I have not read Thomas Hardy for some time. There were reasons for it. A few years back, after I read and fell in love with his Far from the Madding Crowd, I chose to read The Return of the Native. It was one of the five famous novels of the author. For some reason, it didn’t have the same charm for me that the Madding Crowd had. I was invested neither in the plot nor in its characters. It was a total disappointment, and I was forced to give it up lest I’ll have a serious fallout with Hardy. The next choice was Tess, and it put me in an even more precarious position, for I found the story to be too depressing. Perhaps, my mood was not receptive at that time, but the end story was, I gave up reading Hardy altogether.
Recently I have been feeling the need to return to a Victorian classic. I wanted to read a “proper” story and take a break from the plotless or/and philosophical works I have been reading lately. That is when I thought that it may now be time to give another try on Hardy. With much trepidation, I ventured on The Mayor of Casterbridge. I needn’t have feared, for in The Mayor of Casterbridge, I found the most favourite Hardy novel that I’ve read so far.
The story revolves around the protagonist, Michael Henchard. His one reckless action in his youth, committed under intoxication, sets in motion the events that form the main storyline. The first impression the reader forms on Henchard is a negative one. His wild actions don’t call for much sympathy. As the story progresses, however, we see a somewhat repentant Henchard who is eager to right his wrongs. But this new, matured Henchard is no saint. He is still governed by his inherent flaws. Thus his actions, beginning with good intentions, are ultimately governed by his pride, his temper, and the false image that he is desperate to preserve. Henchard is not a likable character; but rather than disliking him, I found him interesting. His actions, committed in justification of his selfish motives, amused me. I truly felt sorry for the man and his poor antics.
The rest of the characters were a mixed lot with differing ages and stations in life. All of them are flawed and none, perfect. Yet, they were quite likable in their flawed selves and felt like everyday neighbours that one can easily connect with. Like Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd, Hardy makes Donald Farfrae the saviour of the day in The Mayor of Casterbridge. And like Gabriel Oak, Donald Farfrae, too, won my heart. I liked their equanimity.
The brilliance of his writing is one of my major attractions to Hardy. It is so beautiful and poetic. One can savour every word he writes. It’s rich and enthralling. I also love the way he brings the atmosphere to life as if it were another character. He most certainly takes the readers into an ethereal world. Hardy’s stories are evocative statements of rural culture and people’s lifestyle, quite a contrast to the urban reformism of Dickens. The only drawback for me is that some of his novels are too depressing which jars on my peace of mind. After all, we read for relaxation and enjoyment, and not to feel dejected.
I do like Hardy as an author. Although his every work is not for me, I’m delighted when I discover a novel that I can fully appreciate. I certainly will be reading more of his works although I know I must tread the field carefully.