I was talking to a friend who said he couldn’t stand The Mayor of Casterbridge. “Hardy manipulated his characters too much; he couldn’t leave them alone,” he said. Claire Tomalin, who wrote a biography of Hardy, said the book was “flawed by having too much plot, too many incidents packed in too fast”, and that the fact that he had to write it for serialization was partly to blame for this.
I had just finished reading it and was upset – I didn’t think the novel could be better. I loved the fact that so often, people acted or said something “sweetly unconscious of the turn in the tide” and I wanted to disprove Tomalin and my friend – silly.
The writing is top flight. And they agree with that. When a man says something in a tone of disappointment, the tone is “so strong as to make itself felt like a damp atmosphere.” After someone reads a letter that has momentous news he “regarded the paper as if it were a window-pane through which he saw for miles.” One evening, when it was raining in the wood, Hardy says “it was raining so heavily that ivy and laurel resounded like distant musketry.” And then there’s his depiction of little Casterbridge, the town without suburbs, the square of urban life surrounded on all sides by rural life which “stood, with regard to the wide fertile land adjoining, clean-cut and distinct, like a chess board on a green table-cloth.”