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.

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