Wessex Tales (Wordsworth Classics) Paperback – 5 Oct 1995
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Hardy's novels, in my experience (admittedly a long time ago, when I was going through a serious misery-lit phase), are emotional marathons. They leave you drained, desolate, in shock but ultimately satisfied that you finished the course. Ever since listening to Clare Tomalin's biography, The Time-torn Man, I've been meaning to dig out Tess, Jude, Bathsheba, Eustacia and the rest of the Wessex clan, but it will be a mission. I need an incentive. Here it is. Five minutes into the second tale, The Three Strangers, you can feel the old Hardy magic beginning to work its spell. The scene has been set, where else but on his favourite stamping ground (trudging ground might be a better word), the bare, dark, rain-sodden, wind-lashed heath five miles from Casterbridge (Dorchester to you), where 'the tails of little birds trying to roost on some scraggy thorn were blown inside out like umbrellas'. In a small, lonely hut, shepherd Fennel, his dairymaid wife and 19 guests are celebrating the birth of a new baby beside a crackling fire with mead, victuals, music and dancing. Then comes a knock at the door. 'Walk in!' cries our merry host, the latch clicks and in comes a stranger, 'dark in complexion and not unprepossessing as to feature', hat 'hung low over his eyes', which take in the room 'with a flash more than a glance' and like what they see. 'The rain is so heavy, friends, that I ask leave to come in and rest awhile,' he says in a deep, rich voice. Leave is given and a pull of the mead mug, and minutes later there's another knock, and in comes a second dripping stranger, who turns out to be the hangman on his way to Casterbridge to top a sheep-stealer in the morning. I'd forgotten what a consummate yarn-spinner Hardy is. Roald Dahl's end-of-story twists are famous, but Hardy's tales surprise you all the way through, holding your attention as firmly as old Solomon Selby does his audience's at the tavern in A Tradition of 1804. As soon as they see him take his pipe from his mouth and smile into the fire from his inglenook seat, they know what's coming. 'The smile was neither mirthful nor sad, not precisely humorous nor altogether thoughtful. We who knew him recognised it in a moment. It was his narrative smile.' And thus begins the wonderful tale of young Selby's encounter on a Wessex clifftop with Old Boney himself, recce-ing the long-planned invasion of England with one of his Frenchie generals. Next stop, The Return of the Native. --Sue Arnold, The Guardian
In Hardy's first collection of short stories, he presents the region of Dorset in the 1880s the lives of its people, as well as their beliefs and superstitions. Narrator Neville Jason beautifully conveys the rich descriptions of people and place, including regional and historical speech patterns, and characters of varying ages and stations. Romance and family life are often Hardy's focus. Many of the men fall in love with and propose to many women or the same one often, only to be repeatedly rebuffed. In one standout story, a married woman falls in love with a poet she's never met: a situation that ends in a double tragedy. In another story, the celebration of a baby's birth is so well rendered that listeners will feel they re there. --S.G.B., AudioFile
Nobody listens to these eight tales for a joyous uplift: they are Hardy distilled, tales set in rural Wessex in which ordinary human beings are powerless before the ironies, disappointments, unfulfilled promises and tragedies of life. They have a timeless, mythic quality, enhanced by Neville Jason's subtle narration. Only Hardy can sweep from skies and ancient heathland to focus on something minutely observed, such as the weal left by the hangman's noose 'like an unripe blackberry' and his empathy with women is remarkable. --Rachel Redford, The Oldie
About the Author
Thomas Hardy was a poet and novelist of the naturalist movement. He trained as an architect. He was a religious man who was also deeply influenced by Darwin and fascinated by ghosts and spirits.During his lifetime, he was best known for his novels. His stories combine nuanced description of natural surroundings with the sense of impending moral crisis. He claimed that poetry was his first love, though, and in recent years his poetry has received much critical acclaim.
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Two of the stories are somewhat alike in that they both contain a person who has a horrid job (can't say anymore otherwise it could be a spoiler). My favourite however, was The Withered Arm which is a bit like a horror story and is really quite frightening.........it certainly would have been thought of as such in Hardy's time I am sure.
A great book and I recommend it.
A good starter book for readers who have not been able to read Hardy in the past.
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