Book #14

A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy

Elfride Swancourt is the daughter of the Rector of Endelstow, a remote sea-swept parish in Corwall based on St Juliot, where Hardy began A Pair of Blue Eyes during the beginning of his courtship of his first wife, Emma. Blue-eyed and high-spirited, Elfride has little experience of the world beyond, and becomes entangled with two men: the boyish architect, Stephen Smith, and the older literary man, Henry Knight. The former friends become rivals, and Elfride faces an agonizing choice.

I love Thomas Hardy with all my heart. Those who have never picked up one of his novels will view this one, before reading, as a tale of blossoming romance in an idyllic historical setting. Although it's, admittedly, partly this, having read many of Hardy's works before, I knew this would be a turbulent, devastating, and heartbreaking affair, with no doubt some sort of tragic ending. I was not wrong, and I love him all the more for it.

Elfride is the Endelstow vicar's daughter, and she's a feisty one at that. Young, impressionable, materialistic, and a bit selfish, she's an infuriating character throughout the novel. Indecision and doubt are rife within her, and the choices she makes doom her scornfully. Despite this, there's something raw, relatable, and honest within her; this alone are her only redeeming features. Introduce the lip-chewer of a love triangle, and we're all in way too deep.

I found both of Elfride's lovers pathetic in their own ways. Now, I'm not sure if that was Hardy's intention, or if this stems from my general experiences with men; I'm hoping it's the former. Stephen, an upcoming, but poor, young architect, is naive, lovestruck, and utterly clueless. Henry, an older, educated, Latin-quoting crank of pretension, is entirely the opposite, yet loathsome in the same exasperating type of way.

Hardy makes interesting social commentaries on the concept of class in the 19th century, mostly in relation to love. This is always something I enjoy reading about, as it' something I find puzzling. To think your father would forbid you from marrying a man due to his father's profession is unfathomable to western women in this age, however was entirely the case at the time. This utterly fascinates me; that Elfride was unable to follow her heart due to her intended's lack of wealth, and that her family had every right to prevent her from doing so, is both horrifying and captivating to me.

The best thing about Hardy novels is how they truly describe nature, and express Hardy's passion for it. A Pair of Blue Eyes, with its pastoral countryside setting, allows you to hear the babbling brooks, feel the Wessex wind on your face, and smell the fresh scents of green across Hardy's fictional county. His descriptions of the colours of Elfride's world lend a real sense of reality to her tale, and paint a gorgeous backdrop to her otherwise melancholy affairs.

A worthwhile and engaging dip into Hardy again. Without spoiling the plot, in true Hardy fashion, he slowly leads up to his finale, rips your world from underneath you, and takes your heart and kneecaps with him. Did they all deserve it, though? Probably.