Muse and Views met May 31 at Linda's to discuss the Thomas Hardy book Far From the Madding Crowd (FFTMC), Beth's choice. In attendance were Linda, Shirley, Carla, Betty, Colette, Beth and Jolene. Asian food, pinwheel sandwiches, yummy cake, and a free book table added to the fun.
Beth gave us a detailed description of Hardy's background and writing passions. He lived in the late Victorian period from 1840 to 1928 and was born in Dorcester, near the area that he writes about, renamed Wessex in his books. He was an architect by trade, but once he became successful as a writer, particularly with FFTMC, he gave up his architectural career. His novels were popular even during his lifetime, and his poetry has grown in appreciation since his death. Poems like Darkling Thrush have even been set to music. Among his 10 novels are A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873), from which the term "cliff hanger" may be derived, Tess of the d'Ubervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Jude the Obscure.
Beth pointed out Hardy's fascination with architecture, ecology, Christian faith, and mystery. Ghosts, coincidence, preserving the environment and a distaste for class distinctions are frequent aspects of his writing. An intriguing question involved his burial. The executor of his will wanted him interred in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, and indeed that is where his ashes are. However, his heart was apparently taken to be buried with his first wife, with whom he had had a difficult relationship and over whom he felt remorse. Did the heart make it back to Dorset, or was it misplaced? A theme right out of Hitchcock! Finally, Linda mentioned that Hardy is held in particularly high esteem in Japan and they make pilgrimages to his home in England.
Five out of seven members in attendance liked the book. All agreed that because it was written in serialized form, it was quite it l-o-n-g. Janet added her comments via e-mail, pointing out that we all hope our daughters don't make the mistake that Bathsheba made, choosing the looks and superficial Troys over the strong and steady Gabriel Oak's in life. The lengthy descriptions typical of the period did not always appeal to our modern tastes, but the happy ending, interesting plot, and good characterization were appreciated. Those who had had the opportunity to get the movie from the library found the film helpful and close to the novel in detail. Biblical references, evident even in the names, were also interesting.
Beth and Linda had personal connections: Beth's husband has an ancestor named Richard Jeffries, who wrote a book at the same time as Hardy, and no doubt would have become just as popular, if Hardy had not stolen the limelight. :) Linda has a friend in a professor named Dr. Baker, a writer himself and avid reader, and we encouraged her to invite him to book club next May when he is in town again. Linda may pick a Sue Grafton novel for him to discuss with us.
Other business: Next meeting is at Colette's place June 28, discussing The Book of Negroes, Shirley's choice. Colette will encourage Jane to give us her September choice by the end of June, so that we can read it over the summer break. Carla has opted for The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees for October.