Between the Pages: Thomas Hardy’s Life (part II)

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Between the Pages is a new, weekly blog series which explores the life, times and creative works of well-known authors. I plan to run the blog series until the end of 2015, focusing on one author per month. New posts every Tuesday, plus occasional bonus posts.

The first post in the series is a brief biography of the author, the second looks at the historical period of the author, and the third post discusses their creative works. Finally, the last post includes selected quotations and short excerpts by the author.


There’s a slight change of schedule this week — today, we’re following up Hardy’s personal life before we move on to discussing his era. My post about Hardy’s era is in progress — I’ll publish that in a few days and then the series will be back on track! 🙂

Thomas Hardy, circa 1910 - 1915. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Hardy, circa 1910 – 1915.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

At the end of my last post about Thomas Hardy’s life, I mentioned that he had a difficult personal life. He married his first wife, Emma, in 1874 and for a few years, they were quite happy. But they began to have disagreements and it led to a growing distance between them, most likely prompted by a combination of factors including their childless marriage and Hardy’s growing success.

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Between the Pages: Thomas Hardy’s Life

TITLE HER

Between the Pages is a new, weekly blog series which explores the life, times and creative works of well-known authors. I plan to run the blog series until the end of 2015, focusing on one author per month. New posts every Tuesday, plus occasional bonus posts.

The first post in the series is a brief biography of the author, the second looks at the historical period of the author, and the third post discusses their creative works. Finally, the last post includes selected quotations and short excerpts by the author.


Thomas Hardy was born in June 1840, only a few years after the Victorian era began, in the small hamlet of Upper Bockhampton (known today as Higher Bockhampton) in the English county of Dorset.

Thomas Hardy, circa 1910 - 1915. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Hardy, circa 1910 – 1915.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re unfamiliar with English geography, Dorset is situated in South West England, on the coast of the English Channel. It is renowned as being a beautiful county, with a variety of landscapes: rolling chalk downs, valleys, cliffs and coastline, and it provides the backdrop to Hardy’s writing.

Hardy's cottage, where he was born and wrote several of his novels. Image copyright: Chris Shaw. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licence. Image source: Geograph.

Hardy’s cottage, where he was born and where he wrote two of his novels.
Image copyright: Chris Shaw. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licence. Image source: Geograph.

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Between the Pages — Jane Austen’s Era

TITLE HER

Between the Pages is a new, weekly blog series which explores the life, times and creative works of well-known authors. I plan to run the blog series until the end of 2015, focusing on one author per month. New posts every Tuesday.

The first post in the series is a brief biography of the author, the second looks at the historical period of the author, and the third post discusses their creative works. Finally, the last post includes selected quotations and short excerpts by the author.

Jane Austen lived from 1775 – 1817, a period in British history which is known as the Georgian era. The Georgian period lasted from 1714 – 1837 and it includes the Regency period from 1792 – 1837, after which the Victorian era began. In this post, I am curious about exploring this era and the impact of Jane Austen’s times on her writing.

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Saturday Shelfie

It has been three weeks since I last blogged. I guess that hiatus has effectively broken my “one post per week” goal! But now I have five weeks of spring break (five whole weeks!) in which I hope to find more time to blog, as well as writing all of the essays and tackling the mountain of coursework I need to catch up on. And of course, more free time equals more time to read! My current read and this week’s Saturday Shelfie is an intriguing re-imagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

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Saturday Shelfie is a fortnightly feature and blogging event here at Cultural Life. If you’re a blogger and would like to take part, the guidelines are simple: grab the Saturday Shelfie badge for your post (right click on the badge and “save as…”) and publish a photo of your current read, along with a brief synopsis and/or your thoughts on it. Don’t forget to link back to this post so that your Saturday Shelfie post will appear as a “pingback” link below this post!

Longbourn

Longbourn by Jo Baker is a re-imagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from the perspectives of the servants who live and work in the Bennet household. Although I have written before about my objections to the retelling of classic novels in my posts Do Modern Retellings of Classic Novels Actually Work? and Classic Novels, Retold, I was mostly focusing on modern re-imaginings of Jane Austen’s novels. Those irk me because I see no need to update classic novels for contemporary readers.

However, Longbourn is different. It uniquely complements Pride and Prejudice because it provides an insight into the world of the people who worked behind the scenes. Although beloved characters such as Elizabeth and Darcy are, of course, present in the book, they are always viewed through the eyes of the household staff. For example, those of you who have read P&P may remember the scene when Elizabeth enjoys a walk across the fields to visit her sister Jane.

“Elizabeth continued her walk alone, crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise” (P&P, chapter 7)

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In Longbourn, Jo Baker gives a new perspective to this scene and presents a very different view of P&P: the ‘other side’ of genteel Georgian England:

“If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah thought, she would be more careful not to trudge through muddy fields” (Longbourn, page 11).

What are you reading this weekend?

Classic novels, retold

For my Day 19 Zero to Hero post I published a gallery of photos accompanied by a cento, which is a poem created with lines by poems from different authors. The Zero to Hero challenge for Day 21: “publish a post inspired by your post from Day 19”.

Initially, ideas for this post didn’t flow freely but composing the cento got me thinking about reimaginings and retellings of other peoples’ work. A lot of retellings are of classic novels ‘updated’ for the modern age. Sometimes these reimagined works add something new to interpretations of the original, for example, a novel which retells Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, from the point of view of the servants was published last year and received very good reviews. I haven’t had the time to read it yet but I saw copies in a bookstore today and was very tempted to buy myself a copy!

Public domain photo source

Public domain photo source

However, most of the time I feel that rewriting a classic novel to bring it up to date is unnecessary. I wrote about this in September when I published a post, “Do Modern Retellings of Classic Novels Actually Work?”, in which I discussed Joanna Trollope’s updated version of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

One of the problems I found when reading the novel was the sheer amount of social differences between Jane Austen’s time (the Georgian era) and modern-day life:

“Do modern retellings of classic novels work? It is impossible to translate the restricted roles which women had in Austen’s time to the present day. Therefore, some of Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility comes across as a bit far-fetched; Marianne and Elinor do not need to marry to find a way out of their impoverished situation. This type of issue is one of the problems with updating classic novels into a modern-day setting”

Click here to read the full post. What do you think about updated versions of classic novels?

Do Modern Retellings of Classic Novels Actually Work?

What would you say if I told you that one of the most popular classic novelists of all time was coming back, with her works reimagined for a twenty-first century audience?

When I received an advance reader copy of Sense and Sensibility last week, my initial reaction was curiosity, followed by thoughts about the audacity of the title: the blue cover with “Sense and Sensibility” emblazoned on it in gold lettering. You see, this is not Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Look upwards from the golden title and you will see Joanna Trollope’s name glinting on the cover, above an image of two modernized Regency-style silhouettes.

The Austen Project is “a major new series of six novels teaming up authors of global literary significance with Jane Austen’s six complete works”.

Three of the titles are still to be revealed but the reimagining of Sense and Sensibility will be followed by crime writer Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey in March and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Pride and Prejudice in fall 2014.

In a quote which appears on the website of the Austen Project, Joanna Trollope says that it is “not an emulation, but a tribute”. I realize that these retellings are not intended to be imitations of Austen’s novels. Whether you like or dislike Austen, the originals are obviously far superior!

When I heard about this project, I immediately felt irritated that the titles are the same as Jane Austen’s. Imagine going into a bookstore and asking for a copy of Pride and Prejudice. “Oh, do you mean the Jane Austen or the Curtis Sittenfeld one?” Because the copyright on Austen’s novels expired long ago, people can do what they like with them: reimagine the books, use their titles, create zombie mash-ups of them. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, regrettably (or delightfully, depending on your opinion), is a real title.

Why was The Austen Project created? It is a good money spinner for the publishers, no doubt. The Jane Austen phenomenon reached a peak in the 1990s with the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice and the infamous “wet shirt” scene. Today, there are Austen festivals, sequels and endless film and television adaptations filled with gorgeous scenery and good-looking young men chopping logs, such as the 2008 BBC television adaptation of Sense and Sensibility (trailer below)

But, money aside, why is it necessary to update Austen’s works? Part of their greatness lies in the fact that Austen was writing during a very different era. Context is key: without the complex social mores and historical detail of the Georgian period, her characters and stories do not hold the same weight.

If you don’t know the plot of Sense and Sensibility, three sisters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, and their mother are turned out of their grand Georgian home when their father dies and the estate is passed to the next male in line. They are forced to move to a small cottage owned by a distant relative, Sir John Middleton, and their lifestyle changes dramatically. The only hope for Elinor and Marianne (Margaret is a minor character in the story as she is only thirteen when it begins) is to marry men who can provide for them.

Today, of course, this is completely irrelevant and there is no obstruction to being an independent woman. But when Jane Austen was alive, women in the middle and upper classes did not have many choices other than to marry or become a governess. As Austen herself wrote in a letter in 1816, “Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony“.

Do modern retellings of classic novels work? It is impossible to translate the restricted roles which women had in Austen’s time to the present day. Therefore, some of Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility comes across as a bit far-fetched; Marianne and Elinor do not need to marry to find a way out of their impoverished situation. This type of issue is one of the problems with updating classic novels into a modern-day setting. But I had to smile at some of the modernizations — when Marianne is sad about having to leave her home, instead of taking solace by playing the piano (as she does in the original) she picks up her guitar and plays Taylor Swift’s Teardrops on my Guitar.

Despite being critical about Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility, I am enjoying it more than I initially thought I would. It is best if you have already read the original novel before you read the retelling, otherwise you will miss out on a great deal.

Although any answers to this inquiry are purely speculative, one of the most pressing questions on my mind is “What would Jane Austen say?” I wonder if she would be insulted or pleased or perhaps rather bemused by it all.

Jane Austen, in a watercolor painted by her sister in 1804. (Photo credit: Wikipedia. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired).

Jane Austen, in a watercolor painted by her sister in 1804. (Photo credit: Wikipedia. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired).

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope will be released in hardcover in the U.S. on October 29 and in the U.K. on October 24.

What do you think about the modernization of classic novels? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.