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Um, I think I know the answer to this already…..

So I got linked to this today

And it just so happens that this is the weekend that my best friend moved, so we had a brief conversation about having to move books. And then I unpacked what I think might be the last box of books in our house (but I can’t guarantee this), cataloguing them as I go, because that’s what I do now, as I’ve got a pretty decent app on my phone that lets you enter or scan ISBNs (or SBNs, even, have had more than a few of those) and checks them on Amazon and Goodreads to get all the information. (You can also enter the details manually for any book that is pre-SBN-days. Got some of those too…..) Anyway, long story long, 1082 is the current count of print books we have in this house. I don’t know exactly how many are on my UK Kindle account, or how many are on my shared US Kindle account (hi, Mom!) or how many I’ve got randomly on my computer from Project Gutenberg or Publishers Weekly or whatever other ebook sources I’ve found over the years. Or how many print books are still back in the US (hi, Mom!).

For the record, my book nerd score is 43.

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The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe

Ever since I read Moon Dust, I have been mildly obsessed with the space program. It’s not a new obsession; it’s one that lurks in the background of my mind and pops up every once in a while. I do wish that there were more of an active space exploration program, and that the space program as it is got more publicity (certainly when things go right, not just when things go wrong).

But, yes, ever since I read Moon Dust, I’ve had a renewed obsession. I watched through the entirety of From the Earth to the Moon (the story of Apollo 1 always makes me cry), rewatched Apollo 13 for the millionth time (stupid Ron Howard, sucking me in), had the Wikipedia pages on the astronauts up on a nearly permanent basis. And I acquired a copy of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. Next step, assuming the obsession hasn’t burned itself out, is to try to find a copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s book about Apollo. (And watch the film of The Right Stuff, of course.  I may do a follow-up entry after watching it, to compare the book and the film. Oh, Ed Harris, I love your work.)

The other stimulus for The Right Stuff, for me, is the fact that it was written by Tom Wolfe. See, my senior seminar at university was on “New Journalism” – what is sometimes now called “creative” or “narrative” non-fiction.  (I won’t get into my full frustration with time-based appellations here. Let’s just summarize it by saying that in, say, fifty years, “new” forms of literature are going to have to be referred to as post-contemporary-post-post-modernist-new-literature or something ridiculous like that.) Anyway, “narrative non-fiction” is a movement that started in the 60s, as so many movements did, and changed the tone of non-fiction from very objective, impartial, and fact-based to subjective, personal, and fact-based. The writer, in creative non-fiction and new journalism, can be as much of a character as the people that he’s interviewed. At the very least, his (or her) personality and literary choices are acknowledged as a forming part of the book. Books – or articles, since a lot of the new journalism was found in feature magazines like Rolling Stone – are very personal, telling not only what happened, but what it was like. The tone is often very similar to sitting in a bar listening to someone tell about their experience.

Certainly The Right Stuff is. It’s full of facts, of course. There’s nothing in it that can’t be corroborated. There’s nothing in it that isn’t untrue. But there are any number of asides and perspectives that make it seem more subjective than you might expect from a non-fiction book.

Basically, The Right Stuff is about the beginnings of the astronaut program. I’m using that word deliberately, because in addition to the Mercury program (and all the hoopla around the Mercury Seven, the first astronauts) it’s also about the test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base, particularly Chuck Yeager and his group, and the unstated rivalry between the X-15 program (piloted planes that could potentially go beyond the boundary of space) and the Mercury program. It’s about the events, the politics behind them (in both a Washington and a non-Washington sense of “politics”), and the personalities involved.

The Right Stuff, as a phrase, is used informally throughout the book for that ineffable quality that pilots might have. One can lose the right stuff at any point (“it can burst at any seam”), and for any reason – some of which have to do with the person and some to do with external forces, especially doctors.

One of the things that I took away from this book – and, to some extent, Moon Dust – is how finite NASA’s goals were, and became. “Beat the Soviets.” “Put a man in space.” “Put a man on the moon.” Well, …. now what? It’s actually kind of sad – whenever they attempted to do something scientific or discover something in the Mercury program, it was thwarted for various reasons. Grissom’s capsule was lost. Carpenter was all but dismissed from the program. In Apollo, the “scientists” were looked down on, to some extent, by the pilots. And it’s sad, because the science of it, the discovery process, might not be as glamorous or as quick-rewarding, but that’s what keeps programs going.

The other thing that I found sad in this book was the dichotomy between the Mercury program and the X-15/X-20 program. It’s a great “what would have been”.  The X-programs were training and developing piloted aircraft to take off from the ground and enter space – kind of like the space shuttle eventually was, sort of. If they had been allowed to continue (they were killed to free up funding and resources for Apollo and other NASA programs), it is entirely possible that we would be closer to “space tourism” or at least more commercially viable space exploration today. We might not have put a man on the moon by the end of the 60s – and I do love Apollo – but we might be making more trips there today.

Of course, it’s impossible to say what might have been. But the overwhelming sense that I got from Tom Wolfe’s book was that NASA – and Washington – were playing the short game while the X-program was playing the long game. And too often we can’t even see the benefits of the long game for the risks, and the rewards of the short game.

This book is also a monument to how fickle and short-term public interest is. Not that the book itself has dated – it hasn’t, surprisingly. But Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier (Mach 1) and was as feted as Lindbergh. Within a few years, it was the turn of the Mercury Seven, and all the work that was being done at Edwards was ignored. Alan Shepard was the first American in space, and got a ticker-tape parade in New York and went to the White House. Gus Grissom was second, and got a handshake on the tarmac. John Glenn was the first American in orbit, and was the Golden Boy for a long time. Who can remember the others who also made orbital flights? (Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, and Gordon Cooper. Deke Slayton was one of the Mercury Seven, but was grounded before he went into space.) And before Mercury was even over, attention had shifted to other aspects of the Cold War – in fact, people were declaring the Cold War over. NASA’s attention had shifted to Gemini and Apollo. The public’s attention had shifted away from NASA. And it certainly had shifted away from the test pilots outside of NASA. Chuck Yeager almost died trying to set a new flying record, and no one noticed.

It’s definitely a “new journalism” book. While Tom Wolfe is never explicitly present, the style is very much his, and you’re very much there. It’s “fly-on-the-wall” – you almost feel like you are there, watching John Glenn confront the other astronauts, or hiding in the houses with the wives and families trying to evade the press corps, or drag-racing along Cocoa Beach, or screaming up through the atmosphere in either a jet or the Mercury capsule. It’s not easy to read, exactly – the style takes some getting used to. Narrative non-fiction has become incorporated into most modern non-fiction today, but The Right Stuff is “new journalism” at its most raw (without being Hunter S. Thompson), so it can be a little bit disconcerting.

Next up on my agenda is the film – like I said at the top, I may do a follow-up post once I’ve watched that. (Probably within the week. Ah, the joys of being essentially unemployed.) And then perhaps I’ll be able to move on from this current NASA obsession, and on to other things….

P.S. I still want to read profiles, both mission profiles and post-Apollo profiles – of the CM pilots. Does such a book exist? Like Moon Dust, but for the astronauts who stayed in the CM….

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Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

I’ve been reading Anna Karenina off and on for months now. I enjoy Tolstoy’s long-form writing – okay, let me clarify: I really loved War and Peace, and still maintain that it is one of the perfect travelling books. I expected Anna Karenina to be like War and Peace, and it is in many ways.

(I had a whole thing written up, which unfortunately got lost in a chocolate/hot day scenario. I will try to recreate it as much as possible but at this point it’s been about two weeks since I finished the book and it’s been a really busy, mentally intense two weeks….)

One of the things that I think Tolstoy does very well is character. Every character – all the major characters, at least – have something sympathetic and relatable about them.  I enjoyed the stories of everyone in Anna Karenina. I enjoyed Vronsky, and Anna (even if I got incredibly annoyed with her attitude by the end), and I absolutely loved Levin and Kitty. I thought their relationship was wonderful and real and I really hoped that they would be happy.

Character is especially important in Anna Karenina because it is ultimately a book about relationships. Even more than War and Peace, the characters are connected. In War and Peace, there are several different groups of people who occasionally interact, but are mostly separate. In Anna Karenina, there are several different groups of people who are all connected in various ways. It makes it easy to get to know the key characters – Anna, Vronsky, Levin, Kitty, etc. – because you see them in a variety of situations and from a variety of perspectives. It makes it less easy to keep track of the secondary characters, especially when they are sometimes referred to with their patronymic and sometimes not. But it is about the relationships – romantic relationships, family relationships, and friendships – of all the characters, and you can’t understand the relationships until you understand the people.

Another thing that Tolstoy does is long ramblings about the state of the world – or, at least, the state of Russia. Both Anna Karenina and War and Peace include paragraphs and paragraphs about philosophical questions and cultural attitudes of the time. Anna Karenina, for example, includes entire chapters about agriculture and the state of the peasants, among other things. This is something that works quite a lot better in War and Peace than it does in Anna Karenina. You expect a book called War and Peace to be about – well, war and peace. You expect the long sections dissecting the state of the world. Anna Karenina, on the other hand, you expect to be about the people. The digressions about agriculture or education or whatever, even when they’re “subtly” inserted into conversations, seem a little bit obvious and out of place.

But the bits that are story are quite fascinating. Like I said, I totally loved  Levin and Kitty – I don’t think I’d want to know Levin in real life; he’d be a bit too serious and earnest and idealistic for me – and was so glad that their story ended well. I quite enjoyed Anna and Vronsky, until the end when she got a little bit loopy.  (“If I kill myself, THEN HE’LL BE SORRY”…..not exactly healthy, there, Anna.) I enjoyed the intricacies of society in Moscow and St Petersburg and how they were reflected in each of the characters.

When I finished War and Peace, even though it had taken me a long time, I just wanted to relive it. I don’t feel quite the same about Anna Karenina, though. I enjoyed it, but I think I like the bigger one better.

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The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

This book has been on my vague “Oh, I heard that was good and want to read it” list for ages – since it came out, really. Once his second book came out, I decided that now was as good a time as any to get to it.

It’s an interesting book; hard to categorize. It is, on the surface, about a boy (the “Pi” of the title) who grew up in India, the son of a zookeeper, and who survived a shipwreck during his family’s emigration to Canada. There’s kind of two parts to the book: before the shipwreck and after the shipwreck. The two are sort of nominally connected, through Pi and the animals, but are not really connected in events or themes.

The first half details Pi’s childhood, and especially his  various faiths. He grew up as a Hindu, but over the first section of the book he also becomes a Christian and a Muslim – all three at the same time. There’s also an element of atheism – although scientific rationalism or something like that might be more accurate. Pi definitely believes in God; he just also believes in the validity of evolution. His perspective on religion is that of multiple manifestations. He doesn’t disbelieve most fundamental parts of Christianity and Islam, for example – he believes that Muhammad was the prophet of God, that Jesus died to save the world and then rose again – he just doesn’t ascribe to the part that says “this is the only right way to believe in God.” It’s one of the more troubling aspects of religion in a pluralistic society.

Then the shipwreck happens and, other than a few mentions of God, the religious aspect of the book is completely abandoned, and it becomes about survival. The cargo ship that Pi, his family, and most of their zoo animals are on sinks without a trace. Pi and a few of the animals are the only survivors. There is a hyena, a zebra (quickly dispatched by the hyena), an orangutan (also dispatched by the hyena), and a Bengal tiger (who then kills the hyena). Pi and the tiger (whose name is Richard Parker) sail on in the lifeboat for 227 days before finally landing in Mexico.

The last bit of the book brought up some issues for me. Pi tells his story to some insurance claims agents representing the ship’s company. They don’t believe that he could have survived for so long, especially with a Bengal tiger – so Pi tells them another story that replaces the animal characters with human characters, turning the story that we have just heard into an allegory for the actual, human experiences that he had. There is no way of knowing, for sure, which story is true, and it turns Pi – up until now a fairly reliable narrator or at least not an obviously unreliable narrator – into a blatantly unreliable narrator.  Was there actually a Bengal tiger? The story as it is told seems to say yes. But there are clues scattered throughout that, upon rereading, might point to the human story being the truth and the animal story being Pi’s way of explaining the savagery of the survivors. Clues like those in The Sixth Sense that you take at face value within the story until you know the ending, and then they can easily be read in a different way. I am going to have to reread this book with an eye to these things at some point.

Overall, unfortunately, I was kind of disappointed in this book. I felt like there was a disconnect between the first part of the book (Pi’s religious explorations) and the second (the shipwreck). The twist of Pi as unreliable narrator almost felt like a slap in the face, like a betrayal – I’d trusted him and empathized  with him the whole way through, and I would have liked the chance to do that with the understanding of it as allegory, if it is. Or if it’s not, why pretend that it might be? I don’t know for sure, it just bothered me. And, in a way, it felt like a cheap way to get the reader to read the book again. It put a mystery in at the end, but the solution to the mystery (if there is one) lies before you are aware that there is a mystery to be solved. Maybe it would have been too clichéd or something to flip the book so that the allegorical implication comes at the beginning, but for me it changed the whole tone and idea of the book – after I’d already read through 90% of it with one impression. It doesn’t make the book a lie, but it did feel like a betrayal of my reading experience.

I’m not saying it wasn’t good, though – it was very readable in that “I’m trying to be deep and profound” way that a lot of modern “literary” fiction has. I’m just saying that there were things about it, especially about the structure of it, that I didn’t like.

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The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke

Cornelia Funke is a fantastic children’s fantasy writer. The Inkheart trilogy was a fairly brilliant double story (the story in Inkheart and the story of Mo and his family), so I was expecting great things from The Thief Lord.

It’s not the tightest story in the world, but for some reason I couldn’t put it down. There are different threads that don’t always quite mesh together, but the kids – the main characters – are wonderful.  The fringe characters are a bit broad, almost to the point of caricature – which was distracting when the first character you really meet is a villain who is so unremittingly bad that I kept expecting her to be revealed as an literal witch or something like that (who then vanishes for most of the book, until she’s needed again to create tension).

Like I said above, there are different threads in the book. There’s the story of the two brothers, Prosper and Bo, who don’t want to be separated. Their thread runs through the whole book. It occasionally is more prominent than at other times, but it is always present. Then there is the story of the gang – a group of homeless, abandoned children (which sounds more pathetic than it is) who are led, in a way, by one who calls himself the Thief Lord. They in turn mix in with the thread of the magical merry-go-round, which is one of the turning points of the book but isn’t even mentioned until at least halfway through. There are also vague subsubthreads that feature the adults – the detective searching for the brothers and the fence who buys the children’s stolen goods. And Scipio, the Thief Lord, has his own thread that appears and weaves in about halfway through as well.

All the threads merge together by the end, sort of, but the book as a whole never quite gels properly – and I kept waiting for it to. The ideas are all there, and all interesting, but because there are so many of them, it bounces back and forth, and I was waiting for things to happen, things to get explained, or things to resolve that never quite did. I think it just suffers from too many stories to tell. The magical merry-go-round was kind of overkill. I know what she was trying to do with it, but I think that was the thread that, for me, pushed the story over the top. There was plenty to deal with in the stories of all the children, who had been abandoned in a variety of ways, without adding the merry-go-round to it, even if the merry-go-round is what tilted the world into fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, I think the magical merry-go-round was a fantastic idea; I just think it was overkill in this particular book.

But, at the same time, I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know what would happen to the kids; if Prosper and Bo would be able to stay together; what the detective was going to do about them. It was a fairly quick read (it took me two days of inconsistent reading to get through – so only a couple of hours, really), and in general I like Cornelia Funke and whoever translates her from the German. It wasn’t as good as the Inkheart trilogy – especially not the first book – but it wasn’t a waste of time, either.

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Coyote Blue, by Christopher Moore

I usually think Christopher Moore is a very funny writer. Lamb made me laugh out loud more than once (as it did my religiously-conservative grandfather, which is pretty impressive given the book’s subject matter). I tend to read Christopher Moore when I want something substantial but not too dense.

Coyote Blue is not really that funny a book, though. It’s about a Crow who has – sort of unwillingly – abandoned his heritage, right up to the point where Coyote, the trickster, comes back to his life and he is dragged back into it. The book still has the relatively light style of the other Christopher Moore books that I’ve read, but the irreverence of books like Lamb or Fluke just isn’t there. It maybe is meant to be, but I couldn’t find it.

That’s not to say that it’s a bad book, it’s just … less funny than I expected from Christopher Moore. I liked Sam, for the most part, but I didn’t really know Calliope as a character, and what I did know I couldn’t really identify with. The storyline got to be a little bit manic, and I’m still not sure why some of the things at the beginning happened, unless the entire motivation was to get Sam’s attention.

It reminded me quite a lot of Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman. It had some of the same themes: ancient, almost forgotten American gods who originated in Africa (spoiler! and actually something which in retrospect kind of bothers me*) forcing their attention onto the human that they have chosen to tell their stories. I like Anansi Boys better; I think it’s a more logical story (within the constructs of the story, at least).

But, again, it’s not a bad book. I did quite like it. It’s just that if you’re looking for something like Lamb, you might be disappointed.

*Why does one of the more common American gods (Coyote) need to have originated in Egypt, to be the brother of Anubis? Why can’t the American gods and the various American cultures have originated in parallel with that of the rest of the world, instead of being an off-shoot of them? It seems like an unnecessary addition. Sam could have gone to “The Spirit World” to bring Calliope back; it didn’t have to have a random Egyptian connection to make it valid. And if you’re going to throw in random lines about Mormonism being valid (I did kind of laugh at Coyote’s reaction to that), why not also play with the idea that the Vikings were the first “white” people to settle in North America, and have it be Valhalla that Sam finds himself in? Having it be Egypt doesn’t really make sense to me, on a number of different levels. I may not know that much about the Crow beliefs, but I dislike the fact that he went outside an American context when the rest of the book is so focused on the Crow and the “Native American” culture. (Yes, I put “Native American” in quotation marks. They’re not a homogenous group.) I think he probably could have – and, in my opinion, should have – found a different path to the same thing, one that didn’t implicitly diminish the value of native American beliefs and cultures.

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A Pair of Blue Eyes, by Thomas Hardy

Hardy is an interesting author to read. I absolutely adore his style: the writing is beautiful and evocative and emotional. However, he can be absolutely heart-wrenchingly painful to read.

The first Hardy I ever read was Tess of the d’Urbervilles which, as my old literature students will tell you, has a main character with the most unremitting bad luck of any character in fiction. Throughout the book, bad things happen to her, and she deals with them in the only way possible that will keep further bad things, or worse things, from happening, and then worse things happen anyway. But the writing is so gorgeous that even as you’re weeping for Tess (and cursing the people responsible for her situation), you absolutely love her.

And then there’s Jude. Oh, Jude the Obscure. Again, absolutely gorgeous writing, and a book I will never ever read again. There is one particular scene which is horribly inevitable, but that doesn’t make it any less painful to experience. I read it on a train in Italy, with my friends who had already read it looking on, and I actually shrieked in horror. They knew exactly where in the book I was. The mental image of that scene will never, ever leave me.

Hardy has a particular gift for making horrible things seem inevitable. There is a point in the book, the Judicture* if you will, where you know that bad things are going to happen to these characters and there’s no way they can stop it. It is the point where the story shifts from “things are fine” to “life is hell”.

A Pair of Blue Eyes is an early Hardy, and it’s pretty obvious. It’s not a bad book by any means, it’s just not as clear or refined as his later books. There are definite indications of what he will become as a writer, but the full impact is not there yet.

The indications certainly are there, though. The language is approaching the beauty and clarity of later books like Tess and Jude – I don’t have specific examples but it was certainly easy to read. The mood, while I’m sure devastating to Elfride (the main character), was not nearly as traumatic to read as Tess or Jude. But the most striking indication of his later greatness is in the themes.

A Pair of Blue Eyes is basically about a young country girl and her love life. Elfride, who just turned 19 when the book starts, is a completely innocent parson’s daughter in the Southwest of England (probably Dorset, less than a day’s journey from Plymouth anyway). She falls in love for the first time with Stephen Smith, a man whom her father thinks is unsuitable for her (he’s lower class). They become secretly engaged, and even run off to get married, but she gets cold feet at the last minute and they return unmarried. She tries to be faithful to him when he goes to India to make his fortune and prove himself, but then falls in love with Harry Knight, an older man (who happens to be Stephen’s mentor). She doesn’t tell the older man about her past, and he refuses to marry her when he finds out that she’d had a (non-physical, although he doesn’t know that) lover before. After a year or more of separation, Knight and Stephen meet, realise the truth, and go to each try to win Elfride again – only to come on her funeral procession and her now-widowed husband. They decry her as false, but leave the grieving husband in peace.

All the elements are there: love and the way society sees love; women’s roles in love and society; the clash between classes; the clash between country and city; secrecy and its devastating effect on relationships. These themes are more developed in Tess and Jude, of course, but they’re certainly there in Blue Eyes.

(You know, it’s much harder to shorten the title of a Hardy book that doesn’t have the main character’s name in it. Tess and Jude = easy. Even The Mayor of Casterbridge can easily be known by “Casterbridge”. But “A Pair of Blue Eyes”? “Blue Eyes”, I suppose. The funny thing is that apart from one incident, her blue eyes aren’t really a plot point at all. I suppose it’s just another example of how relatively undeveloped Hardy was at this point.)

Anyway: love, society’s view of love, women’s roles in love. Elfride, as I mentioned is an innocent. She’d had a brief flirtation with a local boy that, in her eyes, was just kindness, but in his eyes was true love. The boy then dies, and his mother blames Elfride and hates her bitterly. She then does everything in her power (which is not much, but enough) to destroy Elfride’s future happiness.

Then there’s the old attitude (that still hangs on, to some extent, today), that a woman should be innocent until marriage, but a man is expected to be experienced. Both Stephen and Knight (although, to be fair, Stephen got the idea from Knight) think and say that the sweetest first kiss is an awkward one, because it proves that the woman has never been kissed before. Knight even falls in love with Elfride because he believes that she has never loved anyone before. He tells her so (and then is it any wonder that she can’t confess that she has, in fact, had a previous boyfriend?). He leaves her because he can’t accept the fact that she was planning to marry someone before him (and because she hadn’t told him, but mostly it’s the fact that she’d had a boyfriend before). Knight himself, on the other hand, is considered very wise and experienced – and indeed he has thought about the subject extensively although he is a rarity who has no physical experience himself.

And, a vent: Boys. When you break up with a girl, and leave the country, and do your best to forget her, and do not communicate with her in any way for a year, she is in no way “false” when she marries someone else. When you give her no indication that you are ever coming back or that you still have feelings for her, she is not “false” when she marries someone else. When you have moved on, or at least tried to, then you have to expect that she will do the same. I know that in The Princess Bride, Westley says “Why didn’t you wait for me? Death cannot stop true love,” and it’s very sweet and romantic. But that is an idealised fairy tale and should not in any way be taken as reality. Reality is this: the woman has just as much right to move on, change her mind, and find a new relationship as the man does. When you disappear completely, you can’t expect her to wait, unknowing and unchanging, forever.

(This rant is based mostly on the book and partially on personal life events. Yeah, I’m still mad about that one. It’ll be a while longer before I’m fully over it, I think.)

The class clash, and the clash between city and country, is seen most in the character of Stephen Smith. The city is seen to be a haven of culture and experience – anyone who comes recommended from the city must be a person of worth. When Elfride’s father finds out that Stephen is not just a country boy but a lower-class country boy, all of Stephen’s education and employment count for nothing. Stephen is accepted with open arms when the parson thinks he is an architect’s assistant from London; he is essentially thrown out of the house when his father is a local labourer. Elfride even points this out – that Stephen himself hasn’t changed, just their knowledge of his parents, and if his parents had been labourers from, say, the North, Stephen still would have been accepted. But because they are aware of his low birth and his local history, he is suddenly unacceptable.

Knight, too, is incredibly condescending toward Stephen. Knight has lived in the city much longer and maintains fewer ties to the local area. What ties he does have are loose, and higher class. This makes Knight not just an acceptable suitor for Elfride, but a superior person (even though, in my mind, Stephen was much better for Elfride and more of a person that I’d like to know).

Finally, secrecy. It’s when secrets are revealed that the Judictures come in this book (although, as I’ve said, they’re not as devastating as the Judictures in Tess or Jude). Stephen’s revelation that his parents are local labourers leads to his banishment from the parsonage, and hence to his and Elfride’s elopement. The parson’s secret relationship with a local (rich) woman prevents Elfride from confiding in him about her relationship with Stephen. Elfride’s (unwilling) revelation about her previous relationship leads to Knight’s departure.  If any of those three secrets hadn’t been secrets, the story would have been much, much different. Even if the telling of the secrets had been different (well, except for the first one which is almost entirely down to the parson’s snobbery), the story would have been much, much different.

The story revolves around miscommunication, misapprehension, and misunderstandings from almost the first word. It shows signs of the greatness that Hardy achieves in his later works, without the emotional devastation that makes him painful to experience.

*Judicture = a combination of Jude (from Jude the Obscure) and juncture (the juncture of “life is fine” and “life is not fine”). Spread the word. Let’s get in the OED someday.

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