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Hardy Musings

 

 

 

Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native is a novel I read many years ago and being an admirer of his work, thought I would re-read it as its premise had long since slipped into the blur of Hardy novels. As any Hardy reader knows- and I don’t know who actually said this but it is very true – if you want a happy ending in a Hardy novel, then read it backwards. Which all sounds rather macabre and miserable, but it isn’t. This is because Hardy uses death as he uses life in his writing, as something that has to be endured and is unavoidable. Which also sounds rather bleak.

OK, so what he does is show us that regardless of the decisions we make, whether they are spontaneous or long deliberated on, makes no difference to the quality of our life and death. Both will occur, and our decisions will only make those occurrences more or less pleasant. The smallest of decisions, the slightest fall from grace or moral behavior can completely ruin or improve our lives. The only snag is that we don’t know when we are making those decisions what the consequence will be. No one can see into the future nor can they know what other people will do or how they will react. So essentially, the fact that all of Hardy’s novels – well, 95% of them – end tragically should act as a warning, a caution for the reader, a kind of flashing red light to check your own behavior and choices before it’s too late. It’s not bleak, it’s cathartic; a ‘thank goodness I’m not that hero/heroine, oops, maybe I should check I’m actually not acting that way.’

That said, my other observation on Hardy has to do with his wordiness, which generally has not ever worried or bothered me. To pick up a Hardy novel is to accept there will be considerable time spent, pages and pages in fact, on descriptions of characters, settings, motivations. Hardy can take six pages quite easily on the description of the interior of a cottage or the walk of a farmer. And this is not a problem. To read Hardy is to sink into his prose and let the imagination conjure up these images he draws  for you with such painstaking clarity. Unlike some other authors, he is determined there should be no mistake about what his readers see when a character enters a scene.

However, I found myself becoming impatient with the descriptions concerning the heath in this novel; Egdon Heath to be exact. The novel opens with a ten page description of the heath at dusk, the colors, the light, the sounds, and if it sounds excessive, it is. But, believe me, you can definitely see the heath by the end of it. But the heath, unusually, is not then left alone now it has been firmly fixed in your mind. No, it keeps on being described throughout the novel; every time someone walks across it, during the day, the night, winter, summer, it’s all there. The heath must be described. And I found myself losing interest in the story, the characters, and most definitely the heath.

Then I realized there is a reason for this preoccupation with an inanimate expanse of unforgiving nature: Hardy is treating it as the main character of his novel. It is the difficult place where the characters must eke out a poor living if they can from furze cutting and livestock grazing, and it rewards them poorly for their labors like a stingy relative. It is the place where characters meet and love and hate using its paths and hollows and ferns to promote or conceal their activities. It hides and reveals sides of characters that would otherwise go unnoticed in more agreeable and easy terrain. It is changeable and uncaring, focused only on its own existence. And once I figured this out, I appreciated the wordiness, the exact descriptions, and the heath’s effect on the other characters.

So now I like Hardy all over again – for his preoccupation with death and setting both. For portraying them as inanimate characters which have enormous influence on every one of us, whether we realize it or not.

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Filed under Book review, Life as we know it, Uncategorized

Wi-fired

OK – a quick heads-up: this is going to amuse some and alienate others. It all rather depends upon which side of fifty you fall.

I own a smart phone – I probably only use ten percent of its features but I do use it.  I use a computer everyday at work and writing novels. I am not a Luddite by any means.

That out of the way: What the hell is so important in the e-world that almost every person walking along the street is head-down, finger clicking, smiling into their phone screen, completely oblivious to approaching cars, buses, or other pedestrians? And even worse are those who also feel the need to mask the entire  real world by plugging themselves in their music whilst walking and clicking.

What are they afraid of out here? Actual human contact? Actual human noise?

Not only are they putting themselves in danger being so cut-off from everything that could potentially kill them, but also those around them who are constantly stepping aside to avoid them, or putting out a restraining hand before they commit unwitting suicide in front of an approaching bus.

I made a point of observing this behavior on a short trip to a city after I had been almost mowed down by several oblivious clickers. The usual rules of polite human interaction no longer apply, apparently, when one has the diversion and excuse of a hand-held device.

No, indeed.

It gives you carte-blanc to bump into people without apologizing, make no eye contact with anyone, ever, and suddenly stop in the middle of the street without warning when something on the screen is so important or startling – probably a new video on youtube – that those behind you have to swerve to avoid a collision. Again – no apology necessary because total immersion in an e-world excuses you for all rudeness in this one.

Even more astonishing is when two such e-worlders bump into each other – the bemused look as sudden re-orientation takes over is almost gratifying. Their location invariably seems to come as a shock and I wonder just how many are actually where they thought they would be at the end of their walk. The sudden realization that there are others around them, that the world on the screen is not the real one, that the last ten minutes have passed without their knowledge, finally seems to register: for a moment, at least.

And then, real-world crisis over, an immediate return to the e-world, and the relief is almost palpable.

As I sat back and observed all of this whilst enjoying a coffee and the sun in my face, I wondered how this would all look to, say, Jane Austen; all this non-interaction, all this rudeness, all this unawareness. She would think us harried indeed, and unfriendly, and possibly on the verge of being robots – if she knew what they might be.Humans being controlled every minute of their lives by a machine no bigger than their hand. She would cringe at the idea that this machine could track your every move should you be so negligent to leave on the GPS; will wake you relentlessly every morning no matter how hard you try to silence it; will keep you connected to everything and everybody, including work, 24/7; will track your buying preferences and store your photos; will find you a new partner, restaurant, power company or game; and will have the ability to make its world so much more relevant and important than the one you actually live in that you can’t put it down even for a walk along the street. God forbid you leave it behind or lose it.

I guess my observations led to this question: Is that video, that email, that photo, that news item so important that it can’t wait ten minutes until you are sitting somewhere and out of harm’s way? Would your life be affected positively or negatively if you took some time away from all the ‘noise’ and enjoyed some ‘real-world’ time occasionally?

For those of us who are tired of being ignored, bumped into, gazed at unseeingly, relegated to being of the least importance, please try coming up for air occasionally; you might enjoy the break.

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Filed under General Thoughts, Life as we know it