It took me three weeks to read this book, which means that it’s probably weaned me off of classical literature for the near future, at least until I can get back to reading a couple of hours each night.
That said, this is certainly my current favorite Hardy book, but all I’ve read is Tess of the D’Urbervilles when I was young (at the university) and Under a Greenwood Tree last year. Therefore, it’s currently one of three.
The book details the affairs of the daughter of a rector in West England, Elfride by name. When a young architect comes to draw up plans for the work on the rectory, she falls for him and he for her; he idealizes her and looks up to her after a fashion. They almost elope, as her father discovers that he is of low birth and refuses to approve the match. The young man goes to India to make his fortune. Meanwhile, his educated mentor meets the woman and she falls for him, too. He, on the other hand, does not look up to her, but celebrates her purity and the fact that he’s first in her heart. When her past attachment is uncovered, the scholar breaks off their engagement.
It’s a simple enough structure, but by presenting the two types of man and how she relates to them, the book delves into male-female relationships well. I thought the ending was a bit of a cop-out, though, but the book is still a heck of a read. The language slows one a bit, but not too much off of the pace you get with current dialogue-laden scripts-with-paragraphs.
The book I read was the Penguin classics edition, though, and it came with a horrid, long introductory essay that I was smart enough not to read before I read the book. I mean, it’s a discussion about the themes within the book and has no place ahead of the material it talks about. Also, the introduction did reassure me that I made the right decision in not pursuing a job in academia. It actually has the sentence, “The drama of the plot of A Pair of Blue Eyes is patriarchal,” and although it does not use the word phallic, it does use bourgeous. Oh, for Pete’s sake. It’s a good story with interesting dwellings on the human condition, and the academics sap that power from the narrative through their readings for their own chestnut points. I squirm when I realize these people have moved out of English programs and into government.
Get yourself a good Barnes and Noble edition or a Walter J. Black printing from somewhere and ignore the pretentious pontifications about it and enjoy the story. As Hardy would have wanted it.