The young Thomas Hardy, working as an architect, but fired with literary ambition, tried for years to get into print. He finally succeeded with Desperate Remedies, a 'sensation novel' in the mode of Wilkie Collins. Here was a racy specimen of the genre, replete with sudden death, dark mysteries, intriguing clues, fire and storm, flight and pursuit.
Anyone who enjoys The Woman in White is likely to enjoy Desperate Remedies. But that is only half the story. Hardy contrived also, in this unlikely context, to give a first airing to various of the ideas and technical experiments which were to characterise his later fiction. The result is an exhilaratingly uneven work: at any point in the narrative some brilliant passage of description or metaphor may burst out like a firework. Desperate Remedies can
Jude Fawley, the stonemason excluded not by his wits but by poverty from the world of Christminster privilege, finds fulfilment in his relationship with Sue Bridehead. Both have left earlier marriages. Ironically, when tragedy tests their union it is Sue, the modern emancipated woman, who proves unequal to the challenge. Hardy's fearless exploration of sexual and social relationships and his prophetic critique of marriage scandalised the late Victorian establishment and marked the end of his career as a novelist.
None of the great Victorian novels is more vivid and readable than The Mayor of Casterbridge. Set in the heart of Hardy's Wessex, the 'partly real, partly dream country' he founded on his native Dorset, it charts the rise and self-induced downfall of a single 'man of character'.
The fast-moving and ingeniously contrived narrative is Shakespearian in its tragic force, and features some of the author's most striking episodes and brilliant passages of description.
Jude Fawley is a rural stone mason with intellectual aspirations. Frustrated by poverty and the indifference of the academic institutions at the University of Christminster, his only chance of fulfilment seems to lie in his relationship with his unconventional cousin, Sue Bridehead. But life as social outcasts proves undermining, and when tragedy occurs, Sue has no resilience and Jude is left in despair.
Hardy’s portrait of Jude, the idealist and dreamer who is a prisoner of his own physical nature, is one of the most haunting and desperate of his creations. Jude the Obscure is a dark yet compassionate account of the insurmountable frustrations of human existence which reflect Hardy’s yearning for the spiritual values of the past and his despair at their decline.
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