A Laodicean: Or the Castle of the De Stancys (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 31 Jul 1997
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About the Author
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) English poet and regional novelist, whose works depict the imaginary county "Wessex" (=Dorset).
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Top customer reviews
Paula Power, intelligent, beautiful and strong-willed enough to follow her own mind even if what she believes one day isn't always quite the same as what she believes the next inherits a large fortune and a crumbling castle from her father, a railway magnate and a man who very much made his money in the modern world. To do up the castle Paula employs a young architect, George Somerset who, as is the way of these things, falls in love with the delicious heiress. At this point a rival enters the scene in the form of Captain De Stancy, a descendent of the castle's original owners and a rather dashing and likeable figure in his own right. Add to the mix a young man by the name of Dare who is not averse to waving a gun at people and Uncle Abner, Paula's long lost shifty and very sinister uncle and the plot is ripe for mischief, devious and downright shabby behaviour, misunderstood motives and misinterpreted conversations. The course of true love never did run smooth, least of all in a Thomas Hardy novel and you can sense the great author rather enjoying himself by placing one duff piece of luck after another in the path of the rival lovers.
There are many good points about A Laodicean and one slightly bad one. To start with the good Paula is one of Hardy's most interesting characters. She is capricious, coquettish and not too reluctant to toy with people's emotions if it suits her but she is intelligent, independent and, especially in the context of the Victorian novel, really rather sexy. Captain De Stancy meanwhile is honest, decent and rather dashing and acts as a splendid foil to George Somerset, the ostensible hero of the piece who does, on occasion, come across as a bit clingy and wet. Young Dare, meanwhile, is vile and plays merry havoc with those around him in a way which is, again, rather strong by the standards of Victorian fiction. The scene in which Dare and Abner conduct an icy conversation in a deserted church where each holds the other at gunpoint is genuinely chilling. Also, as ever with Hardy, the set pieces are superb. Paula's last minute refusal to enter the Baptist faith at the beginning is emotionally charged; Somerset's close encounter with a steam train emerging from a tunnel is thrilling; Captain De Stancy's unscripted kissing of Paula during a stage play is shocking and Paula's work out in her gymnasium while De Stancy looks on furtively through a hole in the wall is erotic and shifty in equal measure - the sort of thing Hardy carried off better than anyone. What slightly lets the book down is the final third in which the action moves abroad - Somerset, Dare, De Stancy and Paula pretty much do nothing but chase each other around various tourist spots in France and Germany for chapter after chapter. It's all well-written, but the endless round of misunderstandings and silly coincidences becomes rather tiresome. It's a shame, but it doesn't spoil the whole book by any means.
Overall I feel anyone who has read and enjoyed, say, Far From the Madding Crowd and The Return of the Native would enjoy A Laodicean. Hardy makes great use of contemporary technology - the railways, telegraph systems and photography all feature heavily in the novel. The contrast between De Stancy's nobility but lack of money and Paula's money derived from her father's hard work and industry is well played, as is Paula's role as an independent New Woman of the type who was to rise to prominence in the 1890s. Also, as ever with Hardy, the descriptions of the countryside and the locals who run the pubs, till the soil and serve the gentry are all sublime. Not his best novel then, but by no means a bad one and certainly better than its neglected state would suggest. Read it for Paula, read it for the lyrical descriptions and read it for the dramatic set-pieces. The occasionally dappy plot can go hang - there is so much more to enjoy.
A rip off.
I will think carefully before buying for US companies again.
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