Greetings, readers! Welcome to this week’s Boozy Books! I’m feeling very classic this week, and I thought I would celebrate one of the authors I came to admire only as an adult. In high school, the first time I read Thomas Hardy, I hated every minute of it, but his novels stuck with me over the years and, recently, I returned to them again. Now a “grown-up” (whatever that means) and likely because I wasn’t being forced to read Hardy, I really loved what I read.
I’m going to choose one of Hardy’s… lighter works for his first appearance, mostly because I’m not really feeling something as tragic as Jude the Obscure or semi-tragic as The Return of the Native (though I really, really considered doing that one this week to discuss the conflict between nature and society, and the doom of fighting one’s destiny). And I still haven’t entirely gotten over my dislike of Tess and The Mayor of Casterbridge. I think it’ll happen eventually, but I’m not pushing it.
I like Hardy these days because of his similarities to George Eliot, but also because he is as critical of Victorian society as Charles Dickens and as emotionally free as the Romantics (he considered himself a poet, actually, though most people know his novels first). He scandalized Victorian society by writing about extra-marital affairs, sympathetic “fallen women”, and bigamy in more than one of his novels. As an adult, I love his criticism of the social constraints placed on people in Victorian society, especially those that limited peoples’ lives. Anyone who criticizes the lack of education opportunities and freedom in marriage (esp. for women), and the effect of too much religion on society is good by me.
Also, did you know there is some belief that the term “cliffhanger” came as a result of one of his works? Yes. He gave us every season finale of every show ever. (Literally. A character LITERALLY is left hanging off a cliff at the end of one “episode”, as it were.)
But now the novel I did choose: Far from the Madding Crowd. The novel that gave Katniss her last name (you know… have to get that younger crowd to like Hardy somehow, right?).
Bathsheba Everdene (BEST NAME EVER, right?!) is far too proud. And not just because she values her independence (which is fine) or doesn’t really want to get married. She is too proud because she is used to being admired and has a tendency to stare at herself in mirrors for no reason. Yeah… proud and vain. She even despairs that God gave her such a beautiful face. Yeah. But that vanity is tempered by her good sense and self-determination. She becomes a formidable farmer and is shown to have good business sense and fierce dedication to both the venture and the people under her. And, despite being in charge, she isn’t afraid of a little hard work.
She is also intelligent and rational. Most of the time. The problem is that, because she is so willful and stubborn and independent, when she DOES have an irrational thought, it kinda… overwhelms her. And so much of the novel is driven by Bathsheba’s tendency to act on her irrational thoughts. She toys with a man’s affections by sending him a Valentine reading ‘marry me’ as a joke and then demurs when he acts on the feelings she engenders in him. When Gabriel Oak, the solid, steady presence in her life, rebukes her for it, she fires him (and is forced to swallow her pride to get him back when her flock suffers for his loss). And then there’s the stupidest decision she makes: she marries Sergeant Troy. Bathsheba is so used to toying with men, she is dumbfounded when Troy dares toy with her and, excited by the feelings he awakens in her, runs off with him (despite entertaining the proposal of that other guy, Mr. Boldwood.) This is a horrible decision with horrible consequences, and Bathsheba is finally forced to reckon with the fact that her pride and vanity have led to a lot of pain. Having learned this lesson, she finally gets a happy ending. And so does Gabriel Oak, who might actually be too good for her…
There was recently a movie version of this book. It’s good, but it leaves a lot out, like so many do. It does manage to capture Bathsheba and Gabriel really well, though, and Michael Sheen manages to out-act everyone in the joint despite having a relatively small part. Both sympathetic and slightly creepy at the same time. I do recommend the movie, though, for its beauty. So many of Hardy’s books are a celebration of a semi-fantastical rural England (they take place in Wessex, which Hardy named after the old Anglo-Saxon Kingdom) and the movie seems to really play on that.
But… what to drink? I think something with aspirations of grandeur. Something people drink when they want to be fancy… but it really isn’t. So… I’m going Cosmopolitan. This combination of vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice, and lime juice is absolutely perfect for the haughty, vain Miss Everdene. If, however, sensible Gabriel Oak is more your style, I’d stick with ale. No more than two… with a good meal. You’ve got shepharding to do, after all.
Well, that’s it for me today! A will be here tomorrow for Shakespeare!
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