Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Howards End by E.M. Forster

It is a practically balmy day today.  I have the house open and letting fresh air in.  I took this photo back when it was a grey day.  It's in front of my church.  I could not resist the criss cross design of the various branches.

I am listening to piano music by a Danish composer and musician. The song is called Mary and the composer's name is Agnes Obel.  I first heard this work at night while I was in bed.  Josh has to play a little music before going to bed.  In the dark it took on an especially dream like quality.  This is not classical, just an indie musician but her playing takes me to ethereal places.  Let me know if you like it.

Howards EndHowards End by E.M. Forster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Howards End lacks nothing that Forster's other books possess, which is to say it flows with the same fluidity, eloquence and contains the same sort of interesting characters as his other books. At least the ones I have read. The only books by Forster I have not read are Maurice and the Longest Journey. Maybe a one or two others, but Forster wrote a lamentably small amount of books, and it would be interesting to know why. I do not believe much is known about the author. I know there are a couple of biographies out but they seem to spend a great deal salaciously spelling out his sexual proclivities rather than analyzing his work.

Howards End seems to contain the same characters as Room With a View. We have the naive, artsy, independent, free thinking women only in Howards End they are sisters rather than mother and daughter. There is the moderately interfering spinster aunt, only Aunt Juley is not nearly so overbearing as the aunt in Room With a View. And we have the smug, elistist, prim and proper wealthy English family, the Wilcoxes.

Meg and Helen Schlegel with their brother Tibby are raising themselves since the death of their parents with Aunt Juley coming in occasionally to steer them in the correct direction without much success. Since the Schlegels have been left financially independent, they are not at anyone's mercy. This is significant as it allows the sisters and brother a lot of freedom in acting according to their will without considering the censure it might otherwise bring from "respectable" society. It also allows them to freely express themselves to the Wilcoxes without much concern as to offending their "proper" sensibilities.

The Wealthy English family, the Wilcoxes' lives intertwine with the Schlegels' when Helen has a brief and entirely imaginary affair with the Wilcoxes' youngest son, Paul. This takes place, or rather, doesn't take place at the Wilcox country home called Howards End. I think it is charming how English families name their residences. I think I should name my home. Maybe The Bestiary since it seems to be my animals who own the place.

Later, the Wilcoxes stay in town at an apartment opposite the Schlegels house called "6 Wickham Place" (which may merely be the address). Meg and Mrs. Wilcox strike up an interesting acquaintance. Mrs. Wilcox is an ethereal and mysterious person and in some ways, Meg and she have Spirits in common.

Without telling anyone that she is very sick, Mrs. Wilcoxes death comes across as a surprise to everyone, including her husband, Henry and her children, Paul, Charles, and Evie. Even more shocking is a note by her stating a wish that Howards End, which actually belongs to her, should go to Meg. The family decided to keep this note to themselves.

However, a variety of things transpire that cause everyone's life to take unexpected turns. For one, Henry, now widowed, falls in love with Meg. They eventually marry.

These are not two people one would connect to each other, the one being concrete and staid, the other being idealistic and philosophical but they do genuinely love each other and coexist with each other's differences well.

This is an attribute of the book, that I also found in Room With a View that I appreciated. No one's a toad. Each have their failings, but are drawn with sympathy. And the characters have sympathy for each other as well. I find I cannot hate anyone. Not even Charles who seems to go a little bit off his rocker at the end of the story.

Also, the married couples all seem to genuinely love each other, faults and differences not withstanding.

I think the genius in Forster's work is how he causes people of different worlds to collide and allow their differences to show off each other in a sharp relief. This makes each character all the more colorful. However, this affection and sympathy does not exist in Forster's final work, A Passage to India, which was written after a writing fast of almost fifteen years. One wonders what happened in the interim to cause a cynical turn in this last work of Forster.

There are more complications in this story which I would not like to give away so I'm giving only my brief sketch as to why I liked the book.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Crimean War by Orlando Figes

I am a true birder.  When I take a break from writing and practicing the piano I get my mother on the phone, Hercule on my shoulder and get in the car and, after swinging by McDonald's for my giant diet coke, no ice (don't judge me!) I drive through the country while my mother and I talk.  Because she can't drive, she's kind of stuck at home so I make sure to talk to her every day or while I'm driving somewhere.  Cell phones are wonderful!

Lately, I've been taking Percy on our rides too.  The workers at the drive through window at McD's have begun to recognize me.  No doubt they think I'm an eccentric lady with her bird and pig.  Let them.

I took Hercule with me to Florida and he rode on my shoulder everywhere we walked around.  I find that he is a friend magnet.  No child could resist him.  Many children now have photographs taken by their parents with a little green parrot on their shoulder.

I'm brushing up on Hindemith's Flute Sonata.  I'll be performing it with a flutist at the University where I work.  She's just joined the faculty and a pleasure to work with.  Hope you enjoy it!

The Crimean War: A HistoryThe Crimean War: A History by Orlando Figes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Orlando Figes' book, The Crimean War is an excellent account of a little known war. It took place in 1855-57, and it is a war that did not involve the United States for a change, since the States' impeding war between the north and the south kept that country's citizens otherwise occupied.

Russia wanted a warm water port so it decided to invade Turkey. This threatened the British and France so they came to Turkey's defense. Each country had mixed motives.

One, they did not want Russia or each other to get a bigger chunk of the middle east than they had. Napolian III (nephew of the first Napoleon) wanted a glorious war. It was his turn. England, spurred on by the prejudices of their Turkish ambassador were lashed into a feverish Russophobia, aided by the Times London paper. Sounds familiar. Has there ever been a time when the media did not try to form rather than inform the masses?

Russia did not last long in Turkey. They soon, after a massive slaughter, retreated to the Crimea. The British and French were not satisfied with that. They had not come so far for a quick war. They followed the Russians into the Crimea and for the next two years took turns trying to eliminate each other.

The death toll was horrific. Most soldiers of every side died due to illness, disease, starvation and the elements. The British officers saw no need to provide winter clothes or blankets for their soldiers. The Russian ones saw no need to feed their soldiers.

In the end, the Crimean should never have happened, but good results were produced.

For one, attention was given to the plight of the common soldier. Laws were passed to demand the humane treatment of them. Buying officer positions was abolished and the military system became based on meritocracy. Flogging was abolished. Instead of heroism focused on military leaders, greater focus centered around the bravery and courage of the fighting soldier.

For anyone interested in the religious, political, and personal motives of this little known war this is a great source of information.

Orlando Figes writes in a beautiful and fluid style that makes his book not only informative but also a literary treat.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin

 Thought I'd share a little more of my Florida photos.  Don't you want to dive into that pure, white sand?

 There are also innumerable boardwalks through trees and over creeks to make one feel as though they were immersed in nature.  Great places to go for a walk.

Today I am listening to my favorite tenor, Placido Domingo.  He is singing one of the most beautiful arias in the opera world for tenors: di Provenza il Mar il Suol from the opera La Traviata.

Here was my fun read for the past weekend.

The Moving Toyshop (Gervase Fen, #3)The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had never read Crispin but a short story of his in an anthology encouraged me to find more of his work. Hence I bought and read The Moving Toyshop.

Cadogan is a writer in need of a break and excitement. His publisher wants him to go on a tour across America promoting his poetry. Cadogan can think of nothing he'd rather do less. So asking for and begrudgingly receiving a 50 Pound advance on his book, Cadogan heads for Oxford. It is night when he finally arrives due to some train and transportation mishaps. As he walks through that city's streets he sees a Toy Shop. The door is open. This is strange. It is midnight. Should he investigate? He does.

Cadogan walks into the store but the place seems deserted. He climbs the stairs and walks into a dusty room. There he finds a middle-aged women lying dead and purple on the ground with a wire tied tightly around her neck.

He hears footsteps, feels a crash over the head and then nothing. Later he revives, escapes, and runs to the Police Station. After much persuading that he is not drunk nor crazy, the police follow Cadogan back to the Toy Store.

Only it's not there. It's a grocery store. And there is no dead lady anywhere to be seen. What happened?

Cadogan marches on, disgruntled, because he's done nothing to help convince anyone that he was not crazy nor drunk and meets his old friend Gervase Fen. Fen is a professor at Oxford and he and Cadogan were once students together.

Fen is delighted with Cadogan's story and immediately plunges into solving the mystery.

The rest of the story is a mixture of intrigue, mystery, a dash of suspense and several gallons of silliness with more than its share of chase scenes.

All in all, I enjoyed it and would not mind reading more adventures with Professor Fen.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 22, 2018

A Year in the South: 1865:The True Story of Four Ordinary People Who Lived Through the Most Tumultuous Twelve Months in American History by Stephen V. Ash

Showing off my new cow creamer.

I am listening to Rachmaninov's Island of the Dead Symphony no. 29.  Percy thought it was pleasant, or so I judge by his chuckling.  Have you heard a Guinea Pig chuckle?  It is so cute. He also chuckles when I tell him I love him.  Don't tell me piggies don't understand English.

A Year in the South: 1865: The True Story of Four Ordinary People Who Lived Through the Most Tumultuous Twelve Months in American HistoryA Year in the South: 1865: The True Story of Four Ordinary People Who Lived Through the Most Tumultuous Twelve Months in American History by Stephen V. Ash

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Ash takes us through the lives of four people starting in the beginning of 1865 and how they lived through this final half year of the Civil War. (The War ended in May.)

One is a slave who becomes a freedman. His family must now learn how to cope with getting a job and making a paid living. Ironically many freed men and women left the South where there was now a desperate need for labor to the North where they found themselves competing for jobs with European Immigrants. This caused another type of conflict as too many people fought for too few jobs.

Another is a woman whose husband fought as a Confederate and was killed in action. One watches as she and her young family work to keep from starving on their once respected and wealthy plantation.

Two others are men, one young and one old, who also fight as Confederates and after the war must find new identities and work in the devastated South. The younger one moves north and learns to interact with people whose customs and cultures are very different than anything he's been exposed to.

The book is divided up into the four seasons of the year and inside each season each person gets a chapter.

This is a work of non-fiction and it is compelling in its drama and the fight to survive from four Southern people, very different from each other, and how they adapted and adjusted during the end of the Civil War and the life they once knew that is now lost forever and the beginning of Reconstruction.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Open Heart: A Caridac Surgeon's Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table by Stephen Westaby

Yesterday behind me we had blue skies.

In front of me, however, the weather foreshadowed colder things to come.  And this morning we saw the weather kept its promise.

Those of you in the north probably regard the above scene as a pleasant early spring day, but two inches of snow were enough to shut down East Texas.  I had planned to go to the University today and pick up music, but schools at every level are closed.  And yes, I've already seen cars towed and near the high school a truck knocked over a lamp post.  We are so defenseless against inclement weather.

Ah, well.  Enjoy Symphony no. 2 by Alexander Von Zimmlensky while you read my post.

Open Heart: A Cardiac Surgeon's Stories of Life and Death on the Operating TableOpen Heart: A Cardiac Surgeon's Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table by Stephen Westaby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Open Heart reads like a fast-paced action adventure movie. Westaby takes us on a brief biographical journey as to how he became interested in heart surgery, his training and then torpedoes straight into different life or death situations which require delicate procedures, his abilities and steely confidence.

We meet a young girl with a genetic heart defect, an old man with congestive heart failure, a pregnant woman who needs surgery but refuses to terminate the life of her unborn baby as well as others. One of the most poignent was his time in Saudi Arabia when he worked on the tiny heart of an infant of a Somalian woman who had been kidnapped and forced into slavery. She had escaped and crossed the desert to save her son. The story is as heart rending as it is amazing because Westaby takes out the baby's heart and puts it back in after mending it.

Here we encounter Westaby's frustration with England's National Health Care system.

"...I had just been appointed in Oxford. So why was I in the desert? Heart operations cost money...the annual budget was gone in five months. So the management closed us down..."

This is a recurring theme in the book. Westaby points out that Health Care in the U.K. may be "free", but it is only available to those the government deems worthwhile saving because there is only so much money to go around. Patients considered too old or too sick were told to go home and die. The majority of Westaby's heart implants were funded through charity, not NHS.

And lest you think they're sending away geriatrics, people in their fifties were considered too old for treatment. Children and people in the twenties were turned down because they were deemed too sick. National Health Care may be fine for normal well-checks and colds and sniffles, but if you need highly specialized care, like a heart transplant, good luck. Hope the government thinks you're worth saving.

Westaby, though British, received training in the United States and he introduced inventions by American doctors, such as a tiny electric heart that circulates the blood for the defective heart inside people. Interestingly, there is no pulse as there is no pumping involved.

All of Westaby's stories are suspenseful because you don't know if his patients are going to make it. Much of what he does is brand new and he is only allowed to try the new technology on patients who are going to die anyway. Some of them get a reprieve, some don't, but the medical advancements are stupendous.

My only complaint and why I did not give the book five stars was the foul language used sporadically through out the book. I mean, come on, you're a brilliant man, couldn't you at least pretend to have a professional grip on the English language? I know what he was doing was extremely stressful, but try to show you possess the vocabulary worthy of your mind, not the vocabulary of an adolescent. Or brain damaged people. My grandmother never swore a word until after her stroke.

That quibble aside, I highly recommend this book. It is not only informative and exciting and fascinating, it is well-written. Westaby, assuming he didn't use a ghost writer-and it doesn't read in the stilted, wooden fashion of a ghost writer-apart from the occasional f-and s-bombs, has superb literary skills.

Finally, people interested in changing our health care system to a socialized form because then "everyone can have health care" should read this book. They might have second thoughts.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 15, 2018

Right and Left and The Legend of the Holy Drinker by Joseph Roth, translated by Michael Hoffman

The incomparable Jacqueline du Pre is performing Dvorak's 'Cello Concerto in B minor Opus 104.  It is forty-five minutes long but it is worth your while to listen to the entire thing; especially the middle and last movement.

Today I am sitting on my swing out back writing book reviews.  Hercaloo is chewing on my shoes.  Oh well, they are old.

Here is the view over my house looking north: 

Blue skies dappled with fluffy clouds.

Then I turn around and take a few photos of the sky over my backyard, facing south:

Right now the weather is comfortable and it's sunny.  We're supposed to get two inches of snow by tomorrow.  We'll see what happens.

A happy discovery when I read a book review about Joseph Roth.  These are the first two stories I've read by him and they will certainly not be the last.

Right and LeftRight and Left by Joseph Roth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My first book by Roth and not going to be my last.

Joseph Roth in a style reminiscent of Thomas Mann, writes about a young man Paul and his family during the early part of the twentieth century. Paul comes from a well to do German household whose fortunes change with the war and the death of his father.

Paul is forever re-inventing himself. As a young boy he was the benevolent, condescending privileged son of a wealthy man. When war came, Paul aspired to become a Calvary man, but when he was turned down he became a passivist, writing vitriolic letters against the war, while nevertheless staying a soldier in a different capacity. A close encounter with death made him change again.

After the war he endeavored to salvage the family's fortunes by administrating their financial affairs, something he was no good at, largely because he spent his money like pouring out water. At the end of his tether he seeks help.

He meets a rich girl and decides he must marry her. Her guardian, an Uncle who owns the largest chemical company in Germany is not a fool. He decides that Paul is a man who came from a family once well off but now in need of money. Paul knows that he must present a good face so he goes to a man who might help.

Nikolei Brandeis is an enigma. His mother was the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, his father a Lithuanian Jew. Brandeis knows how to make a fortune and through his own wits becomes powerful. He offers Paul a job because he wants the connection to the Chemical Company.

While most of the story is about Paul there are side tracks to his brother, Theodor and also Brandeis. Theodor is troubled and angry. He decides to join a nationalist, supremacist group called the brown shirts. After running from the law and living in exile and poverty, he returns home. He, too, seeks and obtains a job from Brandeis.

Brandeis has several passports, identities and money; but he is determined never to stay anywhere long. We see him in Russia where, as a member of the police, he must enforce communal ownership. Disgusted he leaves and comes to Germany.

Here he has free enterprise and wealth but he can no longer live with this identity either. In the end he packs up and leaves. Where he disappears to is anyone's guess.

Paul does marry the rich girl and his troubles are over. But the gnawing emptiness in his soul manifests itself through perpetual discontent and ever greater isolation from the rest of society.

Roth narrates in the third person but limited narrator. While mostly he narrates from Paul's viewpoint, he switches to other characters, such as Theodor, Nikolei Brandeis and also Paul and Theodor's mother. It is interesting to read the inner thoughts of all of these characters.

Roth was a keen observer of human nature and readers interested in the socio-political climate that was developing prior to Hitler's rise to power and human nature inside that environment will like this book.

View all my reviews

The Legend of The Holy DrinkerThe Legend of The Holy Drinker by Joseph Roth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This bizarre little story left me pondering the possible meanings that Roth might be trying to communicate.

A homeless man, Andreas, is approached by a stranger who insists on giving him two hundred francs. The man's stipulation that he must eventually pay the sum back to St. Therese at at particular Cathedreal. Andreas promises.

It looks like his luck has changed. He spruces up and drinks,gets another job, more money and drinks. On Sunday he goes to Mass to pay back St. Therese. He comes too early so waits at a cafe across the street. He drinks a great deal while waiting and soon forgets his purpose.

This happens a lot to Andreas. He falls down, fortune picks him up: he finds one thousand francs in his new wallet; an old friend who is now a famous soccer player meets him and sets him up in an apartment. Then he blows all of his money on women and drink.

But Andreas no longer cares because he realizes that fortune is going to help him out every time.

It is strange that Roth, a Jewish writer, would write something from the perspective of a Catholic. What are we to make of Andreas? He makes no good decisions but he keeps getting reprieves. Another stranger gives him two hundred pounds after he has wasted all the previous money granted him.

But when he is going to repay St. Therese? The ending is strange as the whole story is strange and I'm not sure what we are to make of it.

Perhaps that a unrepentant hedonist will be given so many second chances but finally he will have to answer the call of the reaper and give an account.

Roth wrote this short story in that last few months of his life, dying the month after he finished. The story was published posthumously. Like Andreas, Roth drank heavily and hastened his own demise at the age of forty-five. Was he writing his own epitaph?

Here's an excerpt from the 1988 movie starring Rutger Hauer (the man on the cover of the book).  Be forwarned that this is a foreign film.  Very little happens, but it is still interesting to watch a little of it.

View all my reviews

Has anyone else read Joseph Roth and what is their opinion of him?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey

I previously had linked to Morten Lauridsin's choral work O Magnum Mysterium.  Here is another soul-subduing piece written for James Agee's poem, "Sure on this Shining Night."

The Singing Sands (Inspector Alan Grant, #6)The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every time I read a book by Josephine Tey I think, "This is my favorite mystery by Tey!" Well, this one so far is my favorite.

Inspector Alan Grant is on leave due to burn out and an unexpected development of claustrophobia due to work stress. He is traveling by train to Scotland where he plans to relax with a cousin's family and fish. In his compartment on the train he fights a burning desire to open the door to escape an ever growing feeling of strangulation.

Finally, he comes to his stop and walks down the train aisle to leave. He passes another compartment to see the porter shaking a man to rouse him and tell him he needs to leave.

Grant enters the compartment straightens the man up and asks the porter, "Don't you recognize a dead man when you see one?" Then he leaves the sputtering porter to call the police (he's on vacation!) and goes to a restaurant in town for lunch. He opens the paper he carried out with him from the train to find a strange poem.

"The beasts that talk
The streams that stand,
The stones that walk,
The singing sand,

That guard the way
To Paradise..."

Grant realizes this is the paper that the dead man had under his arm. Without thinking he had picked it up while taking the dead man out of the clutches of the porter.

What was supposed to be a vacation turns out to be a quest to solve a mystery.

As usual, Tey's stories are interesting for their psychological portrait of the different characters and all of us Tey fans enjoy Inspector Grant. Not that he shows up in predictable ways in her stories. None of Tey's stories follow a formula which keep the reader guessing as to the outcome.

Unlike Agatha Christie, whose characters I find often flat and unsympathetic (sorry Christie fans), Tey draws characters that are overall nice, normal people. Not perfect but not un-dimensionally ugly. I like Tey's people. With the exception of Hercule Pierrot, I find it hard to care about any of Christie's.

Not to say that the reason Tey is good is because Christie is bad, but I guess we find it hard not to create a point of reference. Tey's stories would be wonderful even if Miss Marple, Hercule Pierrot or Mr. and Mrs.Beresford never existed.

I just find reading Tey to be a light-hearted and even touching experience. Her characters are living and breathing and have blood in their veins, not ice.

And she flat out writes a darn good mystery.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Young Thomas Hardy; The Older Hardy by Robert Gittings

Hello to all!  I hope you have had a refreshing vacation and are rejuvenated for the new year! I am back from Florida visiting family.  It was freezing but did not deter us from getting around.  In fact I think the cold made the colors more intense.

I did indeed make my goal of 200 books and I did it without cheating, unless you count my including a book on architecture, which was mostly comprised of photos, cheating.  It still took several days to complete and the photos were fantastic!  I will post reviews of my final books for 2017 at a later date.  In the meant time I have been looking over my library and have made a few goals for 2018.

While in Florida, I asked my brother-in-law what sort of goal I should make for this year and he said I should up my game by fifty books.  So I did and thanks to his little girls I have already read eleven books. Yes, they were picture books but a book is a book.  Kind of.

But to my personal tastes, and maybe I have been influenced by Foyle's War (of which sadly I've seen the last episode) I've been looking through my library and have decided to work my way through my books about the Russian Cold War and also Germany under the Third Reich. 

The music I'm listening to is a jovial work by Beethoven, The Piano Trio in B-flat called "The Archduke"Trio.  I hope you enjoy it.

Young Thomas Hardy (Penguin Classic Biography)Young Thomas Hardy by Robert Gittings

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first of two volumes, this book centers around Hardy's years growing up. We learn of his humble back ground, his family were workers, servants and laborers, and how he spent the rest of his life trying to hide his family and upbringing.

He married into a class higher than his own and even barred his wife from his past. Soon Emma suspected, especially since so much of his writing focuses on the lay people rather than the aristocracy. Her comment on one of his books, "Too many servants."

His biography offers insight as to how class conscious people were back then. It makes one grateful that we don't exist in such suffocating times. Although economic lines are still drawn, no one is forced to stay behind the one they were born in, not in this country.

Gittings explores the real life people behind Hardy's characters. They are all based on family members and the heroines are based on people he was in love with. Hardy had a life long fixation on THE beautiful woman. Even after he was married he was hopelessly falling in love with these women.

He wrote countless poetry about them much to the chagrin of his wife but he insisted that the women were not real. No one bought that. Emma retaliated by writing voluminous amounts of venomous editorials about her husband. After she died, Hardy read them and was deeply affected by their bitterness. He burned her papers after reading them.

Hardy was known as a realist. He did not romanticize love or people and his stories reflect a strong belief in fate. After rejecting the Christianity of his youth, it was all he was left with. Most of his stories do not end well for the protagonist.

Young Thomas Hardy ends with Thomas in middle age. The rest of his life is documented in Gittings second book called the Older Thomas Hardy.

View all my reviews

The Older HardyThe Older Hardy by Robert Gittings

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book takes up where Gittings previous book leaves off. Hardy is married and older and enjoying his success as an author.

Gittings intertwines Hardy's personal life with his stories. We learn the back ground of Jude the Obscure; the Mayor of Casterbridge; the Woodlanders and others. We see how his heroines were based on women Hardy knew and worshiped.

Hardy fell in love with beautiful young women. The fact that he was older and married did not interfere with that. He idolized a type and as that woman aged out, he replaced her with a younger version. He even wrote a story about a man who falls in love with a woman, then her daughter and then her grand daughter. The character bore no small resemblance to Hardy himself.

His wife Emma had become chronically ill and miserable. She suffered for most of her life living with a man who did not hide from her his infidelity, although he insisted the poetry he wrote was to no real person, no one, least of all Emma was fooled.

In the final years of her life, a twenty year old woman moved into their house. Emma kept herself mostly upstairs while this woman, Florence, stayed with Hardy and was ostensibly his secretary. She would soon be his second wife. Florence, who had already one relationship with a married man seemed to be innocent or ignorant of why Emma would find her presence intolerable.

She soon discovered why after Emma died. Like Sergeant Troy in Far From the Madding Crowd, Hardy developed a strange, sentimental attitude towards his dead wife. The wife he neglected when alive, became an icon that he worshiped afterwards. Florence was forced to accompany him on his many pilgrimages to Emma's graveside.

Age happened to Florence like it happens to everyone and soon Hardy had new young women to obsess over.

Florence stepped into Emma's shoes and became the sickly neglected wife. Two photos in the book are striking. The first shows a young, fresh Florence next to a depleted, haggard Emma. The second photo shows Florence with Thomas. Thomas looks as dapper as ever, even in old age while Florence looks about eighty years old, even though the photo was taken a mere ten years after the first photo. She couldn't have been forty.

In Hardy's later years he turned to writing poetry. While most of his novels take place in the 19th century, Hardy lived on into the 20th and through WWI. This war had a profound impact on him and his poetry reflects that. He became the idol of the new poets and writers which included Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, and James Joyce. His writing is considered the pioneer of modern poetry.

Hardy lived to be eighty-eight years old. He lived a long, rich life. The same could not be said for either wife. Florence only outlived him by a few years.

In the words of one of Hardy's editors, "He was a great author; he was not a great man."

View all my reviews