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Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy

Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy. First published in 1871.  It is out of print in French but used copies are available.

But loving is not done by months, or method, or rule, or nobody would ever have invented such a phrase as “falling in love.”

Desperate Remedies is my third Hardy in twelve months. I’m now reading them in chronological order and this one has been published in 1871. I read the 1896 edition, reviewed by the author. According to his foreword, he mostly changed names of places to be consistent with his other works and create a plausible Wessex.

The first chapter takes place in 1835-1836. The young Anbrose Graye stays in London with a friend and falls in love with Cytherea Bradleigh. When he makes his love known, she refuses him for no understandable reason. Although Ambrose will marry and have two children, he will never forget her. His daughter is named after his lost love and his children Owen and Cytherea know about his first love story.

Then we move forward. Mrs Graye passes away in 1861 and Ambrose Graye dies in an accident in 1863. His children discover he poorly managed his fortune and that they are left without resources. Owen is a learning architect and they move away to Budmouth Regis where Owen has found a temporary position at an architect’ office. Cytherea is resolved become a companion or a maid and advertises to find employment.

Edward Springrove works in the same office as Owen and soon the two men befriend. Edward and Cytherea fall in love and he moves to London to make a career and be able to support a family. When Edward leaves, the reader knows he has a secret which may prevent him from marrying Cytherea. Meanwhile Cytherea is hired as a maid by Miss Aldclyffe in Knapwater House. Miss Aldclyffe hires her on a whim despite her lack of references. She has an instable temper,

Like Nature in the tropics, with her hurricanes and the subsequent luxuriant vegetation effacing their ravages, Miss Aldclyffe compensated for her outbursts by excess of generosity afterwards.

Cytherea isn’t quite at ease with her, living in the fear of her outbursts. Cytherea soon discovers that Miss Aldclyffe is actually Cytherea Bradleigh. The older woman recognizes the daughter of her former lover in her young companion. Both women know they are linked by Ambrose Graye but they don’t mention it. Then with no apparent reason, Miss Aldclyffe intrigues to hire Mr Manston as her steward. She pushes Cytherea in his arms while doing everything to erase in her any memory of Edward Springrove. We know that a secret bond ties Miss Aldclyffe and Mr Manston. She’s fond of him and he has some sort of power over her. What is that secret? Things get complicated for the pretty Cytherea when Mr Manston falls madly in love with her and when she discovers that Edward has been engaged to his cousin Adelaide for years.

The novel is full of twists and turns, unlikely Victorian coincidences, secrets and passion. I totally fell for it. The last third of the story is particularly suspenseful and I didn’t expect it in a novel by Hardy. It was a great read, recreating, well-written and with the right dose of thoughtful visions of humanity.

It’s not without flaws though. I could feel Hardy was at his beginnings. His talent isn’t fully developed, especially in characters descriptions. But the roots of his future masterpieces are already there: the subtle irony (She was, at the distance from which they surveyed her, an attractive woman (…). But to a close observer it was palpable enough that God did not do all the picture.), the little statements on life (A great statesman thinks several times, and acts; a young lady acts, and thinks several times.), the exploration of human flaws and especially the impact of passionate characters on their life and the poetry of some descriptions. (Their hearts could hardly believe the evidence of their lips.)

In addition, I recognized elements I’d already noticed in The Mayor of Casterbridge and Life’s Little Ironies: the power of music that carries someone away and results in an impulsive and stupid move, the importance of a tiny decision in sealing a future, sex and desire (Concentrated essence of woman pervaded the room rather than air.) in a society where it was improper for a man to give his chair to a woman because she’d feel his body warmth on it.

I thought the author put something of himself in Edward Springrove, relaying his thoughts in the character’s mind (I often think, that before I am ready to live, it will be time for me to die.) and making fun of his own ambitions as a poet:

Poetical days are getting past with me, according to the usual rule. Writing rhymes is a stage people of my sort pass through, as they pass through the stage of shaving for a beard, or thinking they are ill-used, or saying there’s nothing in the world worth living for.’ ‘Then the difference between a common man and a recognized poet is, that one has been deluded, and cured of his delusion, and the other continues deluded all his days.’

He also employs self-irony and slightly mocks the strings he pulls to move the plot forward.

Whether, as old critics disputed, a supernatural machinery be necessary to an epic or no, an ungodly machinery is decidedly necessary to a scandal.

As always, I enjoyed Hardy’s insight and hindsight. All these little sentences spread in the text change a banal page-turner into a great novel. Highly recommended except if you have a strong allergy to coincidences and secrets. My next Hardy will be Under a Greenwood Tree.

 

  1. January 5, 2012 at 1:47 am

    I ve only read one hardy and it was a long time ago I struggle with his use of language ,I do wonder if it was I was to young I think he is a writer you need to grow into so I may try him at some point again ,all the best stu

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    • January 5, 2012 at 10:07 am

      Guy says Hardy is difficule to read.
      I suspect that being French helps when it comes to 19thC British literature. Many formal words are just the same as the French ones. I didn’t even know the verb to commence (French : commencer) before reading Trollope. And it even has the same meaning!
      My problem with Hardy is the dialect; when I slow down and try to pronounce the sentences in my head, usually, I get it.

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  2. January 5, 2012 at 4:18 am

    You will love Under The Greenwood Tree. There’s a strong argument for reading an author’s works chronologically, but then you often hit the weakest ones first. Not my favourite Hardy, but still shouldn’t be missed

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    • January 5, 2012 at 10:10 am

      At least, when you read them chronologically, you see the style building up and you get to read less known works that can be very good. Like Gobsek in you Balzac project.
      Under The Greenwood Tree is one of the famous ones, isn’t it? I’ll get to it later this year, probably.

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  3. January 5, 2012 at 6:01 am

    I’ll probably be reading this one at some point soon as I’ve had it a while now – I agree though that ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ is a lovely book 🙂

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    • January 5, 2012 at 10:10 am

      I’m sure you can write a very funny review of this one.

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  4. January 5, 2012 at 7:34 am

    I have an extremely strong allergy to coincidences but seen them handled well by the one or the other author.
    You really must love an author to want to read him in chronological order and accept that the one or other book will be week.
    In my Plans for 2012 I wanted to include a few authors that I would like to try for the first time.
    This will not be my first hardy that’s for sure. I’ll look up Under the Greenwood Tree. 🙂

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    • January 5, 2012 at 10:14 am

      I think you have to think of coincidences as a prerequisite in that kind of books. You need to drop the idea that it’s improbable and enjoy the ride. Just like you temporarily accept that vampires exist when you read Interview With a Vampire.
      They needed to spice up books for newspapers. These books were soap operas. The ones who survived are the literary ones, that’s all.

      I hope you’ll get to Hardy this year.

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  5. TBM
    January 6, 2012 at 11:13 am

    I read The Return of the Native last year and fell in love with his writing. I was surprised by the suspense and twists and turns in that one. I have three other books by him on my TBR, but not this title. I’ll keep an eye out for it. Thanks for the review.

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    • January 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      I haven’t read The Return of the Native yet but I will, according to my list.
      He’s an incredible writer, isn’t he? In this one, there’s more action than thinking about human nature than in the two other books I’ve read.

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  6. January 7, 2012 at 6:47 am

    A late but heartfelt “bonne année” to you, Emma! Although I haven’t read anything by Hardy in over twenty years, I was a fan of his when I was in high school oddly enough. What did I like about his writing? Can’t really remember. However, this line of yours made me laugh out loud: “Highly recommended except if you have a strong allergy to coincidences and secrets.” Too funny!

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    • January 7, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      Hi Richard,
      Je te souhaite mes meilleurs voeux pour 2012.

      I would have loved Hardy as a teenager as well, probably for the stories. I think the style and his vision of life would have been lost for me; you miss these things when you’re too young.

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  7. January 8, 2012 at 10:31 am

    This is one Hardy I haven’t even heard of. I read the most popular of his novels some years ago but have never ventured back to explore the others. You are reminding me not to forget this great writer when next I want to go back to earlier years of our literary history

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    • January 8, 2012 at 3:06 pm

      You’ll see more of him on my blog, since I’m reading all his books.
      Don’t you live in “Wessex”? It’s nice to read his novels when you know the place.

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  8. January 12, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    I’m quite fond of reading authors chronologically. It avoids starting with their best work as I did with Jean Rhys, and which I now rather regret (not because her others aren’t good, but because I don’t have it to look forward to. I could say the same with Richard Yates).

    The coincidences make it sound more a traditional novel (of its period) than I’d have expected. Perhaps he was still finding his voice.

    Looking forward to the review of Under the Greenwood Tree. It’s one I’ve got my own eye on to check out.

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    • January 13, 2012 at 12:43 am

      When you read chronologically, you don’t have to think about which one you’ll read after.
      Perhaps you could read Jean Rhys in chronological order and skip the ones you’ve already read.

      I didn’t investigate, I’m not really interested in bios but I have the feeling that
      1) he hadn’t found his voice
      2) he was writing a feuilleton and needed to hold his readers’ breath and perhaps respect the codes of the genre to be published
      3) he considered writing novels less noble than poetry.

      That’s just me reading between the lines, nothing says I’m right.

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  9. January 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    I love that series of little phrases you quote. Wonderful! I am sometimes a wee bit suspicious of coincidence in Hardy, but I would willingly suspend my disbelief in the interests of good writing, which it clearly is.

    I started reading Hardy in my teens, and I think Under the Greenwood Tree was the one I didn’t like… I will be interested to see your reaction. If it is positive I will abandon my earlier impressions and try again! (I am not convinced that my teenaged-self was a competent judge of literary worth.)

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    • January 14, 2012 at 10:21 am

      He’s great, isn’t he? I’m looking forward to the next one.

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