Thomas Hardy, like George Eliot, is another one of those authors where I wonder why I've only read one of their works. I loved Tess of the D'Ubervilles, but read it nearly 10 years ago! I actually read it in the same college class in which I read Middlemarch. I liked both, yet haven't read either author again until this summer. Shame on me.
I finally read my second Hardy novel, Far from the Madding Crowd. I looooooove that title. I've never exactly been a people person and as an introvert, I desperately need quiet alone time. The idea of being "far from the madding crowd" sounds quite pleasant to me. I'm pretty sure Hardy was an introvert and not overly fond of people either as he always makes horrible things happen to his characters.
The most interesting thing about Hardy to me though is that he creates such vivid female characters who aren't villains. They don't always do the right thing, they get in trouble, and they seem real. Bathsheba runs a far in this novel, and isn't afraid to take charge. She was quickly becoming one of my favorite characters until...spoilers!!!! Stop reading if you don't want to know what happens. :)
Until she marries Troy. What was she thinking??? How could she give it all away for a late nineteenth century version of a frat boy? Especially when she has wonderful Gabriel - who even has the name of an angel in case you don't get it Bathsheba - ready to marry her and help with the farm and be her partner. (Hardy was not exactly subtle with names here. You know someone named Bathsheba is not going to make good decisions when it comes to men. I suppose one could also make a case for the fall of Troy playing a part in the naming process.)
But Bathsheba isn't the only female to come to ruin in the book. Fanny makes the mistake of loving Troy as well, resulting in the tragic death of her and her child. Really, sometimes Hardy could be mistaken for a bitter, recently dumped lady. However, it seems like Hardy always shows how the character could have made a different decision and saved herself. She was not destined to this wretched life. Both Bathsheba and Fanny have a choice in selecting a mate, unlike women a century earlier, like say Richardson's Clarissa. They aren't powerless at the hands of men like poor Clarissa - they brought their misery down on themselves by making the wrong choice.
How often does this still happen? Women fall for the bad boy and think they can be the one to change him. Maybe they don't look very hard and don't even see that he is a bad boy. Or they get caught up in some fantasy they spin about a guy and don't seem him for who he is. Or they marry who they think they should marry instead of who they actually love. Or they marry someone no one expects solely for that reason. I'm seeing something similar in Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady, which I'm currently still reading (it feels like it's been going on for.ev.er. even though I like it. Mostly. I see a lot of similarities between Bathsheba and Isabel.)
If you haven't read Hardy before, I think this might be a good place to start. It's not as polished as Tess, but it has a faster-paced plot and sets up some common themes that run through both books and that I have a feeling run through many of his works. I own several other Hardy novels and plan to read another one soon. No waiting nine years in between them again! If you've read Hardy, which novel is your favorite? Which should I read next?
Ack! I forgot to mention this is on my Classics Club list! It's also my first official review for the Classics Club! I apologize if this shows up in your readers twice because I went back and added this in after publishing.