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.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015): a masterly adaptation of Hardy’s novel

Bathsheba Everdene is a young and independent woman who inherits her uncle’s farm and intends to manage the farm herself: an unusual role for a woman in the Victorian era. At the beginning, Bathsheba works on her aunt’s smallholding where she meets a young shepherd, Gabriel Oak, who lives a frugal life but has managed to purchase his own flock of sheep. When Gabriel proposes marriage, Bathsheba refuses:

“I HATE to be thought men’s property in that way, though possibly I shall be had some day […] It wouldn’t do, Mr Oak. I want somebody to tame me; I am too independent; and you would never be able to, I know. (FftMC, ch. 4)

The next time they meet, their circumstances have reversed: Gabriel’s flock of sheep were driven to their deaths over the cliffs by an unruly young sheepdog and he has fallen on hard times, travelling from town to town in search of work. One night, he arrives at a farm where a hayrick is burning and the fire is threatening to destroy the barns. After helping to put out the fire, Gabriel discovers that the owner of the farm is, in fact, Bathsheba and he finds employment there as her shepherd. As the story progresses, Hardy introduces more characters who vie for Bathsheba’s hand in marriage: the dashing and vain Sergeant Troy and Mr. Boldwood, the gentleman farmer with an unhappy past.

I studied the novel when I was fifteen and I loved it: Hardy’s descriptions of rural life and the vividness of his characters encouraged me to read several of his books. However, Far from the Madding Crowd is arguably the warmest of his novels. It contains tragedy, but to a lesser extent than the sheer bleakness of Hardy’s other novels, such as Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. As I enjoyed FftMC so much, I eagerly anticipated the new movie adaptation of it and I was not disappointed. It is a beautiful adaptation of Hardy’s novel.

Carey Mulligan portrays the lead character and she is an ideal casting choice for Bathsheba: the audience watches her progression from a headstrong young girl to a woman who has reached a greater level of maturity by withstanding trials in her farm business and her love affairs. Mulligan conveys this progression through her expressive voice and mannerisms in a performance that deserves to win awards. Her three suitors are played by Matthias Schoenaerts (Gabriel), Michael Sheen (Mr. Boldwood) and Tom Sturridge (Troy).

This adaptation has been filmed with attentiveness to the essence of Hardy’s original work. It was filmed on location in Dorset and it shows panoramic views of Hardy’s Wessex countryside, as well as close-up shots of buds unfurling and a snail crawling up a fern. Scenes such as these create an evocative setting for the film. The setting is more than just a backdrop: the bucolic landscapes are as much a part of the film as the characters themselves.

I particularly enjoyed the moments of wry humour in the film. For instance, Bathsheba asks Gabriel for advice about her love life and when he asks why she is choosing him as her confidante, she responds that he is someone who can give her objective advice. Clearly, Gabriel is the last person who could give Bathsheba an objective perspective as he is still deeply in love with her! “You’re asking the wrong man,” he replies.

Gabriel repeats this line later on when Mr. Boldwood is nervously awaiting the arrival of Bathsheba to a Christmas party at which Boldwood is planning to propose. His fingers are trembling so he asks Gabriel to tie his bow tie for him: “Is there a knot which is particularly fashionable?”. It made me smile as Gabriel, clad in the everyday attire of a farm labourer, is evidently the wrong person to ask about such fripperies as the latest fashions of tying bow ties.

Of course, some of the plot details have been trimmed to condense the book into a two-hour movie. In the book, there is a scene where Bathsheba saves Gabriel’s life when he is sleeping and his hut fills up with smoke, but this has been omitted in the film. However, the structure of the plot is accurate and the screenwriter has not diverged wildly from the novel.

With a gorgeous soundtrack, stellar acting and wonderful locations, it was such a treat to see this masterly adaptation of Hardy’s novel on the big screen. I enjoyed it so much that I went to see it twice!

“Far from the Madding Crowd poster”. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – Wikipedia film poster

Far from the Madding Crowd was released on May 1st, 2015. Have you seen it? Are you a fan of Thomas Hardy’s writing?

Books and movies to look out for in 2015

There are numerous book and movie releases which I am looking forward to in 2015. Here are some of them, which you may like as well.

MOVIES

An adaptation of Suite Française, the novel by Irène Némirovsky. Némirovsky’s novel has an extraordinary story behind it: the author was killed in Auschwitz, but her two daughters survived the war and her elder daughter, Denise, kept the Suite Française manuscript for fifty years: it was too painful to read and they assumed it was their mother’s journal. Eventually, Denise examined the notebook and discovered the novel: in 2004, it was finally published. Although it is unfinished (Némirovsky had planned a series of five novels), it is a powerful and compelling read. I look forward to seeing the movie version.

Another 2015 movie is a new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, which will be released at the beginning of May. The last big-screen adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd was in 1967, starring Julie Christie. I checked it out on Wikipedia and the 1967 film poster is cringe-worthy, from a feminist standpoint: “A willful passionate girl and…the three men who want her!” This outdated tagline reveals attitudes towards women at the time: the tagline and illustrations portray Bathsheba Everdene, the protagonist of Far From the Madding Crowd, as a nonsensical, wayward girl.

However, she is a wealthy, independent woman, prone to remarks such as “I shouldn’t mind being a bride at a wedding, if I could be one without having a husband. But since a woman can’t show off in that way by herself, I shan’t marry — at least yet” (ch. 4). While she does eventually marry, her life isn’t defined by men: she is unusual in a Victorian novel in that she runs her own farm and makes decisions about who she hires. This 2015 version stars Carey Mulligan as the heroine, which is a good casting choice in my opinion. The trailer shows striking cinematography, but Bathsheba surprisingly has no lines in it. It is difficult to judge from a short trailer, but I hope the movie does portray her independent spirit.

BOOKS

Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, has written a new novel. Set in the 1940s, At the Water’s Edge is a love story with an unusual backdrop: Maddie and Ellis Hyde are high society siblings who are disowned by their father. They then travel from Philadelphia to Scotland, where Ellis decides to try to do what his father failed to do and find the Loch Ness Monster, and “Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants” (quote from Goodreads). I read Water for Elephants and enjoyed it, so I look forward to reading more of Gruen’s writing.

At the Water's Edge (image source

At the Water’s Edge (image source

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman: this collection of short stories gives fictional portrayals of the lives of “almost famous” historical women, from Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister. It sounds like an interesting read!

Almost Famous Women (image source

Almost Famous Women (image source

What new book and movie releases are you looking forward to this year?