Actually, RT hasn’t finished the book, but is far enough into it to have fallen under the novel’s spell. Certainly the world its author presents captivates a world-weary heart; here we find a fresh, untrammeled beauty, a poet’s tribute to nature and man…and woman.
Let any doubts about the book’s style be settled by this sample from chapter 2:
“To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world eastward is almost a palpable movement. The sensation may be caused by the panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects, which is perceptible in a few minutes of stillness, or by the better outlook upon space that a hill affords, or by the wind, or by the solitude; but whatever be its origin, the impression of riding along is vivid and abiding. The poetry of motion is a phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilised mankind, who are dreamwrapt and disregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars. After such a nocturnal reconnoitre it is hard to get back to earth, and to believe that the consciousness of such majestic speeding is derived from a tiny human frame.”
Visionary, massive, gorgeous–and it helps to remember that Hardy’s father was a stone mason.
The plot couldn’t be more attractive. It’s a love story, thank heavens, filled with all the twists and turns you would expect, driven by human foible and heartbreak, illuminated with satirical sketches, and yet deeply aware of tradition, dignity, and the possibilities for happiness.
Then we have the story’s lovers–the shepherd Gabriel Oak, an old-fashioned hero, more than equal to the difficulties set before him, and Bathsheba Everdene, a lady alluring, intelligent, and prone to impulse. She enters the story a milk-maid, rises far in her fortunes, and then encounters a gentleman well-suited to be her husband. But Hardy writes in such a way that it isn’t clear which of the suitors will win Bathsheba’s hand–what is clear to the artist might for others be obscured by the world’s commotions.
As lovely and shrewd as all of this is, the novel’s setting and worldview have made the deepest impression on RT. Did a way of life as simple, communal, and breathtaking as this ever really exist? Hardy’s Wessex may not be the southern England of actual fact, but RT has enjoyed spending some time there. We need more handcraft, more confidence, and more romance. RT
Painting: Thomas Hardy (1893); Thomas Strang. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
RT offers here a powerful and enigmatic poem by the great Victorian poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. By way of unraveling these tightly bound lines, RT notes that kingfishers suggest the Fisher King, that emasculated keeper of the Grail. This is a physical poem, one that embraces the beauty and sheer substance of the world, and the acts of men, that handsome, tremendous spectacle.
AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme
AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 5
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces; 10
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Painting: Hopkins, painted 24 July 1866; unknown. WikiCmns; Public Domain.