Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy

Nineteenth century literary classic, details a man seeling his wife and daughter and the long term consequence. It’s a pretty powerful and deeply ambitious story, one that makes up for a couple feeble plot stimulators with a powerful psychological representation. What’s most interesting is the protagonist, the titular individual. A man so committed to drunk and evasion that he will sell off his own family. Also a man that works across the rest of the novel to redeem himself from this moment, but not without much backsliding and fresh egotistical mistakes. He’s also capable enough to claw his way up into a position of wealth and authority, but then later lose that fortune, and the book is quite effective in showing the degree to which his admuirable qualities are tied in with his core defects. He’s far from a monster, and for all the damage his pride and spiteful rejection cause to other lives there is much to admire about him, his strength of character, his general optimism and the way he’s able to come forth with strong ethical choice at the most surprising moments. He’s an intriguing, complex and overall plausible character, most notably in the way that none of his grand transcendetal moments lack, the way he continually reverts back partially to his earlier ways.

More generally, the work shows an engaging cynicism about the status of class, gender and hypocrisy in contemporary England. There are some very strong critiques in here against Victorian society, to the extent that I’m surprised it attained the popularity it did in its own time, and these are always coonected to an engaging novel. It makes me a lot more interested in reading the other nineteenth century literary classics I’ve so far neglected. And more Hardy, of course.

Worse than: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Better than: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Also better than: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

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