I have long associated Thomas Hardy with novels – The Return of the Native, Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D’Urbevilles and Jude the Obscure. What I was only vaguely aware of was his poetry – with 10 collections published during his lifetime and at least eight after he died in 1924. His novels fall into what would be the “Later Victorian” period of English literature; his poetry largely in the Edwardian period.
I’ve read two of his novels – The Return of the Native (high school required reading) and Jude the Obscure (extra college reading). Recently I started reading his poetry, and one volume led me to an early novel he wrote, A Pair of Blue Eyes. I found it on Amazon – and the Kindle version is free.
It is a romance, and it reads as much like Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens as it does Thomas Hardy. It was first published in 1873 in Tinsley’s Magazine, and it was the first novel Hardy published under his own name (two previous novels did not sell well).
Interestingly enough, this is the novel believed to have given birth to the expression “a cliffhanger,” because there is a scene in which a character literally hangs off the edge of a cliff.
The language is old-fashioned. The story is old-fashioned; its class considerations seem odd today. Hardy spends a great deal of time and attention on describing the setting, and the countryside of Wessex becomes almost a character in its own right as well as an important element for establishing mood.
A Pair of Blue Eyes is also autobiographical. Hardy trained as an architect. He met his first wife in Wessex. She was considered of a better class than he was. After her death, he would write several volumes of poetry about her, and revisit the area where they first met and fell in love. But that’s another – and surprising – part of the story that I’ll be writing about next week at The Master’s Artist.
In the meantime, I am thoroughly enjoying this old-fashioned romantic love story, full of all the elements Victorian readers held dear.
Illustration, top: from the original publication of A Pair of Blue Eyes in Tinsley’s Magazine, 1873, by artist James Abbott Pasquier; via The Victorian Web. Illustration, middle: Thomas Hardy in his younger days. Illustration, bottom: the cover of a contemporary version of the Hardy novel.