MR. HARDY, who has now, we think, for the first time allowed his name to appear on a title-page, is at once an interesting and a disappointing writer. He is, perhaps, the most vigorous of all the novelists who have appeared within the last few years; his powers of description, his skill in devising "situations," his quaint humour, secure him a high place among novelists of any age; while, on the other hand, a sort of recklessness seems at times to overcome and neutralize all these qualities, and the coarseness upon which we remarked in reviewing his 'Desperate Remedies,' some four years ago, disfigures his work and repels the reader. He is evidently a shrewd observer of the talk and habits of the Somersetshire rustics; and yet he puts such expressions into their mouths as "Passably well put," "Every looker-on's inside shook with the blows of the great drum to his deepest vitals, and there was not a dry eye throughout the town," and so on—expressions which we imply cannot believe possible from the illiterate clods whom he describes. Then, though his style is often admirable, he gives us such monstrous periphrases as "a fair product of Nature in a feminine direction," and other specimens of the worst "penny-a-liners" language, till we almost despair of him and then, a little further on, we conic to such an admirable variation of an old aphorism as "Men take wives because possession is not possible without marriage, and women accept husbands because marriage is not possible without possession." And so on throughout the book, "nil fuit unquam sic impar sibi" [nothing will ever seem thus to be uneven or inappropriate to him]; and we are alternately attracted and repelled by admirable delineations of man and nature in the one hand, and gross improbabilities on the other, till we lay it down, unable to say whether the author is an ill-regulated genius or a charlatan with some touches of cleverness. How his present story could ever have even been supposed to be written by George Eliot we cannot conceive, though her influence has been plainly visible in some of his former books; we should say, on the contrary, that some of the scenes, notably that where Sergeant Troy goes through the sword exercise before Bathsheba, are worthy, in their extravagance, of Mr. Reade, and of him only; while stronger parts are Mr. Hardy's own. At least we know of no other living author who could so have described the burning rick-yard, or the approaching thunder-storm, or given us wonderful comicalities of the supper at the malt-house. The contrasted characters of the three chief men of the story are also well worked out; the man of single eye, who waits works patiently, scarcely hoping even for recognition, but ready to help the woman he loves, literally through fire and water; the profligate soldier, who comes, sees, and, for a time conquers; and the reserved, middle-aged farmer, falling in love for the first time at forty, and then driven almost, if not quite, to insanity by disappointment,—all play their parts well, and take their due shares in the development of the story. On the whole, we leave Mr. Hardy with some hope. He ought to hold his peace for at least two years, revise with extreme care, and refrain from publishing in magazines; then, though he has not done it yet, he may possibly write a nearly, if not quite, first-rate novel.
Hardy, Thomas. Far from the Madding Crowd. 2 vols. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1874,
[Review.] "NOVELS OF THE WEEK." Athenæun, No. 2458 (5 December 1874): 747.
Last modified 29 February 2008