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Archive for September, 2011

Quick Outline

Hardy’s fourth novel takes its title from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:

‘Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife

Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;

Along the cool sequester’d vale of life

They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.’

Of course, whilst the tale is set in rural Weatherbury, a farming village with a close community spirit, the main protagonists are led by their passions and so ironically, assume the state of ‘madding’ frenzy usually assumed by the buzzing towns and cities.

The tale surrounds beautiful, confident and independent Bathsheba Everdene and the three men who battle for her affections. Although Bathsheba’s tale is set over a hundred years ago, her difficulties are easily recognized, and thus, her mistakes, easily forgiven. If she lived today, Bathsheba would be a heel-wearing millionaire with two businesses she created and controlled herself. Her problems with Oak, Troy and Boldwood would appear on the problem pages of Cosmo, entitled, I imagine, like this:

‘He’s Mr Perfect, kind, handsome and has money. So why can’t I love him?’ (Oak)

‘He’s rich, handsome and completely obsessed with me- should I say yes to marriage?’ (Boldwood)

‘Everyone tells me he’s bad news, but I think I’m in love him.’ (Troy)

And so Bathsheba, in her struggles with three such different men (the kind and sensible Oak; obsessive, insane yet good Boldwood; and exciting, dashing but insincere Troy) personifies all those annoying and overused magazine sayings. Like the one about treating them mean to keep them keen and it being all about ‘the bad boys’… (thanks Alexandra Burke).

The message that we appear to be left with, after Bathsheba has rebuffed two suitors, fallen for Troy and married him, allowing her heart to rule her head is: don’t follow your heart. You will be left with a husband who doesn’t love you, he will slowly gamble away your money and then leave you all alone. A little like Sense and Sensibility, no good can come from wild passions. Despite this, Hardy allows Bathsheba a happy ending. She marries again, this time for sense, and although we are supposed to feel happy for her, we aren’t. The tale ends, she is perfectly content, but doesn’t appear to be leaping in the air with joy. Perhaps Hardy doesn’t believe in this type of happiness, realistically, believing it to be always short-lived. Perhaps, Bathsheba’s story is a realistic message about being happy with a perfectly ‘fine’ life, that to search for anything more can only end in disappointment.

All I know for sure is that these ‘romantic’ musings probably wouldn’t satisfy the readers of Cosmo. Sorry modern Bathsheba, but apparently you can’t have female independence and a husband you love. There’s just no pleasing some people.

A Picture Portrait

Gabrielle Oak the Shepherd: Oak is the voice of reason throughout the tale. Loveable because of his quiet, graceful unassuming ways and annoying in that he seems to be always good and always right. He never gets angry, and the rest of the common labouring folk look up to him as you might a wise father.

His shepherding duties appear to extend into the lives of the humans, as well as the sheep, which surround him. Despite the cruel way Bathsheba treats him, Oak takes on the biblical aspect of Jesus guarding his flock, caring for her despite everything. Guarding her and trying to keep her from harm. Oak loves her for loves sake and never requires anything in return.

Tess: In the tragedy of Fanny Robin, a sub-plot existing within Madding Crowd, Hardy looks forward to Tess of the D’urbervilles. Both Tess and Fanny are working class women with little or no family support. Both are innocent and pure and die because of events caused by the men in their lives. Whilst Bathsheba has the independence provided by money, Tess and Fanny have no way of lifting themselves from the luckless ways life has cast upon them, they can only turn to men, who, in their own turn, prove themselves unworthy. Both women die whilst Bathsheba survives her tale and remains stronger than ever by the end.

The obvious contrast between these three women could also be read as an evolutionary metaphor. Hardy was very interested in Darwin’s work and theories, and in this respect ‘the survival of the fittest’ can provide a frame around which Bathsheba’s success and the perishing of Fanny and Tess neatly fits.

My Favourite Review…

I did search and search and search….but I couldn’t find any I liked. You’ll just have to make do with this one.

Critique

The piece opened and the pace was excellent. However, just before half way it slackened and lost momentum. Then, In the closing stages it returned to its former brilliance. This made for sticky reading at times. Despite this, it is one of those books that you must read, especially if you enjoyed Tess or Jude.

Love,

Zoe

3.5 Stars

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Quick Outline

Sadie Jones creates a dark and twisted depiction of 1950’s post-war Britain, revealing chaos and disarray lurking behind the closed, brightly painted doors of middle-class, pristine and rural Surrey.  Lewis Aldridge stands as an outcast amongst this system of respectable disorder, and whilst his neighbours uphold an unshakeable façade of honourable respectability behind which they hate and hurt, he can only break apart, destroying himself in an impassioned obsession to feel.

His reactions and behaviour, following the Second World War so closely, act as a living symbol for the shattered, war grazed Britain of that time. Whilst repairs are made to the physical, obvious casualties of war; the buildings, the gaping holes in roads; less notice is paid to the ongoing human suffering. And so, whilst the country is slowly rebuilt, the insistent message is that everything has been corrected, everything is healed and right. Meanwhile, the women drink to sustain their new-found boredom, the men beat the women to tame fresh rage and the children grow up afraid and full of injustice. But to one another they smile and laugh, and everything continues uninhibited.

Lewis, like the country, is broken. Aged ten his mother drowns in front of him whilst they picnic on a summer’s day. Elizabeth was both glamorous and enthralling, both father and son wrapped up in loving her. And so, when the one thing they both held in common disappears, there is no where for them to go together. Gilbert shuns his son and they live a mutilated life, Gilbert working hard and remarrying quickly; Lewis only returning home on school holidays, retreating further and further into himself. For a few years everything falls to quiet, rigid, underground disorder, until something inside Lewis snaps. He wears his pain, drinking and cutting himself. Running away, ruining and breaking things and people. He is sent to prison, but on his return he confronts the quiet, placid appearances of his old home and sets about revealing the fraudulent community for what it really is; undressing the years of empty façade and face, uncovering abuse and insistent hate.

A Picture Portrait

The Woods: The place where Lewis goes to escape, to feel better again. Although terrible things happen here, the woods reverse the corruption of the real world, and stand in contrast with the home, where only hate and self-loathing seems to grow. It’s almost a romantic idea of nature and human happiness being exclusively combined.

The Village Church: Attended every Sunday, the church is the center of hypocrisy within the community. Where the most respected villagers boast smiles and laughter, only to return home where everything slips.

 

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My Favourite Review…

Here is an extract of a review written by Rachel Hore for the Independent, the rest of it can be found here: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-outcast-by-sadie-jones-785275.html

‘The claustrophobic, menacing atmosphere of Sadie Jones’s page-turning debut never lets up, and that’s admirable enough, but it’s more than narrative tension that makes the novel special. Her writing is deeply affecting because she uses her characters’ smallest gestures, words and thoughts to build immediacy. Alice will quickly “check her face” and the reader instantly visualises her looking in a mirror, feeling the anxiety that makes her do it. Appearance is a major theme in the novel; Jones vividly describes people’s looks and clothes, but only when she’s making the description work for its place in the narrative. There’s a long paragraph when Lewis observes Tamsin lusciously dressed up, but through it we share his growing appreciation and desire. Kit, on the other hand, is conscious that her own dress doesn’t fit; this expresses her feelings about herself.

Another theme concerns how this class at this period seem not to like their offspring. It’s chilling how many adult remarks to children here are not about feelings but instructions about dress and appearance. “You’ll spoil your frock.” “Where are your gloves?”

The Outcast is not flawless. The action of the second half, after Lewis’s return, is at times repetitive, and there’s a tendency towards melodramatic set pieces, but the quality of the writing and a desire to see justice done keep one reading avidly.

Lewis believes he’s become a dark and broken person. It’s only when he realises that everyone around him is like that too that he’s able finally to save himself.’

Criticism

At certain points in the tale Lewis’s anger seems slightly out, the continuous breaking of windows and tables a bit too maniac- super-hero. But this is a tale which certainly doesn’t drag, although dark and depressing, the ending is a perfect one which rights the balance between sad and happy to a perfect degree.

Love,

Zoe

4/5 Stars

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