Monday, 19 January 2015

Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy.

Thomas Hardy by
William Stang (1893).
Two on a Tower is Thomas Hardy's ninth published novel, published in 1882, and is categorised as one of his "Romance and Fantasies" (the others in this category being A Pair of Blue Eyes, 1873, The Trumpet-Major, 1880, A Group of Noble Dames, 1891, and The Well-Beloved, 1892). It is one of his minor novels, though in 2012 it was published as part of the Penguin English Library collection (one hundred books, seven of which are by Hardy).

It is, in short, a tale of "star-crossed lovers" and quotes on it's title page a verse from Love's Horoscope by Richard Crawshaw (a 17th Century poet):
Ah my Heart, her eyes and shee,
Have taught thee new Astrologie.
How e're Loves native houres were set,
What ever starry Synod met,
'Tis in the mercy of her eye,
If poore Love shall live or dye.
It is a novel I very much enjoyed, and is very "Hardy", but I must say I think he rather took liberties at times with plot developments. It's about Lady Constantine and Swithin St Cleeve, our two star-crossed lovers, and takes place against, to quote Hardy from the Preface, a "stupendous background of the stellar universe". Swithin St Cleeve is a budding astronomer and a working class man aged about 18 in the start of the novel. Lady Constantine is a religious woman, upper class, unhappily married and effectively deserted, and ten years Swithin's senior. From the very start there is a clash of science and religion, class, and age, yet the two fall in love. Society, it goes without saying, does not look on kindly and the two are forced to keep their love secret, with disastrous consequences.

The Burritt / Huntington Map of the Stars
& Constellations of the 

Northern Hemisphere, 1856.
The inspiration for Thomas Hardy's Two on a Tower was, among other things, observing Tebbut's Comet in June 1881. Stars, of course, are linked to fate and have signified such in literature since the dawn of time! A comet signifies destruction and doom, and in Hardy's novel initially this comet appears to do quite the opposite, it saves Swithin from a very bleak depression, however it marks the beginning of the lovers' downfall. Though I enjoyed this book very much, it isn't the most subtle of Hardy's works, and as I've already said Hardy took some liberties with a plot that felt rather rushed at times and consequently comes across as a little too sensationalist for my tastes. Nevertheless, the stars are seductive and Hardy's powers of description are very much present in this short novel, which may have been improved had it have been longer than its 300 pages: the pace was, I found, a little too fast.

'The Wessex of the Novels' by H. Macbeth Raeburn, from the 1895 edition of Two in a Tower.

Charborough Tower.
Two on a Tower is, like most (if not all) of Hardy's novels set in Wessex. Wessex was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom up until the early 10th century and was made up of the most of south west England, which include what are now Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Berkshire, and Dorset, where he lived for the most part of his life. And it is in Dorset where Two on a Tower is set. The tower of the title, where Swithin studied the stars, is set near the home of Lady Constantine, which is called in the novel 'Welland House'. In real life this is Charborough House in Dorset, which also has a tower, Charborough Tower, a Grade II listed building dating back to 1790. It's situated near Wimborne, once the home of Hardy.

It was a great read, in short, and I'm happy I've finally got to it. I have a rather odd and frustrating relationship with Hardy: I've read four of his novels so far, Jude the Obscure, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and The Return of the Native: the first two books I loved very much, the last two I hated. Nevertheless I do find him an intriguing author,  I do judge Two on a Tower to be a personal reading success, and I've especially enjoyed his poetry. I think, in the next few years, I'll revisit the books I've already read, but first I have a short of list of his novels I'd like to get to. I do think some of the best descriptions in Victorian literature belong to Hardy.

Further Reading


  1. I've had this on my Kindle for a few years, one of those I wasn't too sure about because I know so little about it. Being of a sensationalist bent, I'll give it a go...when I get the chance, of course.

    1. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it :)

  2. Whenever I think of a Hardy book, the vision comes complete with a box of tissues. Boo hoo! I hope the man wasn't as depressing as his works. ;-) That said, I have only read one Hardy, Under The Greenwood Tree, and I chose it because it was supposed to be his least depressing work. When I finished I was sure I hated it, but I had a bunch of study questions to answer and when I answered them, boy did I have alot to say! It obviously got my brain working, so there you go!

    I love how you connect your review with the book's setting so wonderfully! And I actually know where all those areas are, since I did my research. Aren't you impressed?

    1. I think the man *might* have been as depressing as his works. I say this without having read a biography, though :)

      I'll have to get round to Under the Greenwood Tree - I'm in a bit of a Hardy mood at present :)

      I'm glad you enjoy the book's settings bit - it's fun to do, and I find it so interesting! So far it's not been that hard to do, apart from the Lady Anna post - I had Google Maps out for that one!


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