Saturday, 27 May 2017

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy.

A few hours ago I finished Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, the final novel Hardy wrote (though he did re-write The Well-Beloved a few years later), and the final novel I have on my Hardy's Major Works list. It's hard to know where to begin with this novel: it is one of the most impressive novels I've ever read, one of the most darkest and complex, and I do believe this is Hardy at his absolute peak. Jude the Obscure was actually one of the first Hardy novel I read about 12 years ago and I always had in mind when reading his other novels. I had a sense, which may well have been a false sense, that everything he wrote was building up to this crescendo. It embodies most if not all of the common themes and motifs in Hardy's other works before it: marriage, love, gender, and fate.

We first meet Jude Fawley as a young boy at Marygreen (in Hardy's Wessex) who has dreams of going to Christminster (modelled on Oxford) to become a scholar, inspired by his schoolmaster Richard Phillotson who has left to do the same. He works very hard for it, learning Greek and Latin, but one day Jude makes a decision, innocent enough, but it will prove his downfall. Jude meets a young woman, Arabella Donn, who is very pretty but very rough around the edges. One Sunday he wonders: should he get on with his Greek, or should he go and meet her again?
He would not go out to meet her, after all. He sat down, opened the book, and with his elbows firmly planted on the table, and his hands to his temples, began at the beginning:
Η ΚΑΙΝΗ ΔΙΑΘΗΚΗ. [The New Testament]
Had he promised to call for her? Surely he had! She would wait indoors, poor girl, and waste all her afternoon on account of him. There was a something in her, too, which was very winning, apart from promises. He ought not to break faith with her. Even though he had only Sundays and week-day evenings for reading he could afford one afternoon, seeing that other young men afforded so many. After to-day he would never probably see her again. Indeed, it would be impossible, considering what his plans were.
In short, as if materially, a compelling arm of extraordinary muscular power seized hold of him—something which had nothing in common with the spirits and influences that had moved him hitherto. This seemed to care little for his reason and his will, nothing for his so-called elevated intentions, and moved him along, as a violent schoolmaster a schoolboy he has seized by the collar, in a direction which tended towards the embrace of a woman for whom he had no respect, and whose life had nothing in common with his own except locality.
Η ΚΑΙΝΗ ΔΙΑΘΗΚΗ was no more heeded, and the predestinate Jude sprang up and across the room. Foreseeing such an event he had already arrayed himself in his best clothes. In three minutes he was out of the house and descending by the path across the wide vacant hollow of corn-ground which lay between the village and the isolated house of Arabella in the dip beyond the upland.
Oxford in the 1890s.
Jude falls for her, and, to trick him into marrying her, she pretends to be pregnant, telling him after their marriage she was mistaken. The marriage, unsurprisingly, is not a success and very swiftly falls apart (at this point we're not even a fifth of the way through the book) and one day Jude finds a brief note: "Have gone to my friends. Shall not return." Thus, Jude's dreams of Christminster are once again a possibility and, in the second part of the book, he attempts to enrol.

It is there he meets his cousin, Sue Bridehead, who he quickly falls in love with. Sue is his equal: highly intelligent, educated, very beautiful, an atheist, and thoroughly modern. Jude, however, is still married to Arabella, and so she marries none other than Phillotson. Like Jude's, Sue's marriage falls apart quite quickly and, no longer able to stand being apart, they live together unmarried.

I could very happily continue describing the plot, it's so compelling and fascinating, but I'll stop there so as not to spoil it. But what a story! It's absolutely devastating, a true (in the Greek sense) tragedy of a poor man trying to better himself, an attempt that, because of the circumstances, would ruin him beyond repair. I can't speak highly enough of Jude the Obscure. The overall theme is that of love and marriage, which dominates the novel, but class and education, the snobbery of those at Christminster, is also important. There is no good and evil in Jude, even Arabella, who did a terrible thing, isn't herself bad, and Phillotson is remarkable in his ability to forgive and show kindness, and Jude: Jude is a dreamer, and Sue almost other worldly. They were too advanced for their time and society, their own and the readers of this novel, were not kind. It is truly a great novel.

---

As I mentioned, this was my last novel on my Hardy list: I'm left with two short story collection, two plays, and eight volumes of poetry (as well as two biographies). Here's the novels I've read and my ratings:
Desperate Remedies (1871) ✯✯✯✯
Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) ✯✯✯✯
A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) ✯✯✯✯✯
Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) ✯✯✯✯✯
The Hand of Ethelberta (1876) ✯✯
The Return of the Native (1878) ✯✯✯✯
The Trumpet-Major (1880) ✯✯
A Laodicean (1881) ✯
Two on a Tower (1882) ✯✯✯✯✯
The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) ✯✯✯✯
The Woodlanders (1887) ✯✯✯
Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) ✯✯✯✯✯
The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved (1892) ✯✯
Jude the Obscure (1895) ✯✯✯✯✯
The Well-Beloved (1897) ✯✯

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Another exciting discovery!

We're a week away from June and every day, almost every moment, the garden is changing. I've got quite a few pictures now to share for June's post, but this can't wait: this evening whilst watering the greenhouse after a spectacularly hot day (40 °C on the patio!) I found a White Ermine moth (or, to give it its Latin name, Spilosoma lubricipeda). I've never seen one before, I'd never heard of one before, and, not being a butterfly-buff, I didn't know there were white moths in the UK. But there is and it's laying its eggs on my Morning Glory plant! 

My camera's not too good at close-ups, but here's two pictures I took just a few minutes ago:



Such discoveries are why I love gardening so much! I was planning on moving this Morning Glory (Ipomoea tricolor) out into the garden but I think, if there's eggs on it, it perhaps ought to stay in the greenhouse. I'm looking forward to seeing caterpillars (I know caterpillars will eat some of my plants but I'm used to that, and I actually deliberately keep two large crops of nettles for caterpillars to enjoy!).

And, in other news, I've just seen a few rosebuds. I do love my roses 😊

Update: As of 7.20 AM I now have two moths!



Jacques Damour by Émile Zola.

Jacques Damour (one English translation calls it Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder) is a short story by Émile Zola, published first in Vestnik Evropy in August 1880, then in his short story collection Naïs Micoulin in 1884. In 1887 Léon Hennique turned it into a play.

The story is divided into five chapters and begins,
Sometimes, as he sat beside the sea, scanning the black horizon, visions of his past would flit through Jacques Damour's mind: the hardship of the siege, the savage fighting with the Commune and the final brutal wrench which tore him from his home, to land up, broken and bewildered, in this faraway Pacific island of Noumea. This was no recollection of pleasant times, of love and affection, but the dull brooding of an enfeebled mind returning, again and again, to certain unchangeable, precise facts that alone stood out amidst the general collapse of everything.
Jacques, Zola goes on, had married Félicie, "a tall and beautiful girl of eighteen, the daughter of a greengrocer in the Villette quarter of Paris, from whom he had rented a room". They had a son and daughter and, in Zola's words, "were not an unhappy family". This family however were split in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71); first they were impoverished as many of the French were in war time, and then, as the war raged on, Jacques decided to leave his family to join the army. He was taken prisoner then deported to Noumea. For a while he remained in touch with Félicie, however he soon became aware that her letters were becoming more and more infrequent until finally ceasing. He attempts to escape, and narrowly escapes with his life, but it is reported that he in fact died. When he finally returns home some years later to find Félicie, he is told she has remarried. Nevertheless he goes to see her, and her husband, and tries to reconcile.

As stories go this is a very simply one in terms of plot, but, as ever, Zola does it so very well. As with many of Zola's other novels we see the effects of the Second French Empire and its downfall with the Franco Prussian War, and how it affects an individual group or person. Jacques, to all intents and purposes, was a normal man who married and started a family, however his family and his life were torn apart by forces external to him. Unlike some of Zola's other works though it isn't without hope. Things do not turn out as Jacques would have hoped, however there is a sense of peace that Jacques finally reaches. It's an excellent story, deeply uncomfortable at times and Zola portrays the awkwardness of Jacques and Félice's meeting brilliantly. I found it also interesting to compare with The Death of Olivier Becaille, another story from Naïs Micoulin, which also involves a supposed death and its consequences on an individual and his family.

And that was my 21st title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week - The Queen Who Flew by Ford Madox Ford.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

20 Books of Summer.

Dandelion.

I want to write a positive post today as things in the UK are, as you can imagine, pretty tense. Yesterday I woke up to the dreadful news of the attack in Manchester, and this morning the news that we are on critical alert, meaning an attack is thought to be imminent and the army have been deployed. It's very sobering, and I think like many people here some happiness and joy should be shared. To cheer up myself and hopefully others I thought I'd make my list for the 20 Books of Summer interspersed with some of the nicest pictures I've seen of books and summer.

For the past few years Cathy of 746 Books holds a 20 Books of Summer Challenge from 1st June to 3rd September and this will be my fourth year of joining! I've never yet managed to read from my 20 Books list (previous attempts: 2014, 2015, and 2016) but perhaps this will be the year. My personal best I think is 15, so anything above 15 will be regarded as a big achievement! For my list I've decided to take 5 books from my Ancient Greek and Roman Challenge and 15 from my Classic Club list. Without further ado, here's my selection...

Ancient Greek and Roman


The Golden Ass.
The Golden Ass by Apuleius.
Ethics by Aristotle.
Confessions by Augustine of Hippo.
The Symposium by Plato.
Constellation Myths: With Aratus's Phaenomena by Eratosthenes and Aratus.

Plato's Symposium by Anselm Feuerbach (1869).

Classic Club



The Letters of Abélard and Héloïse.
The Lucky Chance by Aphra Behn.
The Wonder: a Woman Keeps a Secret by Susanna Centlivre.
In Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus.
Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth.
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie.
Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.



Monkey by Wu Cheng'en.
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford.
The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith.
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay.
The Royal Mischief by Delarivier Manley.
The Innocent Mistress by Mary Pix.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark.
The Fatal Friendship by Catherine Trotter.





And, because summer is so very close, here's some summery loveliness I've seen online of late!

Sunset at Millennium Green in North Hykeham by Malc Sawyer.

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Fragments of Menander.

Since I read Menander's Dyskolos about a month ago I've been slowly reading the remaining fragments of Menander's plays. I've read fragments of Greek plays before, Sophocles' Ichneutai and Other Fragments, and I still remember it primarily as quite a moving experience straining to hear the echoes of one of my most favourite authors. With Menander there was that element of almost frustration in never being able to grasp the full picture, comedies once enjoyed and loved but now lost, though with tantalising hints of what was once loud and clear. However Menander is not a favourite author, and in fact though I enjoyed Dyskolos I can't say I was particularly fond of what was left.

Of the many plays Menander wrote, there are only six that have more or less survived (though still with great gaps; up to half missing): Dyskolos, Samia, Epitrepontes, Perikeiromene, Aspis, and SikyonioiSamia, or The Girl from Samos (Σαμία) is the longest fragment of Menander with 116 lines missing (when you get into Trophonius, for example, only nine lines remain). This play is dated somewhere around 315 and 309 B.C. and, like Dyklos, the play was discovered in the Bodmer Papyri from 1952 and the Cairo Codex found in 1907. The plot was already familiar to me: in 166 B.C. the Roman playwright Terrance adapted the play for his The Girl from Andros (Andria), but as his play was set in Andria in southern Italy, Menander's is set in the Greek island of Samos. It tells the story of Demeas, a bachelor, whose mistress Chrysis has a baby which sadly dies. At the same time the mistress of adopted son of Demeas, Moschion, also has a baby: his mistress is Plangon, the daughter of Nikeratos, who is Demeas' business partner. Chrysis was ordered to get rid of her child, and when it dies she nurses Plangon's; when Demeas returns from a business trip however, he mistakes Plangon's child for Chrysis' and believes she has defied him. What follows is the great confusion of trying to convince Demeas that he is wrong in his assumption with the other characters often being in possession of only half of the facts. My problem with it was that I didn't care so much about any of them, so the confusion was not so much comic but frustrating. Nevertheless it was interesting if only to see what inspired Terence's The Girl from Andros.

Next, Epitrepontes, or The Arbitration: again, the birth of a child is the centre of the confusion - Charisios' new wife Pamphile has a baby whilst Charisios is away on business which, to save her marriage and reputation, she abandons however gets found out; the ensuing drama revolves around their marriage reveals much about their characters and those around them as well as the limitations in Greek society and, indeed, in human nature. In Perikeiromene, or The Rape of the Locks we see Polemon violently cut his wife Glykera's hair believing her to have been unfaithful with Moschion. When she escapes it is revealed that Moschion is in fact her brother. Aspis, or The Shield tells the story of Daos, a soldier, who has returned from war with the shield of Kleostratos, who he believes to be dead. The miserly Smikrines plots to steal the shield by marrying Kleostratos' sister. Finally, Sikyonioi or The Man from Sicyon, follows the very recognisable (dare I say well-worn) plot of a child once lost and later found.

The rest of the book contains much smaller fragments of the following plays:
  • The Man She Hated
  • The Double Deceiver and The Two Bacchises by Plautus
  • The Farmer
  • The Toady
  • The Harpist
  • The Hero
  • The Phanton
  • The Girl Possessed
  • The Girl from Perinthos
  • Title Unknown
  • Longer Fragments
  • Fragments Doubtfully Attributed to Menander
I would never say that reading a classic isn't worthwhile in some regard, and reading Menander was to read an important figure in the 4th Century B.C. who went on to influence Terence and Plautus, who in turn had a great impact on Shakespeare and other Renaissance writers. The thing was I just couldn't get into anything past Dyskolos. There was a strong formula to the plays: the long lost children I mentioned, mistaken identities, feuding neighbours, and some caricatures of miserly old men. I found it all a little disappointing: as readers of old know I'm making my way through ancient Greek and Roman works and am now focusing on the 4th Century B.C. Menander was my hope for this section given that section is dominated by Aristotle and Plato (both of whom are a little out of my league!). I feel nothing will be as great as the 5th Century B.C. and I miss reading those works! But, there it is: the next title on my radar is actually from 2nd Century A.D. - The Golden Ass by Apuleius, which I started last night and am very much enjoying so far!

Most Recent Post

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy.

A few hours ago I finished Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, the final novel Hardy wrote (though he did re-write The Well-Beloved a few...