I’m currently reading Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. I like his poetry a lot, but I have to say I struggle with his prose. I’m sure it must be me rather than him, him being the classic author and all. And it’s also just something to do with the rather prolix style that was the norm back then. I tried twice with Tess and gave up both times, though in that case it was more to do with the two leading characters of Tess and Angel Clare. Surely you have to like your main characters? I found them both so infuriating I wanted to knock their heads together, and long before the end decided to leave them to their fate.
In Madding Crowd there’s some lovely gentle wit, and despite the exaggerations I feel as though I’m getting a genuine insight into rural Dorset life of the nineteenth century. It’s just that Hardy won’t settle for saying something in five words if he can cram twenty in. I got so fed up with passages like this:
There was a bright air and manner about her now, by which she seemed to imply that the desirability of her existence could not be questioned; and this rather saucy assumption failed in being offensive, because a beholder felt it to be, upon the whole, true. Like exceptional emphasis in the tone of genius, that which would have made mediocrity ridiculous was an addition to recognised power
that I’ve taken to skimming over some of them, especially when they’re clearly meandering digressions. This led me to wondering: with the classics, is it sometimes a case of the Emperor’s Clothes? If an author writes one novel deserving of the label ‘classic’ does that automatically make his/her subsequent ones (and indeed earlier ones) worthy of the same accolade? If such an author hadn’t had the all-important ‘breakthrough’ novel, would the others he or she wrote have been enjoyed by a few and then quietly forgotten like those of most ‘ordinary’ writers? Is it, for example, simply a wonderful coincidence that the three Bronte sisters all wrote classic novels, or was it the popularity of Jane Eyre that caused people to clamour for anything else with the name Bronte attached to it?
I’m not the best to judge these things because I’m a minimalist when it comes to both reading and writing. Call me a pleb, but for me, literature is not so much about how beautifully or cleverly the words are crafted even though I do appreciate that in small doses – the story is the thing, and I just want to get on with it!
So sorry Thomas if you’re looking down. And anyway, you’re still having the last laugh, and will be long after I’m gone and forgotten.