The missing piece: Thomas Hardy’s less popular books


I completed reading the short story anthology by Robert Louis Stevenson a few weeks ago and I haven’t bought any new novels. This makes me feel a little bit hollow. On one side, I feel lighter because I have no commitment of reading a number of pages within a day or a week. I have no self-appointment to be met. I can read online articles whenever I want without feeling guilty.

On the other hand, something is missing. An important piece of my life is wandering, waiting to be found. And I know I need to read a decent book. In particular, I want to read another title by one of my most favorite authors, Thomas Hardy. I want his books BADLY. The problem is I don’t know how I can find them in the offline bookstores in Jakarta. The store I frequently visit sells only his popular works, such as The Mayor of Casterbridge, Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I read all of them years ago.

The point is I have to buy his lesser known stories via online, something that I haven’t done. May be you wonder why should Hardy’s books? Well, I have to admit that there are no writings that suit my taste better than his. I like Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing style and his descriptive writing technique yet his chosen themes don’t match up with my likeness. They are incomplete, some things remain unresolved, as seen in Olalla and The Treasure of Franchard. Although, yes, they definitely entertain me so much.

In addition, I think it is because Hardy’s works or say, Hardy’s viewpoints are similar with my own; idealistic, realistic and pessimistic (I am working on the latest point to be more positive tone). His view of life and society and romance are comprehensive and contains a lot of critics. His writings are very reflective, prompting me to think on issues in broader ways possible. Romance in his eyes are not just a matter of feelings. And I am always captivated by his fictitious characters, so humane with flaws here and there.

For the sake of enjoying good writings, I am going to buy Hardy’s books. Let’s see how can they fill up the voids in my heart for I can’t take it anymore. I am really in dire need of beautiful words, thoughtful writings.

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Thomas Hardy’s best women


Women in Thomas Hardy’s best fictions are complicated, some are even hard to be understood. Reading their personalities challenge me and mixes my feelings. Hardy crafts these heroines so unique that they remain eternal in the minds of many literary lovers.

Below are five female heroines in Hardy’s novels who stuck in my brain:

Bathsheba Everdene

My most beloved female figure in all Hardy’s leading books. Independent, hard-working and persistent. These prove helpful when chasing after wealth. But her overly independence makes her learning choosing the right life partner the hardest ways. She refuses a marriage proposal from Gabriel Oak out of emancipation. She later plays the heart of William Boldwood, her aggressive admirer until the game turns ugly with the arrival of Sergeant Troy, the man she loves but can never move on from her former lover, Fanny Robin. Both men fight for Bathsheba Everdene’s love, leaving William Boldwood living in a prison after shooting Sergeant Troy. Only after the tragedy that she finally realizes the only man she completely can’t live without is Gabriel Oak.

Tess Durbeyfield

The favorite for many. One of the most enduring female figures in the classic literature. The struggles of Tess both in working life and romance are unbearable. Not only she has to work very hard to make ends meet she also has to face her fate as a victim of rape. Things get much depressed when Angel Clare, her husband leaves her on the first day of their wedding after finding out Tess is no longer a virgin. What happens to Tess disturbs my senses because almost of her entire life is all about torments. Her decision to kill Alec D’Urberville sets her free. This, too, makes me feel relieved for her act is understandable; that human patience can run out sooner or later.

Sue Bridehead

The most inconsistent, unpredictable female personage in Hardy’s books. Her union with Jude Fawley, the protagonist of the book, is unlikely wonderful. It is the matrimony of two different human beings on the surface; Sue the outspoken and Jude the soft-spoken one. Sue the wild person and Jude the quite one. But on the inside, both share similar personalities; avid reader, marriage adversary, deep thinker. Her critical thinking impresses me at first. How she handles rejection from public on her elopement with Jude wins my attention until she can no longer help it. That is when she 180 degrees turns into a completely different person than she is used to be. Not only she leaves Jude after all the things they go through but she also returns to Mr. Phillotson, her former husband, whom she detests after she meets Jude. She now becomes a disgusting person, at least for me.

Eustacia Vye

She is the perfect portrayal of Hardy’s view on spoiled, materialistic woman. She marries to Clym Yeobright after she finds out the fortune of the native of Egdon Heath. She hopes she can leave the place and depart for Paris yet this plan is against her husband’s wishes who wants to stay at the place and sets up a school. Eustacia is my kind of favorite antagonist because I can totally hate her. Beautiful face but ugly heart. She disrespects her mother-in-law, makes use of Clym’s good-heartedness for her benefits and worse, she is still in touch with her former boyfriend, Damon Wildeve.

Marty South

Although she is not the leading female figure in Hardy’s The Woodlanders, Marty South has a special place in my heart. She is so devoted to Giles Winterborne, the main man in this book, despite his love to his wife, Grace Melbury. She keeps loving him after he dies. She becomes the only person to take care of his graveyard after Grace become less frequently visits it as she is now with another man, Edgar Fitzpiers. What happens to Marty is very rare, touching but some may say her decisions is pathetic and useless. All in all her presence successfully stirs emotion as previous characters do.

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“The Old” topples “Tess” as the saddest novel, by far

novel and dry flowers

thank you for the picture

Charles Dickens completely tears down my heart in “The Old Curiosity Shop”. The death of Nell Trent not long after she eventually tastes the sweetness of life, free from tiring journeys is very heartbreaking. Some say the last scenes prior to her death is too melancholy, fairy-driven tale and the like but apart from that, her fate is so sorrowful.

The last words she speak to her neighbors, her last wishes of being adorned with favorite flowers on her deathbed, the last smile, the very last hug she gives to her grandfather is very unbearable. Although I am prepared with the sad ending of the novel, still… the finale really makes me woeful. To make it much more depressing is her grandfather who spends a few days mourning her death. He, who is the source of all the misery, completely feels her unconditional love right before the book ends. Nell dies not long after that.

Feeling so grieved with her death, the grandfather spends a few days in her graveyard till finally he dies there. His sadness kills him very quickly.

You can all tell how miserable the ending of the book is. When I decided to buy the book I never thought this would be much more melancholy than I had expected. Long, long before I come to the last pages of the book, imagining this company, walking with no exact destinations, feeling hungry, cold, begging for people kindness along the route, an old man and a teenage girl … this scene has made me feel so sad.

It’s Nell’s pure love to her grandfather, her sacrifice, their super deep bonds which make the novel is so touching. It’s their attempts to survive and the deaths that make the book is sadder than “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” by Thomas Hardy.  For me, the death of the grandfather out of sadness is what the book way more sorrowful than the death of Tess. And overall, that what makes “The Old Curiosity Shop” is the saddest of all novels that I have read so far.




So, where do the desolations in the works of Thomas Hardy come from?

I have written a lot about Thomas Hardy’s most well-known novels; their summaries, analysis, comments, joys, frustrations, and as far as I remember, none of his personal life has been included in this blog. Separating authors’ private lives with their works is inevitable though I want it to be untrue.

I have been wondering what makes Thomas Hardy’s novels are too hard to bear. I have been questioning how come the endings of his best books leave me with mixed feelings. Even the ending of ‘Far from The Madding Crowd’, which I think is his only happily-ever after-finale book among ‘Tess’, ‘Jude The Obscure’, ‘The Woodlanders’, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ and ‘The Return of the Native’, doesn’t thrill me. It does relieve me but not excite me.

And today I reread the writer’s biography, particularly on his marriages. I have once read about it but missed some great points on his love life; that he and his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford, were happy in the first years of the marriage but later grew distant. Secondly, Hardy, though perhaps is spurred by his first childless marriage, began visiting some other women, one of whom was Florence Dugdale, his second wife, while he was still married to Emma.

However, his second marriage proved to have been bleak as well. Hardy, despite his aging period, became so glued at his study while Florence was in the shadows of Emma, whom ironically he ignored when she was still alive. After Emma died, Hardy regretted how much he neglected her and how bad her illness was. He had a wreath containing “From her lonely husband, with the Old Affection”.

I can’t imagine how miserable his life back then. The saying that goes “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” is quite suitable to describe his life after the death of Emma. Hardy can’t remedy the things that have been gone away. This is the most saddening of all.

Despite the rumors that Hardy was an unfaithful husband, I put another concern on how complicated Hardy’s personality is. On one side, he had affairs with some women, including Florence, but in another side, he neglected her, too. He preferred working to have lived his second marriage, taken care and loved Florence as his wife. May be his only friend was his jobs, his writings, his views about life in general.

I myself sense that his personal stories either directly or indirectly add dreary tone in many of his novels. Although they don’t explicitly tell readers about Emma, or Florence or his childless marriage but there’s a lot of things to wonder beyond that somber atmospheres.

In ‘Tess’, Hardy mostly brings out its most dramatic, bleakest sides. Not to mention is his standpoints on the faith, trust and an almost long-life regret by Angel Clare.

“The Mayor of Casterbridge” is attached with sadness because Micheal Henchard dies amid the ending of the book that is sealed with the marriage of Elizabeth Jane and Donald Farfrae.

And oh, “The Return of the Native”. Although it’s better that Clement Yeobright lives alone after the death of his unfaithful wife, Eustacia Vye, I can’t help feeling a bit gloomy after reading the book. The union of Thomasin Yeobright, Clement’s cousin, and Diggory Venn, doesn’t help me much.

All I remember about “The Woodlanders” is the unrequited of Marty South, a faithful, peasant girl who is in love with Giles Winterborne although he loves Grace Melbury. Marty South remains faithful to Giles, visits his graveyard while Grace returns to the arms of Edgar Fitzpiers.

While for ‘Jude the Obscure’, Hardy’s last completed novel, is way too much heartbreaking. Besides “Tess”, this book puts Hardy and Emma in heated arguments. The outcry from churches and public at that time is said to have made Hardy no longer  writing novels then devoted much of his time composing poems. For those who haven’t read the novel, “Jude” revolves around the love of Jude and his cousin, Sue Bridehead, which was controversial at that time. Furthermore, they eloped,  were against license marriage though they later got married due to people disapproval on their romance.

Again, while my opinions may be incorrect, I think it’s worth noting how Hardy’s life say something about his forlorn ideas seen in his major novels.


Why Victorian works are so everlasting

victorian lit

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I can’t agree more with GoodReads statements when I once read its viewpoint on what makes classics books are evergreen. It says that certain works, be they are books or poems or drama, fall under canon literature because they convey messages that are timeless, stay-in-tune across culture and generations.

Whatever social backgrounds that lead authors of the Victorian era, I think the humanness of the fictional characters strongly portraying those living in the era is the one that makes them very memorable to readers.

General themes —- love, women role in society, faithfulness, religion, social interaction, poverty —- remain in the minds of modern readers because they are never old-fashioned. In my opinion, the emergence of the Industrial Revolution plays an important role to have made Charles Dickens’ novels highly applauded. The rise of industry in the United Kingdom at that time inspires Dickens to have raised topics on economy, materialism, consumerism, etc. But I mostly admire Dickens’ stories on people at that time. How industry has driven people to have acted at that time is related with what we see today, the modern world, where industry is no longer a phenomenon but an ordinary one.

The topic of love, particularly the relationship between women and men, I believe becomes the one that’s never enough to be written. But what makes the works in the era set standards for preceding works?

Here, my best reference is Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. So far, there’s no novel that can speak about love more thoroughly than this. To love means to work it out. Loving means compromising, working together for a bigger picture regardless bleak past stories. And the finale of the book says that you can’t have all that happy ending forever. But when you both work your best to be together, brief happy moments are all that you need to be contented.

The Victorian era provides perfect insights on women status, roles in the society, a topic that remains interesting no matter how rapid time has shifted. Referring to a few numbers of Victorian classics that I have read so far, female figures are the centre of all the books. Apparently, when it comes to the society, women take all the blames if they do something against public’ wishes. Take for instance, Hetty Sorrel in ‘Adam Bede’. She does commit adultery but it seems unfair that she is the one who is on the spotlight of all. She’s the one who gets very stressful after she murders her only kid then is put behind the bars.

Bathsheba Everdene, the central figure of ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ provides a clear picture on overwhelming burden women can suffer. In the book, she is an established woman who does not seek marriage to elevate her social status. Despite the already wealthy status, Bathsheba is still a subject to be blamed with all love stories revolving her and a few men who are fallen for her. I get the sense that all of her wishy-washy attitudes in romance taint her image as a successful woman.

In ‘Agnes Grey’ a very somber picture can be learned from the fate of Grey’s mother who chooses to have married against her father’s wishes expecting her to marry a rich man. As a result, she is let to have left her home. She is ‘no longer the daughter of the family’ then loses all her supposed inheritance.

While for some countries women are as equal as men, they sometimes remain a hot topic for debate in emerging or least developed ones probably in different, various cases. For instance, in some African countries, women are forced to marry wealthy men to help her family making ends meet. While for poor women, marriages may be driven by economy, career women may find themselves in contrastive perspectives against public. While many may wish career women to abandon their jobs after getting married, this type of women may hold different point of view.

All I can say is that women throughout time and space, across countries and generations, have been, are and will always be the ones whom public can easily put their fingers at. Those are themes that may sound usual but the creative minds of handful Victorian writers have turned them all into something extraordinary that stand the test of time.

“The Three Strangers” by Thomas Hardy

I thought I would never again find another title other than famous novels by Thomas Hardy in the Kinokuniya bookstore. “Far from the Madding Crowd,” Jude the Obscure”, “The Major of Casterbridge”, “Tess of the D’urbervilles, “The Return of the Native”, and “The Woodlanders”, are his widely-read books, which I have read, too. Usually, the store sells only most popular works from an author, including Hardy, thus discovering his short stories collection is such a rarity for me.

Aside from the glee that I am going to read his less popular stories, the fact that the book is just as Rp21,000 or less than US$2 is perfect for my current pocket.  The 85-pages book contain his three stories – “The Three Strangers”, “The Distracted Preacher” and “The Fiddler of the Reels. So far, I have completed reading “The Three Strangers” which leave me with mixed feelings about the writer.

Before going on the reading remarks, I would like to share what the story is all about:

The loneliness of Higher Crowstairs, the name of a cottage, is broken down by the gathering of 19 persons — men and women from various professions. They dance, talk about so many things while listening to the beautiful rhythm coming from a 12-year old fiddler boy. One of the attendants in the conglomeration is shepherd Fennel and his wife. The blitheness of the party comes to a stop when a stranger knocks at the shepherd’s house.

Not long after that, a second strangeman goes in, too. While the first produces no sign of awkwardness, the second one seems a bit avaricious and mysterious at least for Mrs. Fennel. Although she tells her husband how she dislikes the look of the second man and that she feels he is a bit avaricious for quickly drinking lots of mead, Mr. Fennel ignores her complains.

The night goes on and the second stranger joins the party by singing a song about shepherd which stimulates the wonder among the people because of the man’s strange lyrics. While he is about to resume his song a knock at the door is audible. The third stranger, a man in a decent dark clothes, is about to ask for a direction but he stops saying after his eyes catches those of the second stranger. The latter keeps singing, though, that later makes the third man gets trembling, shaking then running away.

While the group has yet to fully understand the motives of the third man’s sudden departure, a gunshot shocks them. Later, they learn that the police are looking for a shepherd stealer. They then quickly conclude that the third man is their target given his super quick, weird behaviours. The male attendants pursue him, including the second man.

However, he does not follow the overall research and stops by at a friend’s  house. At the end of the search, the people and the authority finds the third stranger then brings him to the police. Surprisingly, the police declare that the third stranger is not the wanted man. The third man then explains that it is the second man who becomes the object of the investigation. He flees from the shepherd’s house after he finds out that the second man, who is also his brother, is there, too. When his brother rises his bass voice, the third stranger quickly learns that the former does not want to be found thus the latter chooses to escape. At the end of the story, the second man is never discovered.



Dear Tess.. How Can I Not Love You?

I wonder what Thomas Hardy will do if he knows that one of his most famous novels, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, keep on inviting debates from readers all over the world, including me, long after the book is published in 1891.

Here, I’d like to share my views about the central character of the book, Tess Durbeyfield. She’s such a limitless topic to talk about. Even after finishing this post, I find the discussion remains unfinished. Let me introduce Tess; a very young and beautiful rural girl who faces bitter fate along her way to support her family and search for an eternal love.

A modern reader may think she’s a very weak character but those, who understand or at least try to position themselves among those living the hard life in the 19th century, may instead put her as a very strong fictitious heroine.

When Hardy puts ‘A Pure Woman’ along with the title of the book, I can’t agree more. She eventually takes a job as a poultry caretaker at the D’Urbervilles mansion despite the fact she has to meet Alec, D’Urbervilles, a ruthless cousin who aggressively approaches her. She has to work at the rich family to make ends meet and because her parents strongly urge her to do so.

She is a very strong character. She keeps on rejecting the marriage proposal from Alec although he rapes her. The reason is very simple; she doesn’t love him. Even his wealthy can’t buy her love. When she finds out that she’s pregnant because of the rape, Tess decides to raise Sorrow, the name of the bastard child, on her own, without any help from him. She bears the shame all alone. She finds a hard labor in a farm while taking the baby during the job. When the baby dies, she baptizes him because even the priest does not want to do that.

Life goes on for her. She later works in a dairy where which she meets her soulmate, Angel Clare. They are madly in love and eventually tie the knot. But on their wedding night, Angel leaves her after she reveals her past.

At this point, I can really feel her suffering. I can sense that she feels so small, unworthy of love in front of him. Angel does not say bad words to Tess but the way he ignores her, his cold expression is what makes her feel so guilty for the things she doesn’t even initiate to occur.

One of the most memorable scenes from the book that really makes me wanna cry is the night before they part. Tess pretends to sleep when her husband sleepwalks. In his sleepwalking, Angel thinks Tess is dead and he is crying while carrying her body to a nearby church. It’s so devastating to imagine this scene. Definitely, this moment is so heartbreaking, especially for Tess who believes they will reunite someday in the future.

Angel then departs for Brazil. Tess, meanwhile, keeps her love only for him. She even covers her pretty face so as men won’t get attracted to her beauty. She works so hard. It’s so difficult to imagine the life on the era as seen from her long walk, hardworking with Mariann. It’s crazy to envisage Hardy’s description on the hardship she experiences to earn pennies.

There is so few happiness Tess experiences. Apart from her initial love story back at the dairy, she barely feels joyful after her husband leaves her. Her suffering at the farm encourages her writing some letters forAngel but she gets frustrated to receve no replies. Worse, Angel does not want Tess to follow or come to him to Brazil. Given her worsening conditions, she forces to visit Angel’s parents. Again, it’s so forlorn to visualize her very long journey, the many miles she undergoes to reach the place.

She remains faithful to Angel even as Alec reapproaches her. It is for the sake of her homeless family that finally she agrees to be Alec’s wife. When Angel comes to her, it’s a bit too late.

Like other readers, I initially get confused on why Tess kills Alec. I don’t think she has to do that. I mean, she can easily get away with Angel. But later on, I can understand on why Hardy includes the murdering. I believe that signifies Tess’s only option to get rid of him even by doing the unthinkable deed. I believe if Alec were still alive, he would haunt her wherever she goes.

Her very brief and sweetest happiness is when she reestablishes her love with Angel. Although the moments she spends with him last for only few days, she feels so satisfied. He forgives her in the end and no secrets lie between the two.

How Hardy ends the novel contends me although I can’t help being so sad. The fact that police captures her in Stonehenge and hangs her for the wrongdoing she does is very depressive. But that’s the way the book must end. Killing Alec is the best and only option to finish her suffering although she will be executed. That’s the price she has to pay for the reunification. She dies peacefully.

As I mention earlier, a modern reader may think she’s a lame character. You may argue on why she doesn’t rebel or fight for own happiness. Or, why she must tell her stories to Angel. But I firmly agree on her choice. Here, Hardy informs readers how powerless women, especially poor women like Tess, are. How Tess struggles to find jobs, faces society amid the rape, sacrifices her own life for the family and, best of all, puts honesty as the first principle in her love relationship are the traits that make her my most favorite, sympathetic heroine, thus far.

Such a masterpiece Mr. Hardy!