I stepped on Thomas Hardy (1840-1928).
It wasn’t entirely accidental, I’ll admit. Nevertheless, I apologized profusely. In my defense, poet’s corner of Westminster Abbey was crowded and I was presented with the dilemma of either stepping on Thomas Hardy or Charles Dickens. So really, I did what anyone would do when faced with such a choice – I elected not to bowl over the pregnant woman on my right in order to skirt both graves and I chose to step on the writer whose work I enjoy least.
Hence, I stepped on Thomas Hardy. (This was some time ago. Alas, I can still hear him grumbling.)
In my novel, “Gabriel’s Inferno,” literature plays an important role in the structure of the narrative. Broadly speaking, the relationship between the male and female leads is modelled on the relationship between Dante and Beatrice. But there are other lesser literary references in the narrative, sometimes only a quip or two, in which there is a bit of foreshadowing or an analogy.
In one such scene, Rachel Clark and her friend Julia are engaged in a discussion about the sad times facing Rachel’s family. By way of comparison, she mentions a few famous writers, and ends her remarks by hoping that her life does not follow the lives of Thomas Hardy’s characters. She then offers a brief expletive, telling the reader exactly what she thinks of him.
Lest anyone misunderstand Rachel’s remarks or my quick-stepping indifference in the Abbey, I should state that I don’t dislike Thomas Hardy. I admire his writing greatly and unreservedly recommend his works. (Start with The Mayor of Casterbridge, then work up to Tess of the d’Urbervilles, then if you’re really brave and have a lot of Scotch on hand, read Jude the Obscure.)
Although I admire Hardy’s writing, I don’t enjoy his stories. They’re disturbingly haunting, though, and for that reason they tend to stay with you while their lesser counterparts have long since fled your memory. They also provide rich fodder for reading groups and dinner parties.
Hardy appears to construct his novels in such a way that a character’s missteps condemn him or her for the rest of his life, tainting any possibility of future happiness. Women tend not to fare very well in his stories; children do worse. Whether this was simply typical of the historical period in which he was writing or not, one can certainly contrast his stories with those of his older contemporaries, such as Dickens or Elizabeth Gaskell, in order to find (occasionally) more hopeful visions.
Once again, I won’t offer spoilers from “Gabriel’s Inferno,” but I will say that I believe in both hope and redemption and these elements are intrinsic to the story.
I will also point out that one can enjoy the novel without being familiar with the literary references. Nevertheless, if one is looking for clues as to the successive mysteries, the artistic elements are the first place one should look.
All the best everyone and thanks for reading,
PS. I’ve been gratified to learn of a number of different book clubs that are reading “Gabriel’s Inferno.” Please contact me to let me know of others. I’m hoping to be able to do something special for each club.
Thanks for this laugh this morning. I definitely won’t be reading Hardy, at least not on this day. Stories like that tend to get inside of me and then I literally feel them, and it’s hard to break away from. Which a good book should do. That even happens to me in movies. Thanks so much for sharing with us and for always making me smile.
My After Car says
Maybe I’ll work up to Thomas Hardy one day. Inspired by your characters, I’m reading A Severe Mercy and just opened a beginner’s guide to Aquinas after finishing GI. Thank you for the horizon-broadening!
Thank you for this post, SR. You really made me smile with that one! Did the snarky narrator decide to take over this post? 😀
Thomas Hardy has always been very difficult for me to read…I read Tess of the d’ Urbervilles for study purposes only and I really disliked it. His vision of life is so utterly depressing that I don’t get how someone should decide to see oneself as completely doomed to an existence that we can’t even control. For Hardy, there’s no salvation, no change, no repentance, anything… Just punishment and unhappiness. It must have been really difficult to live with Hardy…I’d like to know what his two wives found interesting in him.Go figure!
I never read Jude the Obscure and I actually don’t plan to. Tess of the d’Urbervilles was too haunting a read for me to attempt to read anything else by Hardy…I can do without him.
I agree with Rachel on what he thinks of him, that’s for sure!
Again, thank you for another post! What will you have in store for us next Tuesday? Can’t wait to find out!
See I checked his marker is just fine, they dusted off SR’s shoe marks. ROFL
LOL rmd! That was funny! Maybe now Thomas Hardy will stop grumbling… lol
I know, stop grumbling man!
Hello Ladies, Thanks for your comments.
The post about the shoe marks was priceless. (chuckling)
All the best and thanks for reading,
I’m sorry to say my efforts to read Thomas Hardy failed miserably. Maybe I should try again with “Mayor,” if that’s a suitable entry-level Hardy novel. I prefer knowing there’s a possibility that the characters will find their way out of whatever situation they’re in. How else can there be growth or redemption?
(Perhaps that’s why Rachel disliked his books so much. And it must have been frightening to think that her family could be doomed to similar fates.)
I can understand that Hardy intended to highlight the difficulty of breaking out of a social stratum or class. But sometimes, it’s just too discouraging to read such themes. I like Dickens’ writing because his characters usually retain some wisp of hope that inspires redemption or enlightenment, despite their horrible circumstances.
Last Christmas, I went to a museum exhibit that included an original, handwritten draft of “A Christmas Carol.” Line after line was struck through and rewritten. That gave *me* hope, to see how even an exceptional writer had to edit so much of his own work. (Perhaps he didn’t have a good beta.)
oh God, I am sitting here with a smirk in my face. This whole discussion reminds me of the good old days in the thread! Tonight is my book club meeting and we get to choose a new book. I will strongly suggest GI. What we just read was so horrible and haunting too. I need some good writing and SR gives us plenty in his first work of fiction. Much love to everyone here.
Hugs Carolamex and yes SR is filled with treasures…Oh I mean the book. LOL
I’m chuckling as I read your comments, Meilleur Cafe. Very well put, especially about the editing.
And thanks for your comments, too, Carolamex. Thank you for thinking of my book for your reading group. I appreciate it! All best, SR
Sumerlyn Wofford says
LOL I had to laugh at my mental picture I got reading your title for this post. While I really knew you meant THE Thomas Hardy of the literary world, my mental picture took me to you stepping on Thomas Hardy the actor as Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights, TV movie 2009) and you living through it. My imagination was running a bit wild a few seconds there. 🙂 I just thought I’d share the thought.
Ellie Totten says
Hi SR, never read this post before, and love how you infuse fine literature with your stories. It’s what makes your novels addictive. You not only entertain us with a beautiful love story, but you enlighten our minds spiritually as well as teaching us valuable lessons in life. You have awakened my mind, and make me wish I was back in school again. Your snarky alter ego is endearing. I hope, if you are in academia, your students appreciate your skills. The Sisters of St. Joseph never inspired me the way you do. Thank you. 🙂 xo
Ellie Totten says
Loved the post! This is why we love your stories, you not only captivate us with your novels, you teach and enlighten our minds. If you are in academia, I hope your students appreciate your talents. The Sisters of St. Joseph’s lectures never stimulated my mind the way yours do.