My list of Thomas Hardy's read to date is woefully sparse and it was all holding so much promise when I picked up Thomas Hardy The Time Torn Man by Claire Tomalin last year (or was it the year before?)
The trouble was I started this in the wake of finishing England's Mistress by Kate Williams thinking I was into a biography phase and should go with the flow, only to find that Thomas didn't quite carry the allure and fascination of Emma Hamilton.Then I picked up A Pair of Blue Eyes for some good local Thomas Hardy reading and made even less progress, so project temporarily abandoned pending more auspicious alignment of the reading planets.
Nothing more auspicious than going off to hear Claire Tomalin speak at Peninsular Arts this evening after work. That's if I remember to turn left towards Plymouth and not right towards home at the roundabout, I will be wearing post-it notes saying THOMAS HARDY all day.
Under the Greenwood Tree has been a great re-entry and I now feel quietly steeped in Thomas Hardy. I have revelled in the bucolic hilarity of the disbanding of Mellstock Village Church Quire to make way for a new-fangled harmonium, and bemoaned along with everyone else that Thomas Hardy chose not to follow this plot line through. Preferring instead to place village schoolmistress Fancy Day and her romantic involvements centre stage, Hardy had me laughing like a gawkhammer to begin with, whilst I finished the book having mumbudgetedly enjoyed a good read. There's a really helpful dialect glossary at the end of the book which has added some good new words to my daily conversation, and now I know what a dumbledore really is I can tell you that we've got loads in the garden at the moment, and they don't have white beards or wear wizard hats.
Claire Tomalin makes interesting observations about Under the Greenwood Tree.
'You are charmed on condition that you accept Hardy's condescension towards his characters. His villagers are drawn sympathetically but as simpletons. He is tender towards them and gives them beautifully turned rustic dialogue, but he invites us to smile with him at their simplicity. They are comical without knowing they are.'
True indeed but nothing can detract from the joy of this book. I'm going to be adding it to my list of books to read extracts from at Christmas because it has one of the best, funniest, most atmospheric descriptions of a nineteenth century village celebration of the festival that you could ever wish to read.
It's books like this that also remind me it will soon be the day that I head off for that first spring 'traypse and wamble' along the lanes and over the way to the village of Sydenham Dameral. Here are last year's pictures of the tiniest church but one which always feels so like those described by George Eliot in Adam Bede and Thomas Hardy here.
I am also reliably informed by them as know that I absolutely must but MUST read The Mayor of Casterbridge next, so I have made a start and they are right.