Reading Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge is like watching a multi-car accident in slow motion, or maybe a tragic boxing match. The central character falls, then rises only to fall still harder. And as if his protagonist's personal flaws weren't enough the author piles on coincidental revelations, mistaken identities, and inadvertently disclosed secrets. Shades of Charles Dickens! There are few rays of hope, fewer moments of happiness.
Alas, I'm a simpleminded hobbit who much prefers bawdy comedy. Hardy isn't my cup of tea, at least not judging from this novel. The Mayor's story reminds me too much of some politicians, and not just current ones. But there are moments of humor and witty aphorism. For example, from among the tidbits a few memorable quotes-out-of-context:
From Chapter XIV:
... as the mediæval saying puts it, "Take, have, and keep, are pleasant words."
and later in that same chapter:
To keep in the rear of opportunity in matters of indulgence is as valuable a habit as to keep abreast of opportunity in matters of enterprise.
In Chapter XVII:
... The letter began "Dear Sir," and presently writing on a loose slip "Elizabeth-Jane," she laid the latter over "Sir," making the phrase "Dear Elizabeth-Jane." When she saw the effect a quick red ran up her face and warmed her through, though nobody was there to see what she had done. She quickly tore up the slip, and threw it away. After this she grew cool and laughed at herself, walked about the room, and laughed again; not joyfully, but distressfully rather.
In Chapter XXXI:
... The amends he had made in after life were lost sight of in the dramatic glare of the original act. Had the incident been well known of old and always, it might by this time have grown to be lightly regarded as the rather tall wild oat, but well-nigh the single one, of a young man with whom the steady and mature (if somewhat headstrong) burgher of to-day had scarcely a point in common. But the act having lain as dead and buried ever since, the interspace of years was unperceived; and the black spot of his youth wore the aspect of a recent crime.
In Chapter XXXIII:
" ... But the bitter thing is, that when I was rich I didn't need what I could have, and now I be poor I can't have what I need!"
And finally, an extended cheerful (almost!) quotation from Chapter XIV, context surrounding the first quip above:
To Elizabeth-Jane the time was a most triumphant one. The freedom she experienced, the indulgence with which she was treated, went beyond her expectations. The reposeful, easy, affluent life to which her mother's marriage had introduced her was, in truth, the beginning of a great change in Elizabeth. She found she could have nice personal possessions and ornaments for the asking, and, as the mediæval saying puts it, "Take, have, and keep, are pleasant words." With peace of mind came development, and with development beauty. Knowledge—the result of great natural insight—she did not lack; learning, accomplishment—those, alas, she had not; but as the winter and spring passed by her thin face and figure filled out in rounder and softer curves; the lines and contractions upon her young brow went away; the muddiness of skin which she had looked upon as her lot by nature departed with a change to abundance of good things, and a bloom came upon her cheek. Perhaps, too, her grey, thoughtful eyes revealed an arch gaiety sometimes; but this was infrequent; the sort of wisdom which looked from their pupils did not readily keep company with these lighter moods. Like all people who have known rough times, light-heartedness seemed to her too irrational and inconsequent to be indulged in except as a reckless dram now and then; for she had been too early habituated to anxious reasoning to drop the habit suddenly. She felt none of those ups and downs of spirit which beset so many people without cause; never—to paraphrase a recent poet—never a gloom in Elizabeth-Jane's soul but she well knew how it came there; and her present cheerfulness was fairly proportionate to her solid guarantees for the same.
(cf. The Magus (2005-11-15), ...) - ^z - 2008-03-29