when thomas hardy died, he wanted to be buried in stinsford. pretty much everyone else wanted him to be buried in westminster abbey. so a compromise—they take out his heart and put it in a tin and bury that in stinsford and the rest of him is to be cremated and buried in westminster abbey. but then a cat comes along and eats the heart so they have to kill the cat and bury that instead.
that, my friends, is a ‘pastoral legend’ which i grew up believing and which this book killed for me. the whole cat part is untrue, the dual-burial is very true. but i think that the story emerged because thomas hardy’s life was pretty…boring. his creative life and output is amazing, but to achieve that he mostly had to sit around, writing. no complicated entanglements, no flipping over the christmas table, no drugged-out suicide attempts. thomas hardy stayed in an unsuitable marriage for years upon years, quietly writing and grasping for fame and social betterment. staid and english. tea and dogs. the best hardy quote from the book is his own:
There is not that regular gradation among womankind that there is among men. You may meet with 999 exactly alike, and then the thousandth—not a little better, but far above them. Practically therefore, it is useless for a man to seek after this thousandth to make her his.
sheesh. this concept of settling for average rather than going out and chasing that mythical thousandth woman may have been what led to his unhappy marriage. but it did lead him to create some of the more memorable women in fiction. (although i will never care about tess, and she was apparently his favorite) as for the rest of it, i didn’t really know that much about hardy, having only read his poems and novels. it is a good book to get the chronology straight, it explains some of the thematic progressions. and ms. tomalin has this great quote (which i know alfonso will disagree with): Reading jude is like being hit in the face over and over again. i could not have said it any better myself. it is truly unfortunate that the critical reaction to jude made him give up writing novels, because i would have loved to have seen what would have been his next stage in envelope-pushing. but this bio is a pretty good book, just not the most exciting thing i have ever read.
and yes, i am one of those thousandth women…