I find that whenever I pick up a work by Hardy, I know I’ll be reading something good. I’ve read many of his stories, and so far I’ve yet to be disappointed. His “last” novel is certainly not an exception.
I really liked that you get two stories in one with this book. It’s kind of like watching a remake of a film: It allows you to analyze the different takes on a scene, the subtle changes in the plot, and various modifications in the dialogue. In that way, I thought reading this book was a fun exercise, giving the reader a glimpse into the mind of the author during his writing process.
I have a feeling that if Hardy wrote The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved
one hundred years earlier, I have a sneaking suspicion that it would have been better received. I don’t think that audience would’ve been as shocked or appalled by the story as Hardy’s more morally inclined Victorian audience. In summation, it has a rather grotesque plot: An old lecherous man lusting after three girls—grandmother, mother, and daughter—over forty years, masking his desire as a “search for the Ideal” woman: the Well-Beloved. To tell the truth, when I was doing research on Hardy, I was very hesitant upon reading this book; thought it would be too much for my sensibilities. But now I’m glad I did. I found that Hardy masked the grotesque nature of the story with humor. The book’s full of great lines that made me giggle. For instance,
“Well – though you seemed handsome and gentlemanly at first… I found you too old soon after.”
“But there was history in his face—distinct chapters of it; his brow was not the blank page it once had been. He knew the origin of that line in his forehead; it had been ploughed in the course of a month or two by a crisis in his matrimonial trouble. He remembered the coming of this pale wiry hair… This wrinkled corner, that drawn bit of skin….”
“Where have you been so long, Avice?” sternly asked the man of nine-and-fifty. “I will tell you,” said Sweet-and-Twenty, with breathless humility.”
“In its place was a wrinkled crone, with a pointed chin, her figure bowed, her hair as white as snow. To this once handsome face had been brought by the raspings, chisellings, stewings, bakings, and freezings of forty years. The Juno of that day was the Witch of Ednor of this.”
“I am sorry to shock you,” she said. “But the moth eats the garment somewhat in five-and-thirty years.”
Thomas Hardy’s truly a wicked man! *
grins* The Well-Beloved
is certainly a better work than its predecessor. Here, Hardy allows the story to go full circle. Pierston’s early choices are revisited upon him as an old man. And Hardy’s not as cruel in his descriptions of aging and decrepitude. He also offers a better explanation for the actions of Avice the second in regards to her daughter. This Avice is more cunning and artful, exploiting her knowledge for her daughter’s gain and benefit. But I did miss the interactions between Pierston, Henri, and Avice the third that were in the first book, though I do understand why they were eliminated, since it wouldn’t have worked for Hardy's new overall plan.
Definitely worth the read, though I must say it’s not as good as some of his other novels.