Monday, May 30, 2016

Desperate Remedies Part 5 - Burning Down the House

Hardy uses the revelation of Aeneas Manston's married status as an ironic opportunity to rehabilitate his character in the eyes of the reader. He doesn't struggle against his regrettable fate of being married to someone he does not love but, instead, works diligently to make his home ready for her. His failure to meet her at the right time is chalked up to a genuine misunderstanding.

In fact, Hardy draws a couple of new parallels between Manston and Edward Springrove that invite us to question if Cytherea's heart is unfairly biased towards the latter. Manston's unfortunate marriage calls to mind something Owen Graye says about Springrove earlier in the book, describing him as "an impulsive fellow who has been made to pay the penalty of his rashness in some love affair." Later, as Manston arrives in town, he sees Springrove for the first time, noting that "[b]ut for my wife, Springrove might have been my rival." Both are architects and their shared affection for Cytherea draws a clear line between them.

So it is a wicked trick Hardy plays in burning down the Carriford inn with the wayward Mrs. Manston inside. Upon this hinge, the two men's fortunes reverse.

Aeneas Manston is set free of his social obligation to his wife upon her death. His designs to woo Cytherea Graye had been brought to a grinding halt by the revelation that he was already married. This doesn't improve Cytherea's own social instability, as she remains reliant upon the capricious grace of Miss Aldclyffe as her employer but, at least, retaining that favor is no longer dependent on her reciprocating affection to the obviously smitten Manston. With the spectre of his wife's return banished, he is also free to retrain his sights on wearing down Cytherea's resolve.

The inn's destruction lands heavily on the Springrove family. The tenements, including the inn, were leased to Farmer Springrove along with the responsibility for having them restored. This debt, subtly enforced to Manston's benefit, threatens to send the family into a social chasm and pushes Edward out of the picture while Manston restarts his campaign to win Cytherea as his wife.

When Owen falls ill, Manston befriends and supports him. This proves to be the final point of leverage necessary to erode Cytherea's resistance to marrying a man that she does not love. Finally, the day arrives and the pair are married at Knapwater House. During the ceremony, Cytherea sees a grief-stricken Edward and all of her reservations about marrying Manston are confirmed. Though the ill-fated pair do manage a dramatic reunion far from the sight of others where miscommunications can be clarified, Cytherea is now married and they part with their love acknowledged but forever unconsummated.

This business of consummation becomes a suddenly important one as Cytherea and Manston leave for their honeymoon. It is revealed by a dying man that he saw the original Mrs. Manston after the inn had burned down, suggesting that she was, in fact, alive. Edward and Owen rush to the hotel where Cytherea and Manston are about to consummate their marriage and arrive just in time to stop them from doing so. This sets up the status quo for the remainder of the book, with Cytherea legally married to a man she doesn't love and spared from his touch only by the existence of a second Mrs. Manston.

This is also the section where Desperate Remedies abandons its pretenses of being a social novel and plunges into reversal after reversal to sell its pivot to the suspenseful.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Desperate Remedies Part 4 - The Wedding March

Hardy takes the first third of the book to erect and clarify the social lattice upon which his characters hang. Beginning in the eighth section, he sows the elements of suspense that will germinate in its middle third and blossom in the conclusion.

Miss Aldclyffe, upon confirming Edward Springrove (her neighbor's son) as Cytherea's estranged love, advertises for a steward to manage the land associated with Knapwater House. After rejecting a number of suitable applicants, she casts her nets of inquiry ever wider until, at last, she finds a candidate who suits her enigmatic requirements.

Enter Aeneas Manston.

Hardy introduces Manston with considerable fanfare. He is first "seen" by the reader when Miss Aldclyffe sends Cytherea to Manston's somewhat dilapidated house on the property in order to collect his dues for a social society. She encounters him just after having learned of Edward's betrothal to his cousin and is vulnerable. Hardy paints his physical description with the same vigor as he would one of his heroines:

He was an extremely handsome man, well-formed, and well-dressed...There was not a blemish or a speck of any kind to mar the smoothness of [his complexion] or the beauty of its hue. Next, his forehead was square and broad, his brows straight and firm, his eyes penetrating and clear...Eyes and forehead both would have expressed keenness of intellect too severely to be pleasing, had their force not been counteracted by the lines and tone of the lips. These were full and luscious to a surprising degree, possessing a woman-like softness of curve, and a ruby redness so intense, as to testify strongly to much susceptibility that might require all the ballast of brain with which he had previously been credited to confine within normal channels.

His manner was rather elegant than good: his speech well-finished and unconstrained.

Hardy brings his best descriptive tools to bear on making a memorable first impression, setting the stage at dusk as rain begins to fall heavily. Cytherea is urged by the inclement weather into the house where Manston plays dramatic music on his organ (I can't make this stuff up) as lightning flashes in the raging storm outside an oversized window that dominates the room. She leaves the encounter somewhat intrigued by him but he, of course, falls madly in love with her.

The middle section of the novel is taken up by an inexorable march towards a marriage between Cytherea and Manston and begins to take on more qualities of a suspense novel at the expense of its social elements. Twists in the plot cease to work in service to the social anxieties and more in that of heightening the tension (and delaying the arrival) of that certain-to-be unhappy union. Cytherea, despite Edward Springrove's absence from her life, continues to nurture her love for him even as her dependency shifts from Miss Aldclyffe to that of her unwelcome suitor. His interest in her is succinctly laid out in a passage where he describes her as, "a lady's dependent, a waif, a helpless thing entirely at the mercy of the world; yes, curse it; that is just why it is; that fact of her being so helpless against the blows of circumstances which renders her so deliciously sweet."

Cytherea is granted a surprise reprieve from Manston's persistent affections when Miss Aldclyffe discovers that he is already married, by his own admission, to an actress he'd met in Liverpool ("an American by birth") and from whom he'd tried to estrange himself in taking the position as steward. He is allowed to keep his job if he will move his wife into the old manor home with him. He sends for the wayward Mrs. Manston, whom he admittedly does not love, to meet him. When he doesn't meet her at the train station at the appointed time, she travels to the nearby village of Carriford and takes overnight lodging at the inn, owned by Edward Springrove's father.

The inn burns down and, it is presumed, takes Mrs. Manston with it.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Desperate Remedies Part 3 - Let's Pretend We're Married

As I was writing the last section on social anxiety, it occurred to me that sex and marriage play interesting roles worth exploring in both the suspenseful and social aspects of the book.

Four of the five main characters of Desperate Remedies are entangled, at some point, in a conflict about marriage. In the opening section of the book, it is revealed that the woman who will be known as Miss Aldclyffe can't marry Ambrose Graye, whom she loves, because of a dark secret in her past. Edward Springrove can't marry Cytherea Graye because he is already betrothed to his cousin. Cytherea can't resist marrying Aeneas Manston, whom she does not love, because of her brother's ailing health and her precarious social situation.

It's valuable to remember that Hardy had spent the roughly ten years previous to writing this book thinking a lot about marriage and the effects (positive and negative) that it could have on his own emotional and social well being. He had searched, in vain, for a future bride with whom he was intellectually compatible but would also satisfy his mother's impossible standards for a wife worthy of joining the Hardy family. It had been ten years playing the "What if?" game, carefully weighing the value of enjoying someone's company against pleasing his mother against the possibility of social mobility, both upward and downward, depending on his choices.

It's tempting to read some of these anxieties into this passage, where Owen Graye describes a conversation to his sister he'd had with Springrove about marriage:

He says that your true lover breathlessly finds himself engaged to a sweetheart, like a man who has caught something in the dark. He doesn't know whether it is a bat or a bird, and he takes it to the light when he is cool to learn what it is. He looks to see if she is the right age, but right age or wrong age, he must consider her a prize. Right kind or wrong kind--he has called her his and must abide by it. After a time, he asks himself, "Has she the temper, hair and eyes I meant to have, and was firmly resolved not to do without?" He finds it is all wrong, and then comes the tussle--"

Due to the social mores of Hardy's time, the presence of sex is almost all implied, either constrained to the past or threatening like an ominous bird a-wing beyond the next plot twist but never arriving. There are two overt intersections of sex with the plot that I want to delay discussing until we get into the suspense elements of the plot but there's one interaction that bears closer consideration relative to the social elements.

On the very first evening that Cytherea spends at Knapwater House with Miss Aldclyffe, the latter comes to her bedroom for a very long and awkward visit that lasts the night.

She got a light in an instant, opened the door and raising her eyes and the candle, saw Miss Aldclyffe standing outside in her dressing-gown.

'Now you see that it is really myself; put out the light,' said the visitor. 'I want to stay here with you, Cythie. I came to ask you to come down into my bed, but it is snugger here. But remember that you are mistress in this room, and that I have no business here, and that you may send me away if you choose. Shall I go?"

'O no; you shan't indeed if you don't want,' said Cythie generously.

The instant they were in bed Miss Aldclyffe freed herself from the last remnant of restraint. She flung her arms round the young girl, and pressed her gently to heart.

'Now kiss me,' she said.

Cytherea, upon the whole, was rather discomposed at this change of treatment; and, discomposed or no, her passion were not so impetuous as Miss Aldclyffe's. She could nor bring her soul to her lips for a moment, try how she would.

'Come, kiss me,' repeated Miss Aldclyffe.

Cytherea gave her a very small one, as soft in touch and in sound as the bursting of a bubble.

'More earnestly than that - come.'

She gave another, a little but not much more expressively.

'I don't deserve a more feeling one, I suppose,' said Miss Aldclyffe, with an emphasis of sad bitterness in her tone. 'I am an ill-tempered woman, you think, half out of my mind; Well, perhaps I am; but I have had grief more than you can think or dream of. But I can't help loving you - your name is the same as mine - isn't it strange?'

Critics and readers alike are torn as to whether Hardy intended this scene to be erotic. Those inclined against that reading can plausibly point to evidence in the plot structure that suggests Hardy is just establishing Miss Aldclyffe as Cytherea's surrogate mother-figure, describing a later kiss in the scene as "warm motherly salute, given as if in the outburst of strong feeling, long checked, and yearning for something to love and be loved in return."

Still, this scene (which goes on for a very long time) stands out as one of the only moments in the book where two characters actually touch one another (in the same bed, unchaperoned except by the reader). It's not hard for me to believe that Hardy may have constructed the scene with the strictest notions of plot structure in mind while being aware that the (mis)interpretation of more prurient readers may have been more racy than that of his own.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Desperate Remedies Part 2 - Chutes and Ladders

Like many of Thomas Hardy's novels, Desperate Remedies relies on social class and status anxieties to fuel at least half of its conflicts. Unlike the suspense elements of the plot, which find their clearest expression in tight, linear storytelling, the social aspects of the novel are most visible over spans of time. Hardy assigns a span of time (and thus a name) to each of the book's 22 sections, ranging from a few hours to thirty years, which allows him to pivot from one set of narrative priorities to the other with relative ease.

The suspense elements don't really enter the plot until the arrival of Aeneas Manston in the seventh section of the book so we can narrow our focus down to almost purely the social for the sections preceding.

Hardy opens Remedies with a story that gives the book its multigenerational depth. A young Cambridge educated architect, Ambrose Graye, falls in love with a young woman named Cytherea who mysteriously rejects his marriage proposal despite her obvious affection for him . Eventually, her family moves away after her mother inherits a considerable sum of money and Ambrose is forced to move on with his life.

He, in turn, marries a woman of some means and, though he never recovers emotionally from his first love, they have two children together, Owen and his younger sister Cytherea. His wife dies in the eighteenth year of their marriage and Ambrose, saddened, presumably, by her loss, throws himself into his work like never before. Then, one day, as Cytherea (his daughter) is watching him work atop church tower, Ambrose Graye falls to his death.

This is one of those rare moments where Hardy sells his central metaphor about social anxiety in some moment-to-moment storytelling and it happens very early in the book.

"Round the conical stonework rose a cage of scaffolding against the blue sky, and upon this stood five men--four in clothes as white as the new erection close beneath their hands, the fifth in the ordinary dark suit of a gentlemen.

The four working-men in white were three masons and a mason's labourer. The fifth man was the architect , Mr. Graye...[Cytherea] moved herself uneasily, 'I wish he would come down,' she whispered, still gazing at the sky-backed picture. 'It is so dangerous to be absent-minded up there.'

When she had done murmuring the words her father indecisively laid hold of one of the scaffold-poles, as if to test its strength, then let it go and stepped back. In stepping, his foot slipped. An instant of doubling forward and sideways, and he reeled off into the air, immediately disappearing downwards."

Ambrose Graye's literal fall to the earth becomes a potent a symbol for his children's fate. After his death, it is discovered that he was in a great deal of debt and his children are not only deprived of their expected inheritance but saddled with that obligation and accompanying shame.

In order to escape the stigma of their now fallen social and economic condition, the pair leave the only home they've ever known and set up in Budmouth, where Owen finds tenuous work as an architect's clerk and Cytherea hopes to find a position as a governess. Quickly, a romance blossoms between Cytherea and a young architect named Edward Springrove but, in a tragic turn that mirrors that of her father, her suitor disappears with only a cryptic goodbye indicating that it could never have worked out between them. Thus deprived of her opportunity to improve upon her own social insecurity, Cytherea falls into the orbit of a land-holding local aristocrat named Miss Adclyffe who hires her as a personal maid. Hardy reveals, in fairly short order, that Miss Adclyffe is none other than the woman with whom Cytherea's father had originally fallen in love and for whom she was named.

In this opening setting of the board, Hardy places his characters masterfully in dynamic social orbits that rise and fall over time, echoed in Owen's observation that, "[a]s we come down the hill, we shall be continually meeting people going up."

Ambrose Graye had the social status (and promise of future wealth) sufficient to wed Cytherea (the elder) who, we are told, hailed from a family with a lofty name but little wealth to use it to their social benefit. Her secret that made it impossible for them to marry (which remains unexposed until late in the book) weighs heavy on her heart thirty years later. More pragmatically, though, it bought her time enough to add wealth to her name so that she married well up the social ladder from her first love, Ambrose.

Ambrose, due to his unwillingness to release his grief, eventually slides down the chute, depositing his children upon his death at the last stop before destitution. The first moral lesson is clear: Do not dwell over the loss of first love or risk ruin.

Cytherea's situation begins more dire than her father's and her gender only magnifies the risk of descending into a life unrecognizable for a woman of her education and background. Her brother Owen is saddled with an education and training unequipped to handle the burdens he inherits as well as the stigma of his father's sad, final fate. He cannot protect Cytherea from the necessity of marriage as a remedy to forestall her otherwise inevitable slide into desperate poverty.