in the novel to have largely forgotten her. One of the pleasures of this novel is the contrast between the rustic setting and the high-tragic tone of the events. Hardy wrote in a high tragic style that, I think, until his work was never set amongst farmers and grain dealers - Flaubert's great scene at the agricultural fair, for example, is memorably viewed from above, with the lead characters on a different plane. In Hardy, we're right in among the workers at the ground level - the fair, with the dispute about the efficacy of the newly designed seed-spreader, is in a sense symbolic of the whole novel. It's a tragedy about people's lives, people who live on and off the land and whose entire fortune is dependent on the harvest and on the weather - and part of the beauty is the Hardy never condescends, quite the opposite, he actually elevates his characters, the apotheosis of the rustic.

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