Book Bits ; A Biography of Thomas Hardy, a Collection of Essays from the Monitor's Robert Klose, Three Books about Animals, and Readers' Picks

The Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 2007 | Go to article overview

Book Bits ; A Biography of Thomas Hardy, a Collection of Essays from the Monitor's Robert Klose, Three Books about Animals, and Readers' Picks


Thomas Hardy, By Claire Tomalin

When English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy wed Emma Gifford, the rosy-cheeked young woman he'd met in Cornwall, he was unquestionably marrying for love. But the union ultimately soured, and 38 years later, at the time of her death in 1912, Mrs. Hardy was a neglected wife and rather pathetic figure.

Almost from the moment of her passing, however, her husband found himself engulfed in grief and regret, suddenly awash in memories of his early passion for her. For the rest of Hardy's life, despite his remarriage to an attractive younger woman with whom he had been involved while Emma still lived, Emma remained his muse, inspiring poetry that some consider to be Hardy's best work.

Hardy's yearning memories of Emma were "a fiction," his second wife complained bitterly, "but a fiction in which their author has now come to believe!"

In order to understand such behavior, says Claire Tomalin in her insightful new biography ~~b~~Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man~~/ b~~, one must grasp "the width of the gap between [Hardy's] imaginative life and the day-to-day events going on around him."

Apparently for Hardy it was ever so. As a sensitive young boy growing up in southern England, he internalized the sights and sounds of rural life while setting his heart on a far grander future. Later, he immersed himself in literature even as he trained to be an architect.

Hardy was a relatively young man when "Far from the Madding Crowd" was published in 1874, assuring him fame and financial security for the rest of his days.

Yet even as he went on to enjoy the trappings of middle-class affluence and respectability, he churned out dark novels reflecting a belief in a hostile universe - a worldview seemingly at odds with Hardy's comfortable bourgeois existence. Hardy's personal favorite, "The Return of the Native" (1878) repelled both critics and the public when it was first published, and a horrified Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" (1891) that it was "not alive, not true ... not even honest." Some critics renamed his late masterpiece "Jude the Obscure" (1895) "Jude the Obscene."

Tomalin, an acclaimed literary biographer ("Jane Austen: A Life," "Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self") offers an intelligent and thorough examination of Hardy, a worthy read for all curious about the richly imaginative world created by a man for whom, as Tomalin makes clear, the inner life was all.

~~b~~ - Marjorie Kehe~~/b~~

By a Monitor writer

Robert Klose has long been a favorite with readers of the Home Forum page of The Christian Science Monitor. His essays chronicle everything from nostalgia for the quirky charm of his urban New Jersey childhood to the more rural delights of daily life in Maine to the peculiar challenges and rewards of teaching biology to college students. Perhaps his most memorable pieces, however, have been those about his adoptions, as a single man, of first Alyosha (from Russia) and later Anton (from Ukraine.) Klose turned the story of Alyosha's adoption into a book titled "Adopting Alyosha: A Single Man Finds a Son in Russia."

More recently, the University of Missouri has published a collection of Klose's essays called ~~b~~Small Worlds: Adopted Sons, Pet Piranhas, and Other Mortal Concerns~~/b~~. …

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