Although I’m interested in English literature and especially classics, I’m not really familiar with every author. Of course I had English class at school and that included literature, but Thomas Hardy was quite new to me. Now he’s more in the picture than ever. The film adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd is in theatres now (7 May in the Netherlands – read my review here) and in the build-up to its premiere, I started to read more about Hardy. I became intrigued by him and since I was in London last April, I bought one of his books.
To dwellers in the wood, almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature.
I could have just bought it in a bookshop in the Netherlands, though. (I think Dutchies read more books and see more movies in English than people in any other European country. But that’s just my assumption.) But since I wanted to buy a nice souvenir of my first trip to London (and may there be many more to come!), I thought I’d pop in to Hatchards and Waterstones.
I had seen the BBC adaptation of this novel (2005) and I think I watched it on DVD a few more times, including last April. I loved the story, but now I’ve read the novel I can tell you that’s way different than the book.
But before we’ll get there, let’s see what the backflap has got to tell us.As the back flap says, the story is set in an changing world, represented by the replacement of the church choir by the fancy Miss Fancy Day and the new harmonium of Parson Maybold. That Miss Day will cause more trouble that is not confined to the pride of the choir members, becomes clear in the first part of the book.
… my belief is she’ll wind en round her finger, and twist the pore young feller about like the figure of 8 – that she will so, my sonnies.
The person in question is Mr. Dick Dewy, the eldest son of tranter Reuben Dewy, both members of the choir. From the first time Dick sees the new asset to the village, he’s besotted with her. But he’s not alone in his ‘secret’ admiration for the young lady. Both Mr. Shinar, the rich landowner, and Parson Maybold fall passionately in love.
‘I fancy, I’ve seen him look across at Miss Day in a warmer way than Christianity required.’
Do you foresee problems? there’re more to come. While Fancy Day is trying to get accustomed to her new life and the gossiping villagers and is falling in love with the persistent Dick Dewy, her father Mr. Day tries to pair his daughter off with Mr. Shinar. Does anyone feel left out? Parson Maybold is indeed the somewhat quieter suitor; it’s only in the end that he does Fanny an offer, thus causing more confusion to the already indecisive schoolmistress.
‘Whatever they say about a woman’s right to conceal where her love lies, and pretend it doesn’t exist, and things like that, it is not best; I do know it, Fancy. And an honest woman in that, as well as in all her daily concerns, shines most brightly, and is thought most of in the long-run.’
I’ve got to say that, seeing the film adaptation before reading the book, I was quite disappointed in the character of Fancy Day. In the film she came across as a pretty, smart and innocent young woman who had a mind of her own. Though she was tempted and flattered by the offers of both Mr. Shinar and Maybold and probably kept them dangling longer than necessary, she was eventually faithful to her own heart.In the book, however, I actually found her manipulative, unpredictable and vain. She quickly becomes (secretly) engaged to Dick Dewy, but manages to keep both Mr. Shinar and Maybold up in the air without him knowing. Furthermore, she’s concious of her looks and rather spends hours on fixing her dress than being with her fiancé. Dick eventually sees this dubious side of his sweetheart and ponders:
… so far from being the simple girl who had never had a sweetheart before, as she had solemnly assured him time after time, she was, if not a flirt, a woman who had had no end of admirers; a firl most certainly too anxious about her dresses; a girl whose feelings, though warm, were not deep; a girl who cared a great deal too much how she appeared in the eyes of other men.
But as she pouts and winks her eyes, Dick forgives her. It’s right, she did feign sickness or really became ill due to her father’s disapproval of Dick till he gave his consent, but exactly because of that I don’t quite understand her fluctuating feelings toward the three men. But that might be just me!
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading this novel. Hardy is a great writer, I loved his style, the setting and the choir members (although I had some trouble with the colloquial speech at first). His stories are set in a wonderful and magic in-between-times were change is on its way, but rural England still has its charm. Fancy Day bugged me towards the end of the novel, but a few ‘Hey, my sonnies’ along, and I was just fine!
I bought this copy at Waterstones, but you can get the Penguin English Library edition around € 8,- at bookdepository.com (currently € 6,51). I’m not quite sure what the difference is between that edition and this one I have – I’m starting to find the Penguin English Library series confusing! Maybe someone could help me out?
Have you read anything by Thomas Hardy?