When one finishes Casterbridge, one is immediately struck by its place in the development of the novel. Hardy came after Dickens and before James, and his style intrigues as you connect parts of it to the former, parts to the latter. His plotting is sort of Dickens lite. There are mysterious benefactors, sudden tragic deaths, reversals of fortune, paternity mysteries, ect. His prose is cleaner and easier to read than both Dickens and James; Casterbridge scans better than Bleak House or The Wings of the Dove.
The story begins when a pastoral laborer, in a drunken rage, sells his wife and child one evening (I hate it when that happens...). When he wakes the next morning, abhorred at what he has done, he swears off liquor and decides to make something of his life. The novel truly begins eighteen years later, when his wife and daughter come back to present themselves to him. In the course of the rest of the novel, we witness the fall of the now Mayor of Casterbridge, brought about by his own character flaws and the interventions of fate.
Henchard, the main character, is a facinating combination of hot-spirited volition and turn-on-a-dime repentance. He is quick to do things which damn him but just as quick to admit his guilt. He is a wonderful character and a precursor to the later psychological novels of James and Forster. The satellite characters remind one of Dickens, but they are not nearly as startling and interesting, but of course, a character such as Henchard never existed in all of Dickens. The novel proceeds to its forgone conclusion inexorably, albiet with a few melodromatic touches, yet it sustains its tone and readibility due mostly to Henchard, and the dramatic situations Hardy puts him through. Well worth a look.
Adventuress and opportunist, Ethelberta reinvents herself to disguise her humble origins, launching a brilliant career as a society poet in London with her family acting incognito as her servants. Turning the male-dominated literary world to her advantage, she happily exploits the attentions of four very different suitors. Will she bestow her hand upon the richest of them, or on the man she loves? Ethelberta Petherwin, alias Berta Chickerel, moves with easy grace between her multiple identities, cleverly managing a tissue of lies to aid her meteoric rise. In The Hand of Ethelberta (1876), Hardy drew on conventions of popular romances, illustrated weeklies, plays, fashion plates and even his wife's diary in this comic story of a woman in control of her destiny.
About the Author
Thomas Hardy, OM (2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928) was an English novelist and poet. A Victorian realist in the tradition of George Eliot, he was influenced both in his novels and in his poetry by Romanticism, especially William Wordsworth. Charles Dickens was another important influence. Like Dickens, he was highly critical of much in Victorian society, though Hardy focused more on a declining rural society.
While Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life and regarded himself primarily as a poet, his first collection was not published until 1898. Initially, therefore, he gained fame as the author of novels, including Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). However, beginning in the 1950s Hardy has been recognised as a major poet; he had a significant influence on the Movement poets of the 1950s and 1960s, including Philip Larkin.
Most of his fictional works – initially published as serials in magazines – were set in the semi-fictional region of Wessex. They explored tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances. Hardy's Wessex is based on the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom and eventually came to include the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Hampshire and much ofBerkshire, in southwest and south central England.
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