(I was reading this article and it triggered a train of thought which is worthy of a post.)
I am sometimes asked which classical novelist is my favorite, and honestly, I have a tough time answering the question. Victor Hugo? Balzac? Dumas? Mann? Hardy? Robert Graves? D.H. Lawrence?
Wait, go back a bit; Hardy? Jude The Obscure, Far From The Madding Crowd, The Mayor Of Casterbridge… that Thomas Hardy?
Indeed. My first exposure to Hardy was The Mayor Of Casterbridge (our 12th-grade set work). I was utterly captivated, and despite the oncoming final exams and the endless study involved, I still somehow managed to squeeze in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Return Of The Native and The Woodlanders before year’s end. In my lifetime, I have read all his “major” novels (i.e. the Wessex series) at least twice each, and Casterbridge maybe six times.
Here’s why. I was (still am) a rebellious soul who has always looked on the customs and mores of society (of any era) with a critical and jaundiced eye. (That I have a favorite era — late Victorian / Edwardian — does not stop me from being critical of it, understanding its shortcomings and loving it nevertheless, especially when I compare it to our modern, soulless technocracy.)
Hardy was probably one of the most critical writers of my favorite era, ever. In fact, so scathing was his “realistic” perspective that many people believe that he finally eschewed novel-writing for poetry because of the opprobrium he received for his baleful scrutiny.
And for the 16-year-old Kim, full of ignorant passion and rebellion, Hardy was fuel to the fire — not for his displeasure with the Victorian era, but for his displeasure per se. It became easy to criticize apartheid-era South African society (and I did) using Hardy’s prose as my role model. It may therefore come as no surprise to my Loyal Readers that I haven’t changed a bit, except that now my ire is directed towards our contemporary society of the early 21st century.
My only regret is that I don’t have Hardy’s skill as a novelist — nobody does — but that doesn’t stop me from reading him, over and over again.
In fact, I think it’s high time for me to re-read… hmmmm, which one… Native? Jude? Casterbridge?
I’ll let you know.