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.

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