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Read mainly while in Vienna.

This would be the third Hardy novel I've read in my life: the other two being Tess of the D'Urbervilles for A-level, and Jude the Obscure when I first moved to Oxford. The trajectory of the title character is much the same in all three cases: they make a foolish mistake in early life, appear to bounce back from it, enjoy a period of happiness and / or prosperity, find to their cost that their early mistake is not so inescapable as they thought, and finally die in ignominy and despair. This is, of course, a classic tragic plot as the ancient Greeks would have recognised it: much the same happens, for example, to Sophocles' Oedipus.

Some people find this sort of stuff depressing, but personally I love it. If there's one thing tragedies certainly have it is Romance. Like a crumbling ancient ruin, they speak eloquently of the vanity of human endeavour and the transience of life and worldly success: and the lapsed Goth in me can't get enough of that. Hardy's tragedies, though, have a lot more to them than forehead-stapling. I remember being struck when we read Tess at school by how cleverly he wove symbols and metaphors out of the landscapes which his characters move around: and this was very much true again here. His well-defined secondary characters, observations of human nature and rich vocabulary only add to the pleasure.

Around the time I started reading this book, I found out that Ciarán Hinds had starred as the eponymous Mayor (Michael Henchard) in a 2003 TV adaptation of the story - I think because I also saw Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day around the same time, and was browsing through his IMDb page in the wake of that. I haven't seen the adaptation, but just knowing that made me see the character of Henchard with his features all the time I was reading - and in my brain at least, he put in an excellent performance!

So, just as watching Brideshead has made me all the more determined to read the book, reading this has inspired me to hunt down the TV series. It's all good.

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 10th, 2008 07:56 pm (UTC)
There was also a somewhat transposed Western film version of it, with I think Peter Mullan in the lead, called The Claim.

(I adore Hardy, but confess to giggling at Old Father Time and his murderous/suicidal cupboard moment in Jude...)
Oct. 10th, 2008 08:00 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I see how it would work as a Western, with all the suppressed 'this town ain't big enough for the both of us' tensions between Henchard and Farfrae (who, incidentally, was played in my personal imaginary screen adaptation by David Tennant). I must keep an eye out for that.
Oct. 10th, 2008 08:00 pm (UTC)
May I recommend Far From the Madding Crowd? It was the first novel Hardy set in Wessex, and it's heroine is arguably more spirited and independent than Tess.
Oct. 10th, 2008 08:03 pm (UTC)
Yes, I will definitely get to that some time. In fact, I borrowed The Mayor of Casterbridge from my Mum, and at the time when I did so I actually held both it and Far From the Madding Crowd up in my hands and said to her, "Which one of these two books do you think is best?" She ummed and ahed a bit, and eventually chose Mayor, which is why I read it. But it could equally have gone either way.
Oct. 11th, 2008 08:48 am (UTC)
Perhaps I should give Hardy another shot. But I loathed Mayor of Casterbridge when forced to read it for GCSE. The loathing was so universal, indeed, that I received some stick from my classmates for coming from the same county as Hardy.
Oct. 12th, 2008 08:50 pm (UTC)
It can go either way with books you read at school - and I think a lot depends on the teacher you have. I don't know enough about your literary preferences1 to know whether you'd like Hardy now. But if you want to give him a go, I'd recommend Jude the Obscure, as your experience of Oxford and its University will give you more to relate to in that than I think you would have found in The Mayor of Casterbridge.

1. Specifically, I know some of the things you like, e.g. James Bond, Molesworth, SF, spy thrillers, but am less sure about where your dislikes might fall.

Edited at 2008-10-12 08:50 pm (UTC)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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