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.



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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."



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20 comments:

  1. Ugh! I'm sorry, but he sounds truly reprehensible. I'm trying to have compassion after reading your excellent review, but it's difficult. What disturbs me most is not the infatuation with younger and younger women (which is unsettling), but the fact he neglected his wife and then made her an idol after her death. It's as if some vital human piece of him is missing, in that he WANTS to connect with another human being, but is afraid to do so, or can't do so, or something .....

    I loved your Florida photos, especially the gulls on the fence, but I'm so surprised it was cold there. I never realized that it could get that cold.

    I'll be following your interesting focus on reading through the year. I wish I had the time you do to read, but I'll keep plugging along!

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    1. Hi Cleopatra! Sometimes I wonder why I read biographies about authors. Maybe ignorance is bliss. I even have two more biographies about Hardy. I like to read others to see how much is corroborated and what is perhaps the biographer's personal slant.

      Florida is usually mild during the winter but it got chilly this time round. It did not stop us from long hikes and trips to the beach, however.

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  2. Glad to see you back; i hope your trip was good and your family's okay... I love this post... a year or so ago i got into trouble by commenting on someone's blog that i thought Hardy was an antifeminist; i got a lot of negative feedback from that with one exception:CK... so i'm really glad to see by this post of yours that, even if you might not agree with me, at least you provide a lot of evidence that i wasn't wrong... haha... i'm sort of wimpy: it makes me feel good when someone agrees with me... tx...

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    1. Hi Mudpuddle! I do not see how anyone could think Hardy treated women with respect.

      Unfortunately it's a lie a lot of women buy into. At least when they are young and sexy and beautiful. Then they get older and find they are not as "empowered" as they thought.

      Sometimes I wonder whether I should get to know the authors I read. I think I am glad, even if it is a little disillusioning.

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    2. I remember that interaction Mudpuddle and I agreed with you. I haven't read much Hardy, but I haven't heard any respect for them in his tone, or by how he portrays them.

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    3. And I'm with you, Mudpuddle. I like being backed up by others. It is reassuring. :)

      Cleopatra: Hardy does idolize women in one way but that is not the same thing as respect. He only liked the ones that conformed to his idol image. When the stopped resembling that image he forgot about them.

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    4. Tx, Cleo: attribute my lapse on my declining memory...

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    5. Sharon, like I was thinking, he was a selfish (self-serving) man. But I bet he expected his wife to be his mommy. I could be wrong, but it's possible.

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  3. Welcome Home.

    Outstanding commentary Sharon.

    I have read Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Far From the Maddening Crowd. I think that these two books were extraordinary. Having read a fair amount of literature from that period, I agree with you about class distinctions at the time. It seems so alien to me. "Suffocating" is a good word for the way that it seemed.

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    1. Hi Brian! I liked those two books as well. Say what you will about Hardy (I personally think he was a selfish man) he was a brilliant writer.

      It is interesting to see class distinctions. They are so arbitrary as to human character yet were so iron clad.

      Europe has not yet achieved a class-less society either, even if they have tried to take measures towards an egalitarian structure. It is rare people from working class communities get to go to college or work their way out of their "level", which is why historically many have moved to America.

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  4. I love his work, but he was a jerk!

    What's scary is that a lot of men are like Hardy. Selfish, self-centered, egotistical, and rotten. What women put up with!

    Meanwhile, I'm planning to read two Hardy's this year. Makes me feel yucky.

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    1. Hi Ruth. Ironically, I think that since the sixties sex revolution, things have gotten worse for women who are deceived into thinking they are empowered by not getting married and living promiscuous lifestyles.

      When they get older and find themselves in their forties and single, they realize they are not as empowered as they believe.

      It, unfortunately was true during Hardy's time. His group rejected Christianity as backwards and lived according to their own "modern" morals. As usual, women paid the price. But on the other hand, it was a priced they foolishly paid out of choice.

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    2. So true.

      My theory is that by demanding that we be treated "equally," which is really code word for "better" -- rather, we should have demanded that our men "rise to the occasion and be real men -- but I digress -- men simply threw up their hands and saw a free-for-all atmosphere; women against men, and they had no reason to be accountable for their families and homes and marriages. Hence, we now have generations of men who do not know how to be accountable gentlemen.

      Of course, there are exceptions, but too often, young men are not called to be accountable or responsible leaders, and instead they continue to be selfish and protective of their lifestyles. *sigh*

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    3. And, unfortunately too many men have grown up without fathers and have no clue what responsibility means because no one was responsible towards them.

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  5. I was thinking a biography on Hardy sounded interesting, but yes, he does seem "not a great man." I guess I'll still add these volumes to my list though. Congratulations on reaching your goal!

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    1. Hi Marcia. I think you will enjoy the books. If I only read books of perfect people I would not read many books.

      Have a great new year!

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  6. Great stuff, Sharon. I prefer Hardy as poet. His novels leave me cold. I’m also keen on literary biographies, so I especially enjoyed your reviews.

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    1. Hi R.T. Thanks. I have a long list of biographies so you'll be seeing many in the future.

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I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.