Don’t cry for me, Athelhampton

I still own a copy of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure.  I didn’t burn mine–unlike a number of Victorian readers who vehemently disapproved of it back in 1896.  Jude still incites controversy, as proven by today’s Round Rock New Neighbors book discussion (at the La Frontera Barnes & Noble).

A couple of attendees found themselves unable to finish despite their best efforts.  “Oppressive grimness” was, I believe, the cause: the story offers ample evidence to support that claim.  Veteran Hardy readers come to expect this tone.  Either you decide that you’re not up to the inevitable intensely dramatic consequence at this point in your day/week/life, or (if you’re a fan like me) you ramp up the page-turning velocity in order to confront it sooner rather than later.  It won’t be pretty, but it’ll be memorable.

As happens in successful groups, disagreement fostered a spirited dialogue today.  Those who wished that just about any other title had been chosen this month still ventured thought-provoking questions about, for example, the author’s intent, degree of autobiographical influence, and the strictures of society.

Hardy’s response to the virulent criticism of his day may not surprise you.  Numerous sources state that he announced it had cured him of the habit of novel writing.  Jude the Obscure was his last novel; he concentrated on poetry thereafter.  I’d worked up some righteous indignation on the author’s behalf, then consulted a few of the library’s literature commentaries.  As it happens, poetry had always been Hardy’s first love; he was no stranger to rejection and likely knew what to he was up against; he also realized that poetry offered greater scope to express “unconventional” views without inspiring protest.

It’s difficult to pity an author who was frequently acclaimed and who achieved financial success in his lifetime.  Hardy enjoyed the friendship of luminaries and earned one of Britain’s highest honors:  his ashes are interred in the Poets Corner of Westminster Abbey.  Except for his heart, that is; it was buried in the Stinsford parish churchyard.  However, many argue that such is not the case.  Allegedly, the housekeeper placed the vessel containing the heart on the kitchen table, and a cat ran off with it.

What, then, would be buried under the monument?  Guessed one member of the group:  the cat.

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