August 29, 2010

A Poem for the Day: "A Thunderstorm in Town" By Thomas Hardy

I just returned from a nearly week-long business trip to Arizona.  I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with my elderly parents at their house, some twenty-five miles south of Tucson, Arizona.  We had some wonderful late-summer monsoon storm events with loads of thunder, lightning, and rain; and it reminded me of this wonderful short poem written by Thomas Hardy.

One of Thomas Hardy's best female friends was Mrs. Florence Henniker.  Mrs. Henniker (1855-1923) was married to the Honorable Arthur Henry Henniker, who rose to the rank of General in the British Army and fought in the Boer War.  It is abundantly clear that Hardy fell in love with her, but it was not returned.  They did collaborate on a short story together, and remained great friends for thirty years until her death in 1923 of heart failure, five years before Hardy's own death.

This short, two-stanza, poem seems to sum up Hardy's unrequited love for this beautiful and intellectually intriguing woman--

A Thunderstorm in Town
(A Reminiscence: 1893)

She wore a new 'terra-cotta' dress,
And we stayed, because of the pelting storm,
Within the hansom's dry recess,
Though the horse had stopped; yea, motionless
We sat on, snug and warm.

Then the downpour ceased, to my sharp sad pain,
And the glass that had screened our forms before
Flew up, and out she sprang to her door:
I should have kissed her if the rain
Had lasted a minute more.


I was immediately struck with what an interesting memory this is of one little fleeting emotional event that occurred within the first year of their meeting one another.  Also, it seems that Mrs. Henniker never knew of Hardy's initial romantic passion for her.  Apparently, he never pressed the issue further.  It is thought that his poem A Broken Appointment also dealt with his feelings for Florence Henniker  (i.e., No. 99, in Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems, edited by James Gibson, Palgrave, 2001).  'Click' on her photograph for a slightly larger view.

August 22, 2010

Short Story Review: "The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid" By Thomas Hardy

What I am doing here is a first for me on ProSe.  Normally, I review books I've completed reading, including collections of short stories.  In this case, I really want to share my observations and thoughts about one short story in particular from a collection of Thomas Hardy's stories entitled The Withered Arm and Other Stories (Edited by Kristin Brady, Penguin Classics, 1999).  Within this superb collection of stories, written by Hardy between 1874 and 1888, is a truly fascinating tale of near-novella length titled The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid.  Hardy wrote this story while living in Wimbourne in Dorset, and it first  appeared in a special 'summer edition' of the 1883 Graphic literary journal.  The story was also simultaneously published in seven installments from June 23rd through August 4th in Harper's Weekly.  I want you to read this story so much that I am also providing a link to an electronic version of the story so that you can download and print it.  Here's the link to The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid.  Bear in mind that this on-line version is slightly different than the version I read in the Penguin Classics collection.    The version I've attached is from Hardy's final manuscript for a 1913 collection of his short stories that was published under the title A Changed Man, The Waiting Supper, and Other Tales, Concluding with The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid; but the changes he made to the story were relatively minor and more editorial in nature.

While 'Romantic Adventures' may not be Hardy's best short story, it is in my opinion nonetheless vintage Hardy, and very much well-worth reading.  Let me explain why I say that.  First, as expected, Hardy places us firmly in his 'Wessex' landscape; a pastoral place with an emphasis on Nature and the ever-changing seasons, and the country rustics that occupy and work the land.  Second, and while perhaps formulaic, the story utilizes a well-worked literary device--the 'romantic triangle'; and in this tale we have the young and innocent milkmaid and her two potential suitors.  Thirdly, Hardy, in crafting the tale, has cleverly incorporated themes from well-known fairytales like Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, and allusions to the ballad James Harris (The Daemon Lover).  Finally, I believe that Hardy uses this story as a bit of  a 'dry-run' in an effort to develop his plotting, character development, and thoughts associated with what was to become one of his major literary achievements-- Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891).

Without giving away too much of the plot, let me say that 'Romantic Adventures' revolves around the milkmaid, Margaret 'Margery' Tucker; the world-wise, morose, and quasi-Byronic hero, Baron von Xanten; and Margery's beau, the rustic lime kiln operator, James Hayward.  The story opens with Margery, in her pink dress, carrying a basket of fresh butter and walking through the woods on her way to her grandmother's house ('Ah,' you say, you see where this is going, don't you?).  While taking a shortcut, Margery meets the mysterious Baron who has recently occupied a manor house so that he can indulge himself in meditation and trout fishing.  The Baron tells Margery that her interruption at that very moment has averted a great personal crisis (see the original illustration, above), and offers to reward her with a gift or "a treat."  Margery thinks for a moment, and then says that she'd prefer to think on it a while and could she give her answer later?  The Baron says that he will come to see her at dusk outside the stile on the edge of her father's property.  She tells the Baron that her wish is to attend a ball, and that she wants to dance like a lady.  The Baron tells her that he will grant her wish--Margery will get her ball!  I think I shall stop here, but suffice it to say that the tale spins on quite magically from this point forward with significant fairytale-like qualities.

Kristin Brady, in her insightful Introduction to the collection, says of 'Romantic Adventures' that the story
"...shows how a rural milkmaid might make a 'demi-god' of a suitor above her in class, while he might see her equally falsely, as a figure of pastoral simplicity and naturalness."
Hmm, does this comment bring to mind elements of another Hardy plot?  How about the situation of 'Tess Durbeyfield' and 'Angel Clare' in Tess of the d'Urbervilles?  Throughout this compelling little novella I found all sorts of images, bits of dialog and description, including geography, that all seem to point to and anticipate the later 'Tess.'

Interestingly, 'Romantic Adventures' is not so much a story of romantic love, as no one really 'falls in love' with anyone else.  It is all about the 'fantasy' or 'desire' of romantic love that each of the characters fosters in his or her mind.  Jim believes himself to be in love with Margery whom he has intended to marry for several years.  Margery is more than intrigued with the notion of the Baron loving her and traveling the world with him on his yacht.  In my opinion, the Baron is perhaps the most complicated and enigmatic character of all.  It is not at all clear what his real intentions are until the very end of the story.  In some instances, the Baron seems predatorial like the 'Wolf,' and in others he is truly Margery's 'Prince Charming,' and in still others he is making 'Mephistophelian' bargains with both Jim and Margery.  Clearly, the Baron has enchanted Margery, and to some degree, holds young Jim Hayward in his thrall as well.  Conversely, while the Baron is undoubtedly bewitched by the young and innocent milkmaid, he also very much admires and respects the fortitude and constancy of Jim's commitment to Margery.

The ending of the story may be a little, as Hardy would say, "phantastical"; but it is, nonetheless, a satisfying conclusion.  I couldn't put it down once I started reading.  In fact, I was so enamored with the plot and characters, recognizing the links and relationships to 'Tess' and some of Hardy's poetry, that I decided to read it again more carefully and then work up this blog posting for all of you.

If you haven't read 'Tess' yet, this will be an intriguing and enjoyable prelude; if you have, you'll feel clever and enjoy finding glimpses of that later great novel in this story.  There is also an interesting brief discussion of marriage between Margery and Jim that seems to portend the deeply philosophical and intensely emotional discussions between Sue Bridehead and Jude Fawley in Hardy's final novel, Jude the Obscure.  Also, as is typical for Hardy, this story is full of literary allusions to Greek mythology, the Bible, Shakespeare, Tennyson, and as we have discussed above, fairytales and ballads.  If you are a teacher, I should think it would be simply brilliant to have your students read this in conjunction with 'Tess'; or use it on its own, as I'm betting that it will engender significant discussion.  This was a fun and challenging little tale to dig into, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments too.

August 20, 2010

Fun at the Hop & Friday Five

'Tis been a busy summer so far.  Visits with our children and the grandchildren too!  At the same time, I am also really trying to stay focused and busy with my reading.  I am also very honored to be leading a group-read of Thomas Hardy's novel, Far From the Madding Crowd, on in the "Victorians" group, and it is turning out to be an absolute blast.  I am also experiencing for the first time the powerful poetry of Thomas Hardy.  And as hard as it may be to believe, I am coming to realize that Hardy may be an even better poet than prose writer.

But It is Friday, and it is time to 'Hop.'  This is my third 'Hop', and I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying meeting all of you who love books as much as I do, and finding some really terrific blogs to follow.  The 'Hop' is the brainchild of Jennifer at Crazy for Books.  You can go here to her fun blog and learn more about the 'Hop' and sign yourself up too.

This week's Book Blogger Hop question is:  "How many blogs do you follow?"

[Looking slightly sheepish]  Currently, I am only following twenty different blogs.  Most of them are book blogs too.  I do try, each and every day, to scroll down and see what my peers are posting about, and I also try and leave meaningful comments as appropriate.  I have to happily confess that several of the blogs that I now follow are ones that I have discovered through my two previous 'Hops,' so Jennifer's notion was a truly good one--it works!  I know that I will be finding more of you out there too, and I look forward to it!


Another blog I enjoy is Kate's Library and Kate offers a fun and nifty weekly activity called "The Friday Five."  Here, we are encouraged to share several interesting blog postings that we encountered during the week.  Like the 'Hop,' it is a great way for all of us to move about the blogosphere and find other cool sites and postings.  Should you like to participate in "The Friday Five" go visit Kate's Library, just 'for the joy of reading,' and join in the fun!  Here are my offerings (three this time, more to follow soon)--

Brenna at Literary Musings wrote an absolutely brilliant review of Henry James's "Washington Square."  This was a novel that I first read when in the U.S. Coast Guard in my early twenties, and I was completely blown away.  Brenna is a great writer, and I encourage you to stop by and check out what she's reading and writing about!

Isaac at The Tower of Stories is a blogger that tends to focus on short story fiction.  Shorts tend to be bypassed by many of us, and at our peril I say.  If you're looking for good short story authors, recommended collections, and reviews, Isaac is your guy.  Give him a look, and go find some short stories to read.

Finally, if you love books and 'Dinner and a Movie,' please stop by and visit Every Book and Cranny.  She has some absolutely terrific postings, and features her love of books, great food, and all-things Alfred Hitchcock!  Great fun!

So, have fun hopping about and checking out some new literary blogs.  It'll do you good!  I wish you all a wonderful weekend!  Thanks for stopping by and visiting!

August 17, 2010

Meme: Teaser Tuesdays

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser is a little different, as I am using the first stanza from a poem from "Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems":

"I have a Love I love too well
Where Dunkery frowns on Exon Moor;
I have a Love I love too well,
To whom, ere she was mine,
'Such is my love for you,' I said,
'That you shall have to hood your head
A silken kerchief crimson-red,
Wove of the finest of the fine.'"

My teaser was taken from Poem No. 331, entitled The Sacrilege, A Ballad Tragedy, (Circa 182-), included in Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems, edited by James Gibson, Palgrave, 2001.  This particular 'teaser' selection is from one of his poems in his collection entitled Satires of Circumstance, and was published (in 1914) shortly after the death of his wife, Emma.
For those interested, the entire poem can be found here.

I was simply gobsmacked when I finished reading this poem through the first time, and I'll bet you are too!  Whew!  What a tale!  Vintage Hardy; that's all I can say.  I also very much recommend this variorum collection of Hardy's poetry.  It is some of the best poetry of the Victorian period, and rivals that of Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Alfred Lord Tennyson.  He writes ballads, elegies, folk lore, and much is quite modern. Hardy tells stories with his poetry--Good stories!  If you like poetry, this complete collection belongs in your library.  Enjoy!

[The rules for Teaser Tuesdays comes from MizB at Should Be Reading]

August 15, 2010

Review: Some Simply Superb Short Story Collections

So, here's the question--  How many of you enjoy reading collections of short stories?

I have to admit that I rarely did, until about ten years ago when I first discovered the short fiction of Edith Wharton (my favorite American author).  I am now a confirmed reader of short stories.  I usually have a collection of shorts on the bedside table, and it usually accompanies me to beach near Malibu on the weekends.

In reading the short stories of some of my favorite authors I have come to realize that some authors use the short story genre to test out new plot ideas and literary techniques for novels they may be writing, or to experiment with character and scene development.  I've also found that some authors are really just more comfortable with writing short stories in contrast to writing the longer novel.  Also, the pacing of short story plots tends to be faster, the plots themselves less complicated, and the overall effect of dialog and action is maximized.  Nowadays, when I discover a collection of short stories of an author that I am reading (and liking), I usually make an effort to acquire and read them.

The purpose of this blog posting was to take a couple of minutes and share with you some of my favorite short story authors and their collections.  While I am not reviewing each of the collections per se, I have included my impressions of 'why' I believe they merit reading.

The Country of the Pointed Firs and Selected Short Fiction, By Sarah Orne Jewett

This was a woman profoundly admired by the young Willa Cather; and, in fact, Jewett told Cather (paraphrasing) 'to stop writing like Henry James, and just tell the story.'  Cather was so affected by Jewett's influence that she dedicated her 1913 novel, "O' Pioneers" to Jewett.  This collection of Jewett's short stories is magnificent; they are a quiet, pastoral, lovely and idyllic look at a small slice of Americana in a small Maine sea-side village at the end of the 19th century, and told from the perspective of an unnamed female narrator.  Each of these unpretentious little stories just has the feel of something that your grandmother, or great-aunt, would have told you over a bowl of blueberries and cream.  Cather included Jewett's writing in with Nathanial Hawthorne's and Mark Twain's as some of of America's most timeless fiction.  High praise indeed!

The New York Stories of Edith Wharton, By Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton is near the top of the pinnacle of American fiction for me.  While I have read all of her novels, I have come to realize that her greatest strength may well be her short stories.  They are simply sublime.  They definitely pack a punch!  And while I reference the New York Review of Books edition here, I have a couple of other collection of her shorts and they are all nothing short of brilliant.  She published a volume of ghost stories that are truly some of the best spooky stuff out there.  In my opinion, Wharton is one of the masters of the short genre; she grabs you in a page or two, and doesn't let go.  When finished with a story, you just lean back in your chair and breathe a low, "Whew!"  Yes, she's that good!  Wharton's shorts span more than forty years, from the early 1890s until her death in 1937, and reflect her evolving literary style as well as her changing views on society and the lives and relationships of the people living in it.   If you read only a sample of Wharton shorts, read Autre Temps, Pomegranate Seed, and Roman Fever.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, By Susannah Clarke

If you loved Susannah Clarke's debut novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, you will adore this collection of short stories.  Several of the stories have a direct tie-in to JS&MN, and a several are stand alone, but they're all very good.  This woman can write a story that engages you from the get-go.  These are almost 'fairy tales' in the true sense of the word.  I particularly enjoyed the title story, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, as it expands upon one of Clarke's footnotes from JS&MN (i.e., Footnote 2, Chapter 43).  While this collection is an excellent companion to the novel, it can also serve as a stand-alone introduction to Clarke's style, wit, prose, and imagination.  Having read this collection of short stories, as well as Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, it strikes me that, above all, Clarke provides a view of what it means to be English.  I think that these are amazing books, and this collection of short stories a welcome addition to her work.  From this collection of shorts, I highly recommend The Ladies of Grace Adieu, Mrs Mabb, On Lickerish Hill, and Mr Simonelli or the Fairy Widower.

The Troll Garden, By Willa Cather

All six of these short stories are worth reading!  This is an exquisite collection of Cather's early writing.  Once Cather embarked on writing her novels, she only wrote sixteen more short stories, so these early works are an important window into her maturation as a writer.  From this collection, I most especially loved Flavia and Her Artists, A Death in the Desert, and The Marriage of Phaedra.  This is a woman who is in touch with the pulse of the people around her in her time.  This is very good stuff.  As an aside, I am a huge fan of the Victorian poet, Christina Georgina Rossetti, and was quite intrigued to find that Cather uses a stanza from Rossetti's epic poem, Goblin Market, as an epigraph to open the collection.
"We must not look at Goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits;
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?"
Like Wharton, Cather is a master at describing, with pathos and drama, the relationships and conflicts between men and women.  Each of these stories is crafted with imagination, tension, and poignancy--it is all here.  Cather is just brilliant!  This is a terrific collection of her short fiction! 

The Withered Arm and Other Stories, By Thomas Hardy

As many of you know, I am on a serious Hardy jag of late.  Hardy is the bomb!  I haven't encountered an author with power like this in some time.  The last author that grabbed me like this was Cormac McCarthy for fiction and Christina Rossetti with her poetry.  Hardy's short stories are nothing short of amazing.  They are macabre, devilish, scary, spooky, bizarre, gut-wrenching, and hauntingly beautiful.  There are several superb collections of Hardy's shorts out there, but I strongly recommend that you find and read the following stories: The Withered Arm, Barbara of the House of Grebe, The Son's Veto, The Fiddler of the Reels, An Imaginative Woman, and The Grave by the Handpost.  If you are a fan of poetry, you can find many references to elements from these shorts in Hardy's poetry too.  Following on that thought, I have to say that much of Thomas Hardy's poetry reads like short stories too; as much of his poetry has the distinct earthy feel and flavor of the folk tales and ballads he would have heard growing up in southwestern England in the mid-19th century.  So, if you want to host a Halloween Party and read some spooky stories aloud, I strongly recommend reading a couple of Hardy stories (and some of his poetry); they'd go well with the Edgar Allen Poe stories (and some rum punches!).

I'd love to know if you if you like short stories, and what are your favorite short story collections.  I'm always looking for some new stuff to read!

August 13, 2010

'Hardy's Hot Women!' Review: "Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy" by Rosemarie Morgan

When reading the novels of Thomas Hardy one can't help but want to delve into the author's mind about these incredible women that he has developed.  Think about it for a moment.  What Victorian male author do you know of that has created such a suite of women?  Women who are strong-minded, strong-willed, soulful, and imbued with their latent natural femininity and sexuality; and that these women defy the Victorian norms and convention at every turn.  While the outcomes of some of these novels have the power to absolutely devastate me, I am at the same time simply amazed at the depth and breadth of the character of the female heroines that he has created.  Being the father of two beautiful and incredibly intelligent adult daughters, I have to say that I am an unabashed fan of these women who round out the spheres of each of Hardy's novels (and a good bit of his short stories and poetry too).

I recently ran across a bibliographic citation to Rosemarie Morgan's book,  "Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy", in the Introduction to the Everyman's Library edition of Hardy's "The Return of the Native."  I decided that this was definitely something I wanted to read, and while it was a bit difficult to procure, I was able to find a nearly brand-new copy on-line.

Dr. Morgan is the current President of the "Thomas Hardy Association"and is considered quite the Hardy scholar.  And while her book is clearly a scholarly analysis, it is eminently readable and quite fascinating.  After reading Under the Greenwood Tree, A Pair of Blue Eyes, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Woodlanders, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure I knew that I needed to dig deeper and try and better understand all that Hardy was trying to tell me about these women.  Reading these novels you can't help but become very much aware of each of these amazing women.  Hardy almost physically forces you into their space and into their mind, and sometimes it is damned uncomfortable and very painful; and I think that is just as he intended it to be.

The women in Hardy's novels are not perfect; far from it.  In fact, Hardy himself vehemently rejected the model of the 'perfect woman in fiction.'  Sharing his feelings in a letter to a friend in 1891, Hardy wrote, "that I have felt that the doll of English fiction must be demolished."  Well, all I can say, in having read his novels in order of publishing, is that I believe he has accomplished this in every case.  Even before I read Dr. Morgan's book I had come to the conclusion that Hardy liked to include a 'witch' in his novels.  These witches aren't necessarily bad, but they are enchantresses; they are powerful, seductive, assertive, and self-determined women.  These are not the 'limp-wristed' helpless beauties of so many of the Victorian authors that we read today.  No, these are women that we can all relate to in almost every way, and in almost any time.

Morgan sets forth the notion that Hardy's fusion of moral seriousness and feminine sexuality yields, as she says,
"a set of fit and healthy, brave and dauntless, remarkably strong women.  The sexual vitality which infuses their animate life generates vigour of both body and mind; from thence springs intelligence, strength, courage, and emotional generosity, and that capacity so many Hardy heroines possess for self-exposure expressing both daring and intimacy--the ultimate intimacy which demands facing the fear of ego-loss in those moments which call for abandon.
Morgan's thesis continues with the observation that
"Hardy's platform remains consistent and forthright: the world that denies autonomy, identity, purpose and power to women, is to be, on his terms, the loser."
Morgan's aim with the book then, in her words, "is to present a revisionist study of Hardy's treatment of female sexuality, a new vision of his work, reshaping our impression of him through the refracting lens of his view of women."

Dr. Morgan's book walks the reader through her interpretation of Hardy's authorial intent associated with the following heroines (and my editorial comments):  the sweet Elfride Swancourt (A Pair of Blue Eyes); vivacious Bathsheba Everdene (Far From the Madding Crowd); my favorite 'witch', Eustacia Vye (The Return of the Native); my dearest beloved, Tess (Tess of the d'Urbervilles); and the ethereal Sue Bridehead (Jude the Obscure).  If you read Hardy, and if you love Hardy, you simply must read this book.  If you are a fan of Victoriana, this is a book that must be on your shelf.  If you truly want to explore women's issues and female sexuality in the late-Victorian then this book is for you.

It is my experience that people tend to automatically pigeon-hole Hardy's novels as "bleak," "black," "depressing," or "morose;" but these labels are nothing but superficial; and while his novels are certainly tragedies in the Greek sense, they are at the same time uplifting, liberating, and enlightening for the situations in which women are placed in the late-Victorian.  In my opinion, and this is an important facet, I think Hardy does the job well.  He was one of the 'Voices in the Victorian Wilderness' screaming for the emancipation of women, the equality of the sexes, and the recognition of natural female sexuality in a time that rejected all of it out of hand; and especially when it came to the rigours and institution of marriage.  He truly believed that marriage needed to be reconsidered from the perspective of the female participant.  This, I believe, is Dr. Morgan's contention, and I agree wholeheartedly.  I applaud her, and I most especially applaud Thomas Hardy for his moral fortitude in presenting these magnificent women, just as they are, and their issues, to us for our view and consideration.  How can we not fail to accept them for who they are?  Can we honestly fail Eustacia, Tess, and Sue yet again?

'Hop' August Nights

I just returned from several days of park-'hopping' with my wife and five-year-old grandson!  Living in southern California makes it kind of easy too.  We visited Disneyland (a very long day!), and then spent a day a couple of days just north of San Diego, in Carlsbad, California, visiting Legoland and the SeaLife Aquarium.  Each morning the 'little guy' woke up chock full of energy and he made sure that we packed in as much fun as possible each day too.  We all had a blast, and it was simply priceless to see the look of pure joy on his face as he went from adventure and experience to the next!

Now you know why I am a day late in adding my 'Book Blogger Hop' posting here on my blog.  Well, better late than never!  This is my second time participating in the 'Hop', and I'm enjoying meeting all of you who love books as much as I do, and finding some really terrific blogs to follow.  I'd like to thank Jennifer at Crazy for Books for sponsoring the weekly Book Blogger Hop.  You can go here to learn more about the 'Hop' and sign up.

This week's Book Blogger Hop question is:  "How many books do you have on your 'To Be Read' shelf?"

 I really couldn't hazard a guess as to how many books are on my TBR shelves.  I have a bunch though!

Over the past few years, in an effort to more effectively manage my reading, I have developed a process that seems to work pretty well for me.  When I find an author that I like, I tend to try and read that author's entire oeuvre, or at least a solid and very representative portion of their work.  For example, in late-2008 and a good portion of 2009, I read the fiction of Charles Dickens in the order that he wrote them.  Not only did I read some terrific novels, but I was also able to follow Dickens's maturation and evolution as an author and story-teller.  I have since done the same with the Brontes, Wilkie Collins, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and Elizabeth Gaskell.

This summer I have been exploring the work of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy.  Also, so that I don't become too narrowly constrained, I tend to read something a little different in and among my primary reading.  This summer I have managed to sprinkle some very enjoyable reading of the short stories of Sarah Orne Jewett and Edith Wharton in with my more deliberate and studious reading of Hardy and Eliot.

Have a wonderful weekend!  'Hop' around and make some new friends and find some new books to read.  Thanks for stopping by and visiting!

August 7, 2010

A Song for Saturday-- "The Dream Follower" by Thomas Hardy

I am currently plowing through the variorum edition of Thomas Hardy's poetry.  Out of 900+ poems, I am up to No. 220.  If you've read his novels or short stories, you simply must read his poetry, it is the bomb!  Reading this short one tonight, I simply felt compelled to share it.  It is a poem I think we can all actually relate to--

The Dream Follower

A Dream of mine flew over the mead
To the halls where my old Love reigns;
And it drew me on to follow its lead;
And I stood at her window-panes;

And I saw but a thing of flesh and bone
Speeding on to its cleft in the clay;
And my dream was scared, and expired on a moan,
And I whitely hastened away.


Now that'll make you think, eh?  It ain't pleasant, but we've all had dreams like this, haven't we?  Hardy just wrote 'em, we read 'em.  This is poem No. 108, in Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems, edited by James Gibson, 2001, published by Palgrave, 1003 pages.

Read some Hardy, it'll do you good!

August 6, 2010

Book Blogger Hop -- August 6-9

Book Blogger Hop

Welcome to my literary blog, Prose!  This is my first time participating in the 'Hop, so please bear with me as it takes 'this old dog a while to learn new tricks.'  I'd like to thank Jennifer at Crazy for Books for sponsoring this weekly Book Blogger Hop.  If you don't know about the Book Blogger Hop, it is a weekly event that enables all of us book or literary bloggers to find and visit other like-minded bloggers.  You can go here to read the instructions and sign up.

This week's Book Blogger Hop question is:  "Do you listen to music when you read?  If so, what are your favorite reading tunes?"

I can, and do, listen to music when reading, but more times than not I don't.  Normally, when I read there is always some ambient household noise in the background.  For example, living in southern California I spend a lot of time sitting outside on the patio reading, and there's always the sounds of birds, people and their dogs walking by on the paseo behind the house, and the 'whirring' of all of our beautiful little hummingbirds visiting our two large feeders, and so forth.  When I do choose to listen to music (on my iPod) while reading, I generally enjoy listening to classical music.  All in all, I really don't find background noise, be it music, the TV, or outside sounds, all that distracting while I'm reading.  I seem to be able to put myself in the world of the book I'm reading fairly easily.

Happy Friday!

August 5, 2010

Thursday with the Poetry of Thomas Hardy

As many of you are aware, I am a serious student of poetry.  I have always loved reading poetry, even reading it out loud to myself.  I love hearing and feeling the meter and rhyming.  While I think it is clever, and I'm sure quite meaningful, I am just not much of a fan of modern poetry (i.e., the non-rhyming free verse style).  For me it just generally lacks that emotional feeling that I look for in what I consider to be well-written poetry.  Personally, I am most comfortable with poetry that spans the period from John Milton through T.S. Eliot (i.e., approximately 1650-1925).  Probably my most favorite period is the poetry of 19th century which includes many of the Romantic and most of the Victorian poets.  You can find poems and discussions of poetry from this period scattered about in around 25% of my postings on this blog.

For the next few weeks, I plan to start a quasi-regular weekly posting featuring a selected poem by Thomas Hardy.  You need to know that Hardy is quite the unique Victorian.  Not only was he an accomplished author of a goodly number of truly amazing novels, but he was also an incredibly accomplished poet (he wrote over 900 poems!).  In fact, some will say he was an even better poet than prose writer (this was Hardy's opinion, as well).  In my view, it is a toss up; I think he's damn good at both!

For my first Hardy selection, I have chosen a poem entitled Tess's Lament.  Obviously, this poem speaks directly to his novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles which I recently reviewed here.  In fact, you might like to print a copy of the poem and tuck it inside your copy of the novel.  I also encourage you to read the poem aloud and feel the meter and hear the rhyming; it truly becomes a lamentation.

Tess's Lament


I would that folk forgot me quite,
Forgot me quite!
I would that I could shrink from sight,
And no more see the sun.
Would it were time to say farewell,
To claim my nook, to need my knell,
Time for them all to to stand and tell
Of my day's work as done.


Ah! dairy where I lived so long,
I lived so long;
Where I would rise up staunch and strong,
And lie down hopefully.
'Twas there within the chimney-seat
He watched me to the clock's slow beat--
Loved, and learnt to call me Sweet,
And whispered words to me.


And now he's gone; and now he's gone;...
And now he's gone!
The flowers we potted perhaps are thrown
To rot upon the farm.
And where we had our supper-fire
May now grow nettle, dock, and briar,
And all the place be mould and mire
So cozy once and warm.


And it was I who did it all,
Who did it all;
'Twas I who made the blow to fall
On him who thought no guile.
Well, it is finished--past, and he
Has left me to my misery,
And I must take my Cross on me
For wronging him awhile.


How gay we looked that day we wed,
That day we wed!
'May joy be with ye!' they all said
A-standing by the durn.
I wonder what they say o'us now,
And if they know my lot; and how
She feels who milks my favourite cow,
And takes my place at churn!


It wears me out to think of it,
To think of it;
I cannot bear my fate as writ,
I'd have my life unbe;
Would turn my memory to a blot,
Make every relic of me rot,
My doings be as they were not,
And gone all trace of me!


This poem was first published in 1901, in a volume of Hardy's poetry entitled, Poems of the Past and the Present.  It is No. 141 in The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy, edited by James Gibson, and published by Palgrave in 2001.  This comprehensive collection of Hardy's poetry is a must-have for any serious student of the fiction and/or poetry of Thomas Hardy.

August 3, 2010

Meme: Teaser Tuesdays

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser is:

"Mrs. Lidcote had deplored, when she started, that the Utopia was a slow steamer, and would take eight full days to bring her to her unhappy daughter; but now, as the moment of reunion approached, she would willingly have turned the boat about and fled back to the high seas.  It was not only because she felt still so unprepared to face what New York had in store for her, but because she needed more time to dispose of what the Utopia had already given her."

My teaser was taken from page 293 of my current read-- The New York Stories of Edith Wharton, New York Review Books, Introduction by Roxana Robinson, NYRB, 2007, 452 pages.  This particular 'teaser' selection is from one of her very well-known short stories, Autres Temps...

This is a truly wonderful collection of twenty of Edith Wharton's short stories revolving around life in New York City.  As much of a fan as I am of Wharton's novels, I am equally enamored with her shorter fiction.  This makes a delightful bedside table book, with a chapter a night being just what the doctor ordered.  Enjoy!

[The rules for Teaser Tuesdays comes from MizB at Should Be Reading]

Re-Reading, Do You Do It? Your 'To Re-Read Top-Ten List'?

The subject for this posting was actually inspired by Lisa on her literary blog at Bibliophiliac, and I mentioned that maybe I'd do a posting about what books we tend to re-read, and why.  So without further ado, I've a couple of questions for you:

1.  Do you typically re-read books?  If not, why not?  If so, may I be nosy enough as to inquire about what criteria you generally use in reaching a decision to to re-read a book?

2.  What books would you include in your 'Top-Ten Novels to Re-Read' List?

Regarding the first question, I do re-read books, and not all that infrequently either.  Most of the time it is after a few years have passed and I just get a hankerin' to revisit a specific author, or a particularly favorite novel.  I have a few books that are just timeless classics for me, and I just get more and more out of them with each visit (e.g., Tolstoy's Anna Karenina).  Generally, my only criteria is that I had to have loved it the first time around (e.g., Dickens's Bleak House), or I grew to love it over time (e.g., Austen's Mansfield Park, or Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway).

People tend to look somewhat askance when I casually mention that I am re-reading 'such-and-such.'  Typically, I get in return, "Why would you read it again, when you've already read it?"  Without 'smacking them up-side-the-head,' I kindly reply, "Because it was so good the first time I read it, I want to see if it still is."  That usually shuts 'em up.  Seriously though, folks, re-reading a favorite book is like visiting an old friend--it is comfortable, companionable, and there's always something new to learn and appreciate.  In short, it strengthens the relationship!  Take a moment and share your opinions of what re-reading books means to you.

My 'Top-Ten Novels to Re-Read' List (in no particular order):

Les Miserables, Victor Hugo -- A serious 'fat book' that is simply sensational.  I just purchased the new Julie Rose translation (2008) in hardcover, and am really looking forward to revisiting it soon!

The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton -- 'Oh, Lily Bart, Lily Bart, Lily Bart, whatever am I to do with you?'  I will always love this novel.  Edith Wharton is probably my favorite American author, and this novel is one reason why!

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy -- Another 'fat book' that has stayed with me since the first time I read it.  This is the novel that I have probably re-read the most over the past 30+ years, and occupies a spot in my 'Top-Five Favorite Books' list.

The Stand, Stephen King -- What can I say?  Stephen King's "The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition" is just the ultimate post-apocalyptic tale.  My gut says that this novel will still be read 150 years from now. Oh, and it is another 'fat book' too!

Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy -- Tess, one of fiction's most famous women.  On that basis alone, Thomas Hardy's Tess of that "delicate feminine tissue" is well worth revisiting!  I just re-read it again for the first time in a long, long time, and was perhaps even more profoundly devastated this time around.

Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy -- I just finished reading this novel for the very first time, and realize that this is clearly Hardy's magnum opus, and there is a lifetime of study ahead of me to fully grasp this novel.  Maybe a modern re-telling of the biblical story of Job?  This is a hugely significant novel, in my opinion.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke -- Clarke's debut novel, and just brilliant.  I have described this 'fat book' as magical, mysterious, dreamy, witty and funny, and incredibly engaging.  Without sounding too trite, the characters are Dickensian, the dialog Austenesque, some of the vision and fantasy of Lewis Carroll, and much of the prose like that of Patrick O'Brian.

Possession, A. S. Byatt -- This novel is like peeling an onion.  Each time you read it, you peel back a layer and expose a whole new world to appreciate and ponder.  It was this novel that allowed me to develop a life-long love for the poetry of Christina Rossetti, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and the Brownings.  I love this novel with all of my heart and soul!

Outer Dark, Cormac McCarthy -- Personally, I view McCarthy's writing as the contemporary American descendant of the Victorian Thomas Hardy.  This novel, not particularly well-known, is perhaps the most powerful of all of his novels.  It is a massive 'punch to the gut' to read, but the prose is powerful and moving.  McCarthy paints one helluva portrait of Appalachia in the early-20th century.  Read it!  Re-read it!

O Pioneers!, Willa Cather -- My oldest daughter turned me on to this beautiful novel.  "O Pioneers!" describes life on the Nebraska prairie at the beginning of the 20th century.  This is one of the most lyrical and emotionally powerful books by an American author, and is brilliantly plotted too.  It is interesting to me, but not surprising, that both Edith Wharton and Willa Cather were the first and second women, respectively, to win the Pulitzer prize for fiction (Wharton in 1921, and Cather in 1923).

Well, there we are.  My thoughts, and my list.  What say all of you?

August 1, 2010

Review: "Jude the Obscure" By Thomas Hardy

A few days ago I finished Thomas Hardy's last novel, Jude the Obscure.  I was completely overwhelmed and truly needed a few days to reflect upon the experience and collect my thoughts before attempting a review.  Bear in mind too, that this is the first time that I have read Jude, and I sincerely believe that this novel may require a lifetime of reading and study in order to fully tease out and understand the import of Hardy's message.

First, a little background about the novel.  This novel took Hardy sometime to write.  He started with an outline in 1890, and did not complete the book until 1894.  It was first published serially in Harper's New Monthly Magazine from December 1894 to November 1895, and then it was published in book form.  Hardy took a lot of heat for the novel from reviewers and critics, other authors, as well as the general public.  It developed a reputation as Jude the Obscene.  The relentlessness and vitriol of the negative criticism caused Hardy to forsake ever writing another novel of fiction; and he spent the remaining thirty some odd years of his life concentrating on his poetry.

I also want to include, at this point, a strong 'Spoiler Warning.'  In crafting this review, and discussing Hardy's authorial intent, I am finding it quite impossible not to discuss some relatively important plot points and elements.  Therefore, continue reading at your own peril.  All I can observe is that regardless of what I can say, or what you may have heard about this novel, it is a monumentally huge novel that simply must be read by any and all students of great literature.  Okay, consider yourself forewarned.

In some respects, Jude the Obscure can be looked upon as the coming of age story of Jude Fawley.  Others have postulated that it is also an anti-bildungsroman as it documents, as we shall see, the slow and torturous destruction of Jude and his ideals.  Interestingly, this is the only Hardy novel, that I am aware of, that starts with the protagonist as a child and follows him through his life.

In Jude the Obscure, Hardy addresses the prevailing Victorian attitudes associated with social class and standing, educational opportunities, religion, the institution of marriage, and the influence of Darwinism on modern thought.  Throughout the novel, Jude, Sue Bridehead, and Arabella Donn are used by Hardy to explore and develop the all-encompassing portrait; and to some degree, indictment; of the society and time that Jude and Hardy reside in.  It seems that the novel sets up an examination of the contrasts between the idealistic romanticism of the second generation poets, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley (whom Hardy truly admired), and the more modern cultural movement of social Darwinism.

First and foremost, this is a novel of ideas and ideals.  Jude is a sensitive young fellow, always concerned with the lot of the animals and people around him.  As a child he is even dismayed at seeing trees cut down, and can't bring himself to scare away the 'rooks' (crows) that are eating the seed from a newly planted field that he's been paid to protect.  Later, as an adult he is compelled to leave his bed late at night and find the rabbit, screaming with pain, that has been caught in a trap and dispatch it as an act of mercy.  These are some of the first signs of Jude-the-romantic, and Jude-the-dreamer.  The ideals he has formed are something really quite different from that of the world around him, and this can't bode well for him.

The first third of the novel focuses on Jude's desire to become an educated man and become admitted to the great colleges of 'Christminster' (loosely modeled on Oxford) in Hardy's 'Wessex' countryside.  Jude, like Hardy, is an autodidact and teaches himself Greek and Latin, and views Christminster as the "city of lights" and "where the tree of knowledge grows."  Jude's romantic visions and ideals suffer a terrible blow when he is denied admittance to the colleges and is advised that "remaining in your own sphere and sticking to your trade..." is his best course of action.  Idealism aside, Jude now begins to understand that his social class and standing will continue to strongly influence his future.

Issues associated with Love and Marriage also dominate much of the novel's landscape, and can be quite painful to read and consider.  Early on, Jude is essentially trapped into a truly disastrous marriage with the attractive, but coarse young woman, Arabella Donn, the daughter of a pig-farmer.  Trust me, she can slaughter the animals that Jude cannot.  Arabella's 'unique' method of introducing herself to Jude is to throw a bloody pig's penis at him as he walks by while she is cleaning and sorting the offal of a slaughtered hog!  Simply put, Arabella is the 'Delilah' to Jude's 'Samson.'

Jude's young cousin, Sue Bridehead, on the other hand, is at times, one of the most erudite and intellectual women of the fiction of the late-Victorian.  Ethereal and fairy-like, Sue is an idealist too, but her idealism tends towards a more modern view; even though some its roots reflect that of the second generation Romantics too.  For example, Sue quotes to Jude, several lines from Shelley's great poem, Epipsychidion (Three Sermons on Free Love).  At first blush, it seems easy to assume that Sue endorses the Shelleyan view of 'Free Love' and not binding oneself contractually and exclusively to only one other.  While Shelley meant this from the perspective of sexual gratification, Sue has developed her own brand of romantic idealism that leads her to believe that it is only the iron-clad contract (marriage) that dooms the relationship.

I had to spend some time thinking about Sue and her beliefs, but I have come to the preliminary conclusion that neither she, nor Hardy, are anti-marriage, but that it is the nature of the contract of marriage in the Victorian age (i.e., with all of its trappings of submission, subjugation, and so forth) that doom its likelihood of long-term success in her view.  In fact, in support of this notion, Hardy made a notebook entry in 1889, in which he writes, "Love lives on propinquity, but dies of contact."

It seems that Hardy's development of the character of Sue Bridehead and the novel's storyline may reflect a portion of his own troubled relationship with his wife Emma and her increasing religious beliefs through the years of their own marriage.  Also, it may well be that Sue's character reflects a bit of Hardy's cousin, Tryphena Sparks, a woman that he is rumored to have had an affair with in 1868, and who later died in 1890.  Hardy, in the Preface to the 1895 edition of  Jude, stated that the novel was partly inspired "by the death of a woman" in 1890.

Even though Sue Bridehead bears children with Jude, sexual relations and intimacy remains a very difficult proposition for her.  For example, when married to her first husband, Richard Phillotson, she is startled awake by him entering her bedroom absentmindedly (they slept in separate rooms), and she leaps from a second story window into the night rather than sleep with him!  Again, much of the time she is with Jude, they also sleep in separate bedrooms, which has the effect of keeping Jude's passions for her quite 'hot'.  This is not, however, the romantic ideal of the loving wife and life-mate that Jude has envisioned for his dear Sue though.  It is also not the picture of romantic idealism for Sue either, as she is truly looking for a partner through which she can fully experience Love's spiritual and intellectual bonds, and not just the contractual or the sexual.

Toward the end of the novel there occurs such a shocking event that finally and irrevocably alters the lives of Jude and Sue, and largely severs their tenuous emotional and spiritual bonds to one another.  The romantic ideals of both are smashed hopelessly and simply cannot be reassembled.  Modernization has come and displaced the old world romanticism of Jude Fawley and Thomas Hardy.  Jude-the-Dreamer and Jude-the-Idealist have no place in this new order, because to transcend to his ideals means that he must die as Keats and Shelley so eloquently discovered.  Unfortunately for Jude, even Arabella is present to witness his final suffering and agony.  Jude's story has become, in a very real sense Hardy's modern retelling of the 'Book of Job.'  [Note the word play too -- the "J" from 'Jude' and the "Ob" from 'Obscure']

As I said above, I have a sense that I have probably only just scratched the surface of this titanic novel, and that there is much, much more to glean.  It is full of allusion and metaphor, and rife with biblical references and nods to Hardy's literary ancestors, Milton, Wordsworth, and Shelley.  Before I tackle Jude again, or re-read any of his other novels for that matter, I want to first read Claire Tomalin's recent biography, Thomas Hardy (2006); Rosemarie Morgan's Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy (1988); and also delve into Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems (1981), edited by James Gibson.

Read this novel!  When you are through, let me know; for I'd love to discuss it with you and see what you think too.  Five out of five stars for me.

[My review is based upon the Everyman's Library hardcover edition (No. 115), published by Alfred A. Knopf , 1992, 519 pages.  The book-jacket was created as a tie-in for the 1996 film adaptation entitled, Jude, directed by Michael Winterbottom, and starring Christopher Eccleston and Kate Winslett.  By the way, I am having an absolute devil of a time finding a DVD of this adaptation.  Any ideas?]