NEARLY fifty years ago I read my first novel by Thomas Hardy. This experience I have often tried in vain to forget. When I was feeling ill, I opened a novel with the agreeable title A Pair of Blue Eyes. After I had read about two hundred pages, it appeared that the heroine and the two heroes were in a most unpleasant predicament; I myself saw no way out; but I had read so many novels where unpromising situations were neatly changed that I read on in a fool's paradise, thinking the author would exert his magic in the right way. I have since often advised those who read this novel to stop when they are about two- thirds of the way through, and then ask themselves this question--What is the worst possible way in which this story can reach a conclusion? No reader can imagine an ending more shatteringly tragic than the one provided. When I came to that last page, I threw the volume across the room; I vowed I would never read another novel by Thomas Hardy; I went to bed and stayed there one week. Such was the effect produced on me by a pair of blue eyes. Within a year I had read every one of his books.
He seemed to me the foremost living English novelist and to belong to the great tradition. Hence I was eager to meet him.
As it turned out, I forced myself upon his leisure in a way that I suppose is unpardonable; and yet, although I repent some of my sins, I have never felt any regret for this.