Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Interlude - 10,000 page views

Image courtesy of Level4Literati
This is just a note to thank everyone who has been supporting this blog with their visits and recommendations. We hit a YUGE milestone today with 10,000 page views in under 60 days since Joy Lies Slain launched. I'd especially like to thank my mother who I suspect looked at the page 50 times yesterday to help us reach our goal and also hackers from Russia who, despite their continued interest in the page, have not started spam bombing my comments section.

It's been amazing to see the level of interest in Thomas Hardy's work after all these years and I look forward to providing the best content I can for the rest of our journey together! THANK YOU!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Desperate Remedies, Part 1 - The Social, the Suspenseful and the Physical

In the spring of 1871, Thomas Hardy brought to fruition four years of hard work and hustle with the publication his first novel, Desperate Remedies. It was released in the ubiquitous three-volume form and, unlike many of his later novels, was not serialized in a magazine prior to release. Though Millgate notes that Hardy bristled at having to document his occupation as "architect's clerk" for the census of 1871, he had begun a process of transitioning his means of subsistence from architectural work that of a writer of novels. By 1875, the transition would be all but complete.

As this is the first book we'll be diving into, I want to talk just a little bit about what my goals are specifically for exploring the novels, as my goals for verse will be different.

I don't intend these to be book reviews in the traditional sense. I'll be using something like the the three point essay form as a structure to frame these discussions unless there is something about the material that demands otherwise.

It also seems important to consider each book in the context of when it was written. For this reason, I won't reference anything Hardy wrote after Desperate Remedies in exploring it. I believe that this approach will pay dividends as we progress through the books because the contexts from which we'll be able to intercompare will grow cumulatively richer and more tangled with each new work. This may prove to be just a weird restriction I'm putting on the process but that's one of the ways I can decide what not to write.

Lastly, Hardy's own life will be on the table for critical consideration. There are those who loathe intimately tying the "meaning" of a work into the inner workings of the author's life. I believe that there are some authors and some work which beg that kind of separation. My critical instinct says Hardy is not one of those authors and few of his works invite that kind of text-only focused readings. I will also place one of my biases on the table in acknowledging that my purpose in writing this blog is not just to better understand the work but also the man.

Desperate Remedies (which I will refer to as Remedies) has two different sets of organizing principles that shape its contents: it is a social novel that describes and critiques culture and it is a suspense novel that dangles action and plot twists in succession in order to entice the reader through its pages. The title itself is a double entendre that addresses both of these aspects. Cytherea Graye's entanglement with the story's villain, Aeneas Manston, is a desperate remedy for her precarious social position as a woman on the cusp between respectability and ruin while Manston's most nefarious act a desperate remedy is born out of his desire to bind Cytherea to him before he can be exposed as a willful bigamist.

Remedies succeeds flawlessly at neither task but, in order to judge it for what it is rather than what we might like it to be, I'll be working from a premise that it reaches its highest peaks when both strands of the narrative are coaxed into working in harmony. Moreover, Hardy's ability to ground the reader in rich physical detail is the ligament that connects the social and suspense elements of the novel together and he only fails in his obligation to make that connection when he abandons it in order to move the labyrinthine plot through its paces.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Writing Desperate Remedies

Thomas Hardy's wrote the majority of his first published novel, Desperate Remedies, in the waning months of 1869 with revisions added through 1870. As he began it, he was living in Weymouth, a coastal town about eight miles south of Dorchester, in the employ of the architect who had taken over some church restoration work from Hardy's former employer who had died.

Weymouth was a lively resort town and represented a kind of middle ground between his secluded rural upbringing in Bockhampton and his socially-dizzying stint in London. With a war of attrition being waged daily between the time demanded by his obligations as an assistant architect and his sense of urgency to complete a second manuscript while he still had the attention of reputable publishers, his social life seems to have remained somewhat simple and tied to colleagues from his work place and visits from his sister, Mary.

The creation of Desperate Remedies was a mash-up of the more palatable parts of The Poor Man and the Lady and his notion of what was popular among readers of serialized novels. His first work had been criticized for not having a plot strong enough to support his class invective. So, he toned down the class warfare angle of the book and built a plot featuring lots of twists and turns around what remained.

Millgate identifies the work of Wilkie Collins as an identifiable influence at work within Desperate Remedies. I highly suspect that Hardy's method of choosing something to model his second attempt upon was no more sophisticated than looking around to see what was selling and just ape it. However, there was more than one writer moving units and it's not hard to see why Hardy might have been drawn to Collins. He wrote in a genre called "sensation novels," a precursor to the soon to be very popular detective novel. He held unconventional views on marriage, highly critical of it as an institution, and was in a polyamorous relationship with two women throughout his life. He was drawn to telling stories about women in precarious situations, underscoring their vulnerabilities as, in many cases, a by product of a hypocritical and dysfunctional culture. Ironically, Collins's career would start to nose dive at the very moment that Thomas Hardy's was beginning.

Upon completing a draft of DR in the spring of 1870, Hardy sent it to Alexander Macmillan for consideration. Hardy made his fateful trip to survey the church at St. Juliot and, not long after he returned, Macmillan rejected it on the grounds that it dealt with issues too frank (mostly sexual in nature) for his publishing house. Undeterred, Hardy submitted it to another publisher who'd rejected The Poor Man and the Lady, William Tinsley. After reaching some consensus on edits for the final draft, Hardy accepted an offer to have it published in exchange for paying Tinsley £75 to guarantee costs. Hardy gave the edited manuscript to Emma to copy and, in April of 1871, Desperate Remedies was published.

The next installment of Joy Lies Slain will begin our examination of the book itself. This exploration will be essentially a three point essay and I expect to deliver it in five biweekly installments over the next two weeks beginning on Monday, April 25.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

First Verse

Thomas Hardy started writing poetry when he was in his teens, probably concurrent with his apprenticeship under an architect in nearby Dorchester. Hardy offers up a poem constructed of "Wordworthean lines" about his parents' house, titled "Domicilum" as his oldest surviving work, though he gives no clear indication of when it was written.

Thirteen poems written during his sojourn to London or shortly thereafter appear either near the beginning of Hardy's first volume of poetry Wessex Poems and Other Verses (published in 1898) or in the following volume Poems of the Past and Present (1901). A few of these poems ("Hap," "Neutral Tones," and "The Ruined Maid") rank among Hardy's most often anthologized.

These poems include:

Many of the poems utilize a form called a Petrarchan sonnet, differentiated from the traditional version by its grouping of the lines into two stanzas of four that set up a situation or pose a question and one stanza of six responding to it. "Hap," one of Hardy's most anthologized poems provides us with a good example.

Hap (1866)

If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love's loss is my hate's profiting!” 

Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so.   How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
—Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. . . .
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

The rhyme scheme in the first two stanzas is very conventional but the closing six lines (sestet) gives Hardy some room to play. Here he rhymes ABABBA. He uses less conventional closing rhyme schemes in "A Confession to a Friend in Trouble" (ABCCCC) and "Revulsion" (ABABAB) inside the same basic form.

His other favored form is poems built in four line stanzas (quatrains) of varying size. This form, identified as "Sapphic" in the undated poem, "The Temporary The All" shows Hardy's study and appreciation of classical forms and he blends it interestingly with almost a song refrain (with half the syllables of a full line) at the end of the line on poems like "Amabel" and "Postponement."

One of Hardy's most famous poems, "Neutral Tones" warrants a closer examination as it reveals not only his experimentation within the quatrain form but also intersects with his interest in art and painting in interesting ways.

Neutral Tones (1867)

We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
And a few leaves lay on the starving sod;
         – They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.

Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles of years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro
         On which lost the more by our love.

The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
         Like an ominous bird a-wing….

Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,
And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me
Your face, and the God curst sun, and a tree,
         And a pond edged with grayish leaves.

The first two stanzas have this almost sing-songy quality to the rhythm of each line.

We stood by a pond that win ter day
And the sun was white, as though chidd en of God
And a few leaves lay on the star ving sod
They had fal len from an ash and were gray

Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over te di ous ri ddles of years a go;
And some words played be tween us to and fro
         On which lost the more by our love.

But then, this happens:

The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
live enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bi tter ness swept there by
         Like an om i nous bird a- wing….

The way he places the three stress rhythm scheme (which appears elsewhere only in the fourth line of each stanza) into the second line of that critical stanza places an unmistakable emphasis on the word "die" and really brings the poem to a dramatic halt at the end of that line before continuing on.

Hardy also studied art with an eye towards writing art criticism during his time in London and this poem strikes me as an attempt to funnel some of that into his poetry. The "neutral tones" in question are, one level, the two colors mentioned in the poem (white and gray). It obviously also refers to the eerily detached narrative by describing this final conversation between former lovers only in what it would have looked like from a short distance away, with the words themselves being lost to that distance. By focusing on the visual, Hardy is essentially painting with verse.

Hardy's poems at the beginning of his career show an obviously debt of influence to both Wordsworth and Swinburne, both of whom used these forms he's playing with here. We can, however, see some of the defining qualities of both his fiction and poetry developing: his use of place and dialect ("The Ruined Maid"); his much-cited pessimism fueled by a mechanistic world view devoid of God ("Hap," "Her Dilemma"); and his penchant for dwelling on failed romances ("At a Bridal"). Hardy would continue to work within fairly traditional forms and structures until he transitioned into his career as a poet rather than novelist and these early poems give us an insightful glimpse into the poems he emulated while learning his craft.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Hardy's Lost, Unpublished Novel

The Poor Man and the Lady was Hardy's first completed attempt at writing a novel. It was written at a critical moment in his life, begun just after he'd left London, essentially admitting the demise of his dream to enter the clergy to justify continuing his formal education while also walking away from a career as a London architect. He justified leaving by citing concerns about his health from living in London but one catches a whiff of the irrational about it - a compulsion to return to Dorset to recover pieces of his former self after the transformational experience of living at the center of England's social and cultural heart.

Thomas Hardy around the time he wrote
The Poor Man and the Lady
Hardy's decision to funnel his creative powers into novel writing was grounded in pragmatism. He had begun writing poetry while in London but, even from that vantage, couldn't see any way to make a living doing it. He'd even done a little journalism on the side but it didn't suit his interests or temperament. We don't get the sense of great novels inspiring him to take on the form as his major influences were poets and essayists. In his The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, Hardy recounts a conversation where he declared his "indifference to a popular novelist's fame."

Hardy wrote the initial draft for the book in the second half of 1867 and made substantial edits in the process of recopying it for submission until the middle of 1868. The Poor Man and the Lady was not only unpublished but no amount of the original manuscript remains. What we know about the book we know mostly from correspondence between Hardy and the publishers to whom he shopped it, the elements from the book that were recycled into other forms (such as his follow-up effort Desperate Remedies as well as Hardy's later short story, "An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress"), and comments he made about it later in life.

The plot seems to have revolved around a doomed romance between a politically radical young architect and a woman of a considerably higher social status. They try to get married. People won't allow it. Her father tries to have her married off to someone of her social class. The young lovers marry in secret and then she dies suddenly. It's easy to see some classic elements of Hardy's fiction already at work in even this reduced version of the plot. The lead male character is an architect. The tension in the book centers around class anxiety and marriage.

What separates this early effort from Hardy's published novels to follow is the overt class criticism that appears to have filled its pages. We are certainly not invited to admire the land-holding Cytherea Aldclyffe in Desperate Remedies but neither is there the suggestion that all people of her social class are equally unlikeable. Several people, including publishers to whom the novel was submitted as well the readers they employed to assess its potential reception, make mention of the relentlessness with which Hardy attacks the upper classes in the book.

Honore de Balzac and W.M. Thackeray (whom Hardy identifies as someone he was reading during this period twice in his Life and Work) are both name checked as possible inspirations for his story, which leads us to another interesting line of inquiry. Is it possible that Hardy's first novel was rejected not only because it was immature work (ie very early in his development of the craft of novel writing) but also because it was blatantly literary, wearing its thematic concerns and ideology clearly on its sleeve?

Hardy took the work first to publisher Alexander Macmillan for consideration. I think it's worth mentioning that Macmillan was a connection (however distant) that Hardy owed to his old friend Horace Moule. Macmillan developed the book with Hardy for more than six months before deciding that he wouldn't be able to publish it and, even then, gave Hardy a letter of recommendation for another publisher to consider it. This feels like a favor being extended to Hardy on Moule's behalf and shows that, despite Hardy's apparent "failure" to establish himself permanently in London, the contacts he'd developed among those with more education and higher social standing than himself were paying off.

Ultimately, Hardy would shop the book to several publishers unsuccessfully before moving on to begin Desperate Remedies. His correspondence and the timbre of Desperate Remedies suggests that Hardy took some specific lessons away from his experiences with The Poor Man and the Lady. He went into his second novel trying to write something that would appeal to an audience that already existed rather than writing what appealed to him and hoping for the best.

He had also gained knowledge about how the publishing industry worked and was able to use that to make informed decisions when finally bringing his work to market. He also learned that most of the publishers and readers had latched onto his portrayal of rural people and his vivid physical descriptions as elements to retain for his next work. These were, of course, elements of his style that he would retain for the entirety of his career as a novelist.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Two Novels about Thomas Hardy

One of the many synchronicities that contributed to my starting this reading and writing journey was what seemed like a tiny explosion of novels written about Thomas Hardy - and by tiny explosion, I mean, two: Christopher Nicholson's Winter (January 2016) and Damien Wilkins's Max Gate (due in July of 2016). I was lucky enough to pull an advanced review copy of Max Gate, which I just finished today and it left me full of enough feels that I thought I might share my impressions of both books with you.

Winter retells the story of Hardy's late life infatuation with Gertrude Bugler, an actress local to Dorset who played in a number of his stories adapted for stage with local amateur players. Nicholson uses three points of view (Florence Hardy, Bugler and Hardy himself) to tell this rather maudlin tale that also serves as a snapshot of the final years of Hardy's life. Nicholson adopts Hardy's magisterial tone throughout the book, a rather postmodern conceit that traps Hardy inside of one of his own plots.

While Nicholson is far from apathetic to how Florence was slowly eroded by her marriage, he manages to keep Hardy a sympathetic if slightly frustrating player in this beautiful novel mostly at her expense. The reader is similarly grateful for the spare moment spent alone with Gertrude, just as Hardy must have been, if only for the contrast with Florence's relentless neuroses and complaints. As one might expect, Gertrude comes across the most sympathetically, something of a helpless pawn caught between an elderly man with a blurred sense of the line between fact and fantasy and his jealous wife who understands her husband's weaknesses all too well.

Winter is something of a wish fulfillment for the Hardy admirer as it offers one more chance to slip into a credible facsimile of Hardy's Wessex to experience a tragic love story. Nicholson doesn't skimp on the physical details that makes so much of Hardy's best work a pleasure to read. My only criticism of the novel was also one of its saving graces in that Nicholson spares us the worst tragedies that might have happened in an actual Hardy novel. Hardy's inevitable death (spoiler warning!) happens well off-stage and after the conclusion of the novel proper, in a denouement delivered by Gertrude Bugler. The execution is a little bloodless but I was grateful for his restraint.

Max Gate, from New Zealand's Damien Wilkins, is a very different kind of novel but no less compelling. Told from the perspective of a housekeeper at Hardy's home, Max Gate, the book captures the last days of the author's life with Hardy himself kept all but off-screen throughout. Its central concern is how it came to be that Hardy's ashes were interred in the Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey while his heart was buried in the cemetery at Stinsford, with his family and late wife, Emma.

Wilkins really carves out his own voice for this book and it's a little dizzying at times. Much of it works on basic blocking and dialogue inside of fixed spaces, not unlike a stage production. Nellie Titterington, the narrator, provides us with our rare forays outside of the vigil, usually in the form of flashbacks (and forwards). Hardy comes across as less sympathetic in the book as Florence manages our insights into his character as her husband and, less often, as a poet and writer.

The book is divided into two parts with (spoiler warning!) Hardy's death being the line of demarcation between them. Wilkins seems fascinated by the almost Byzantine maneuverings that led to the double burial and calls Sir Sydney Cockerell and Sir J.M. Barrie (of Peter Pan fame) out for orchestrating Hardy's admittance into the Poet's Corner without resolving either the issue of whether Hardy would have objected or if it was a good thing that they did comfortably for the reader.

Max Gate doesn't give the Hardy admirer as much to love but, as a novel, it seemed to meet its own goals in a stylish and thoughtful manner. There was one glaring historical inaccuracy that bugged me through the whole book and Wilkins turns it around at the end to make an important statement about the difference between history and narrative in a fashion that impressed me.

In conclusion, both novels were enjoyable and represent a rich moment for Hardy enthusiasts to get a Wessex fix of a new and unexpected kind.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Emma and Tom

Emma Gifford Hardy
Given Thomas Hardy's propensity for modeling his fictional characters and circumstances on people and events in his own life, positing that his first wife Emma casts an oversized shadow on his work borders on hyperbole. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the influence she exerts from within his work is unlike any other person in his life. She served as the direct model for his fictional heroines far fewer times than one might suspect and, no doubt, than she might have preferred. Hardy invoked her most often in his poems after her death. Her greatest presence in his fiction appears obliquely in his relentless exploration of marriage as a manifold burden on the human animal.

The Hardy's marriage was not a happy one for either of them but most of that unpleasantness lies just beyond the scope of this post. I want to explore who Emma Gifford was and how she and Tom became a couple because, as usual, elements of that reappear in ways minor and major in his fiction and poetry.

They met at St. Juliot, home to a church in Cornwall nearly 150 miles to the south and west of Dorset, that Hardy had been sent to restore (ie mostly demolish and build again). Emma's sister was married to the reverend attached to the church and Emma lived with them as a general helper. This may have been more a title of convenience as both sisters had been forced to rely upon one another for support (financial, emotional etc) after a downturn in their family's fortunes.

Emma's father was a solicitor (like a barrister but of a slightly lower social status as they could not argue cases in court) but retired early in his career to live off of his mother's holdings. When she died, the family moved into more meagre dwellings and sent Emma and Helen out into the world to secure some kind of gainful employment and, we must assume, husbands. While Hardy's fascination with his possible lineal ties to better positioned 'Hardye's of generations past may have ignited his penchant for stories that hinged on the idea of "fallen blood," Emma's own family had taken this tumble within her lifetime and Hardy would have been well-positioned to see how their social demeanor was totally at odds with their contemporary accommodations because of it.

When Hardy arrived in St. Juliot, he had completed the manuscript for his first novel The Poor Man and the Lady (which was never published) and, having finally given up on finding a suitable publishing home for it, had followed up with Desperate Remedies. He was having success taking architecture jobs on his own terms even while nursing the wounds of his realization that he was now too old and too educationally disadvantaged to ever reach his goal of attending university in order to join the clergy. He was also coming off the definitive end to an ambiguous "agreement" (like a precursor to an actual engagement) with a young lady named Eliza Nicholls that had gone on for several years.

I offer this as evidence that Thomas, three months before his 30th birthday, was primed for a romantic adventure away from home and that's just what he found. They pair appears to have kissed for the first time at the end of his week-long visit to make sketches and then engaged in a romance, sometimes in person, sometimes by correspondence over the next four years. Emma took an active role in Hardy's emerging career as a writer by copying his manuscripts for final submission to publishers. He write Under the Greenwood Tree, A Pair of Blue Eyes and Far from the Madding Crowd before they finally married in 1874.

We'll close out our look with an acknowledgment that the Hardys' marriage was frowned upon by both of their families. Emma's father seems to have rejected Hardy as a possible partner to his daughter because of his relative lower social position. The Hardys seem to have rejected her because she was an outsider and an open threat to Jemima's plans to have the children remain unmarried. The Hardys, as I've mentioned before, did not attend the ceremony.

There's considerable biographical and textual evidence that the engagement and reservations on both sides of the family were overcome by a pregnancy scare and that it may have been a deliberate deception in which Thomas was not an inside player. This incident and the lack of children to emerge from their union cast its own pall upon their relationship and seems to mark a definite line in time between their courtship, a source of great inspiration to Hardy's work, and their marriage, a source of great turmoil to both participants.