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on 30 March 2010
Hardy's last novel `The Well-Beloved' is suffused with a sadness and melancholy, low-key and muted in tone.

It tells the story of Jocelyn Pierston and his love for three generations of women - the grandmother, her daughter and grand-daughter over a period of forty years. Pierston is seeking for perfection in his choice of lover and in doing so lets opportunities for happiness pass him by; at the end of his life, he finds some kind of contentment in compromise.

Hardy adopts a leaner, less convoluted literary style than he uses in his earlier novels, but, otherwise, there are still all his trademarks which make reading him such an absorbing experience: the sense of place; the placing of characters within the landscape as though the reader was looking at a painting or photograph; telling descriptions such as the brushing of a dress against the wall, or the spattering of rain on a window pane; the archaic language; the sense that every encounter between the various characters is significant, and that what is unsaid is often more important than what is said.

A short novel, which deserves to be better known.
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on 19 May 2012
Set partly on the Isle of Purbeck, but also with scenes in London and other locations which are namedropped by Hardy in other works, the story follows the life of Jocelyn Pierston. The novel consists of three parts, where he is aged 20, 40 & 60 but in each is described as "a young man."

When we first meet him he is search of his ideal woman, but not in a conventional manner. He has this strange idea that he pursues an ethereal spirit, named as one point as that of Aphrodite, which he refers to as the Well-Beloved. This spirit rests upon a young woman, imbuing her with an indescribable sense of beauty which Jocelyn perceives. However, the resting place of this spirit of the Well-Beloved is fleeting, and can depart its host as suddenly as it arrives, leaving the woman but a shadow of herself. Yet this is seemingly imperceptible to all but Jocelyn.

As he pursues this ideal, we see how poorly he treats women, losing interest in them and discarding them with little regard to their feelings or circumstances. The modern reader may well, as did I at first, consider this simply an elaborate critique of male fickleness in lust, though I am not convinced that this was Hardy's intention. Indeed, of all of Hardy's works that I have read, this seemed to have aged far less well. Though his themes of love foiled by circumstance may be considered timeless, the way in which he approached The Well-Beloved may look quite out of date now.

The book could be read in a number of different ways, especially as viewed through 21st century eyes, which may well be far from what the author intended. In some ways Jocelyn is a figure of great romance, pursuing the ideal for years and years before finally realising what is truly beautiful and which he had considered a great thorn in his side for many years. Yet it is hard to not think of him as a bit of a creep, jumping from girl to girl. I was reminded of the character of Mr Collins from Pride and Prejudice who was able to change the object of his desire from Jane to Elizabeth in the time it took for Mrs Bennett to poke a fire.

With that said, it is still a very good read, though not one of Hardy's finest. Whereas, in his more famous novels, he evokes a very strong sense of place this is scaled back in The Well-Beloved. The little turns of phrase which usually evoke such great insight into a person's character and circumstance are noticeable by their absence.

Definitely an intriguing read, but I wouldn't recommend it as your introduction to Hardy.
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on 10 September 2006
I came to the read the Well Beloved after I had finished the obvious Hardy novels and read quite a lot of his short stories. So i was expecting the law of dominshing returns to apply. In the event I was proved happily wrong.

The lead character is quite obviously a character which hardy thought resembled himself and his own problems with his relationships with the women in his life. Jocelyn repeatedly falls head over heels in love wih a women and then places her on a pedestal as the perfection of womanhood. When the real woman fails to live up to this ideal, he looses all interest. Yet rather then seeing this fickleness as what it is, Joceyln rationalises that he is persuing a single perfect muse the "well-beloved" that temporarily inhabits a particular earthly female. This ideal leads to him being unable to commit to any one woman.

This theme of the destructive power of mens objectification of women as pure and innocent, is also central to "Tess" and "Jude". Angel Clare idealises Tess to the extent that he hypocriticaly and selfishly leaves her when he finds out she is not a virgin. Jude idealises Arrabella then later Sue even though both women in their own way are very different to his ideal. Arrabella he thinks is innocent and a child of nature (when she is most defiantly not), Sue he sees as an emancipated free spirited women (when she actually is in many conventional and trapped). However in the well-beloved Hardy treats this theme entirely differently. It is not treated as tradgedy, in fact the former 'Well-Beloved's' get on with their lives as Jocelyn looks increasingly desperate and ridiculous. It also differs from the other late novels by being highly structured and by shunning his usual realism for a more lyrical and stylised mode. This way it bares more of a simularity with some of his short stories then his later novels. The prose is also more playfull and purple then his usual style.

This novel may not rank up there with his five great wessx tradgedies but in its own quite different way it is classic Hardy in its own right.
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on 27 September 2006
After a holiday around Weymouth it only seemed apt for me to read a novel by the most famous author from the region. The Well Beloved is mostly set on the "isle" of Portland. It tells the story of the native-born, famous sculptor Jocelyn Pierston who falls in love with young ladies from three generations of the same Portland family.

The idea of the "curse" of the well-beloved travelling from mother to daughter after some wanderings in-between is an interesting one, albeit quite disturbing in a modern context though Hardy treats it with subtlety and sensitivity.

As expected, his prose is excellent though I found the novel to sag, in a literary and emotional sense, in the second third of the book when the 40 year old Piertson falls for the 20 year-old Avice the second. It does however pick up with the more benevolent intentions of the 59-year-old protagonist in the final part of the triptych.

As well as the superior, more cohesive whole novel first published in 1897, the New Wessex Edition also interestingly includes significantly different passages taken from the original 1892 magazine version of the story. Like most classic old novels, The Well Beloved is quite difficult going at times for the modern reader but ultimately well worth pursuing. Especially if you've just returned from a break near the Isle of Slingers...
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on 3 May 2014
If you're lucky enough to buy the Wordsworth Classics edition of this novel then you get two for the price of one. The first version is the novel (Thomas Hardy's final one) published in 1897 and the second (The Pursuit of the Well Beloved) is the serialised story, published in 1892. The latter is the more readable, although both are difficult to put down.

Jocelyn Pierston is a renowned sculptor, on a quest to find his flawless muse to sculpt and his ideal soulmate and partner in life. This proves to be a lifetime search and both tales follow him at ages 20, 40 and 60 (59 in the 1892 series) in Dorset, London and Rome as his dream leads him into unsuccessful relationships with three generations of women from the Caro family, amongst others and to return more than once to his West Country roots. Without giving too much away, both novels are similar and have unexpected twists at the end.

I like this book because it's an unusual way of discussing a familiar theme. It also reveals that Hardy is more liberal in his thinking than you might have suspected and is one of several of his works that shocked the establishment when first printed. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to grapple with thought-provoking and stimulating literature. It's also good value at £1.89 if you buy it on Amazon.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 September 2008
'The Well Beloved' was one of Hardy's last novels published in serial form in 1892, just a couple of years before his last 'Jude the Obscure'. It is set mainly on the Isle of Slingers (the Isle of Portland) and tells the story of sculptor Jocelyn Pierston's search for the ideal woman. I found it hard to warm to Pierston, who seemed to me to be cold and finicky (although he did thaw a little towards the end) and I couldn't really believe in him as a sculptor, except perhaps as a middle-class dabbler. Compared to Hardy's greatest novels where the characters' lives are determined by cruel fate or are blighted by mere chance, the premise of this book seems slight and ultimately I found I didn't really care about any of the characters. I've stayed on the Isle of Portland, visited its stone quarries and walked all round its coast but I got no real sense of the place from this book. All in all a disappointing read.
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on 24 May 2016
The Amazon details say, in terms, that this edition 'breaks new ground by including in full the 1892 serialised version of the novel – The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved'. But the Kindle edition, which I bought, appears to contain only the standard text. (I could just possibly be wrong, but since the Kindle edition contains no table of contents either, I cannot be absolutely sure.)

I don't suppose I'll be taking Amazon to court for my 90p, but, if you want to see the text of the 1892 serialised version, this seems not to be the right edition to buy -- I don't know about the printed editions, but I don't intend to spend any more money finding out.)
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on 10 May 2013
As a fan of Hardy he definitely delivered in this novel. Very clever and funny, would recommend to anyone who is a fan of Victorian novels.
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on 3 March 2013
I will not go over the story again- other reviewers have done this- but will simply give my review.
I am a Hardy fan and have read most of his other novels. This one however I found a great disappointment. I have given it 3 stars only because I couldn't give such an author fewer stars....
Contrary to the blurb, and some other reviewers' views, I would not say that this is a story of a quest for perfection in art and love. There is little about art in the book.
To me it was the story of a man with too much time and money on his hands, who consequently felt able to dabble in superficial alliances with women, who become more and more obviously unsuitable for him as he ages.
Of course social conventions were different in Hardy's time, but I would say that it says more about Hardy's mind at the time he wrote it than about Victorian morals.
All in all a very dull and disappointing read! Sorry Hardy!
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on 12 June 2014
I love reading Thomas Hardy and have read most of them at least twice. I live in East Dorset so he is writing about the county that I love.
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