1. Under the Greenwood Tree
Hardy’s first important novel Under the Greenwood Tree is a poetic idyll. Here Hardy describes, as he does in most of his novels, the rural life of Wessex. The scene is laid in Mellstock village. Dick Dewy loves Fancy Day, the school mistress. The course of their love does not run smooth. Though there are many obstructions in the way of their marriage, yet in the end they are happily joined. They are engaged, Dick and Fancy Day. But Fancy Day, for sometime, is tempted by the Vicar’s offer of marriage. Soon she realises her mistake and withdraws. The novel ends happily with their marriage.
2. A Pair of Blue Eyes
Stephen Smith, a young architect, comes to Endelstow to restore a Church tower and falls in love with Elfride Swancourt, the blue-eyed daughter of the Vicar. The Vicar does not like the idea of their marriage because Stephen belongs to an ordinary family. The two lovers plan to elope but the girl’s mind is not firm, as a result of which the scheme fails. In his disappointment, Stephen accepts a post in India. Now Elfride meets another lover, Henry Knight, whose life she had saved. They are engaged. Then a woman informs Knight of Elfride’s affair with Stephen and the engagement is broken. This breaks Elfride’s heart. After sometime there is a meeting between Stephen and Knight when the latter comes to know of the true facts about her. They run to Cornwall to clarify the things to her. But her dead body is in the same train by which they are travelling. Such is the irony of Me.
3. Far From the Madding Crowd
Gabriel Oak, the hero of the novel, loves Bathsheba Everdeene devotedly for many years, but gets no encouragement from her. There is a gallant fascinating soldier, Sergeant Troy. He has deserted Fanny Robin who dies in a workhouse. Now he comes to Bathsheba and wins her. But he starts ill-treating her. Boldwood, a farmer, loves Bathsheba with great passion and one night murders Troy. Later on, Boldwood himself becomes mad. Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdeene are at last united. This is one of the better known novels of Hardy.
4. The Woodlanders
In the wooded country near Blackmore Vale in Dorset, Giles Winterbourne carries on the apple and cedar trade. He is betrothed to Grace Melbury, the daughter of a timber merchant. She has gone to a fashionable school for her education. When she comes back, she feels that she is superior to her rustic lover, Giles. Besides Giles is in financial difficulties. This results in the breaking of their engagement.’Her marriage takes place with a fascinating young doctor, Edrcd Fitzpiers. Grace suspects that her husband has illicit relations with Sukc Damson, a village girl. There is also a wealthy widow, Felice Charmond. When she comes to the doctor, he turns away from his wife. This estrangement between the husband and the wife results in divorce which brings Grace and faithful Giles together again. But his hopes come to nothing. Filzpiers had gone abroad with Felice Charmond. When he returns from his travels, Grace flies for shelter to Giles’ Cottage. Giles sleeps in the open. As a result of exposer, Giles dies. Charmond also meets her death. Thus death brings Grace and Fitzpiers to reconciliation. A poor girl Marty South also loved Giles. At the death of this poor man, she and Grace meet by his death-bed. Grace is reconciled to Fitzpiers and poor Marty alone stands near his tomb.
5. The Mayor of Casterbridge
It is the story of a hay-trusser, Michael Henchard by name. Though essentially good at heart, he is a man of moods and strong impulses and owing to his hot headedness often does wrong. Under a fit of drunkenness, he sells his wife, Susana, and infant daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, to a sailor name Newson. Susana, a simple, honest woman, considers the sale as binding upon her and goes away with the sailor. When sober, Henchard repents of the black deed he has committed and takes an oath not to drink for twenty-one years. He solemnly keeps his oath.
Henchard goes to Casterbridge and there by dint of energy and hard work becomes the Mayor of the town as well as the richest and the most flourishing corn and hay merchant. After eighteen years, his wife returns to him, Newson being supposed drowned in one of his voyages. Susana also brings Elizabeth with her, but she is not the same Elizabeth Jane. She is her daughter by Newson, but she keeps Henchard in the dark about the death of his real daughter.
Henchard falls from his high position owing to his wrongheadedness. He quarrels with his friend and able manager Farfrae and turns him out of service. Instead of making him a friend by allowing him to marry Elizabeth (as they are in love), he turns him into an enemy by carrying a cut-throat competetion with him. This competition ruins him and turns him into a beggar. His house and all his other property are auctioned to pay off his debts. They are purchased by Farfrae who now also becomes the Mayor of the town.
Farfrae not only displaces Henchard from the affection of the people and from business, he also displaces him from the heart of his lady-love, Lucetta. Farfrae marries Lucetta which is a severe blow for Henchard. With hot anger burning within him he makes an attempt at his life, but his essential goodness asserts itself and he desists at the last moment.
Henchard is now a lonely man. He hungers for love and affection, but he does not get it from any quarter. He has been alineated from his friend and his beloved has been taken away from him. Now Newson returns and he is in danger of losing Elizabeth-Jane, too, on whose love he has fallen back even though he has been disillusioned about her being his real daughter, So in desperation he tells Newson that Elizabeth is dead and thus tries to keep her to himself.
But all is in vain, Lucetta dies. Farfrae again pays attention to Elizabeth and soon they are married. Newson, too, returns and truth is revealed to her. In shame at his own misdeeds and fearing exposure, Henchard leaves the town. He is now a lonely desolate man. He again turns a hay-trusser and wanders about the desolate Egdon Heath. His days are numbered. He falls ill and dies a lonely, heart-broken man. His last wish is that Jane should not be informed of his death and no one should weep for him.
Such is the story of Henchard’s life. He has strong weaknesses in his character, but we do not condemn him. We rather pity him and admire his heroic struggle against heavy odds. He is really a man of character.
6. The Return of the Native
The action of this novel takes place against the sombre background of Egdon Heath, a bleak and barren tract of land which has been magnified to epic proportions by the imaginative rendering of Thomas Hardy. The novel opens with a detailed description of the atmosphere and characteristic features of this desolate Heath. Indeed, it is the Heath which dominates the course of action and critics after critics have called it the most important character in the novel. I
The plot of the novel is simple. Demon Wildeve is an engineer who has turned an inn-keeper. He makes love to two women at one and the same time —simple and innocent Thomasin Yeboright and wilful and capricious Eustacia Vye. Thomasin does not care for her sincere but humble lover, Diggory Venn, a reddleman. She marries Wildeve who continue his relations with the love-hungry Eustacia even after his marriage.
Clym, the brother of Thomasin, engaged in diamond trade in Paris, feels disgusted with the materialistic city life. He returns home with the intention of becoming a teacher in his home town. Eustacia Vye is fascinated by him. She marries him in the hope that one day he would take her away to the glittering city of Paris and thus she would escape her lonely life in Egdon. But she is disappointed. Clym losses his eye-sight as a result of over-study and becomes a furze-cutter in order to earn his living.
Quite unintentionally, Eustacia becomes the cause of the death of Clym’s mother. When Clym comes to know this, as also of his wife’s continuing relation with Wildeve, he takes her to task for her misdeeds. This leads to a violent scene and the two agree to separate. In deep frustration, Eustacia elopes with Wildeve in a dark, stormy night. Both are drowned.
Clym’s life is darkened. He considers himself responsible first, for the death of his mother, and then for the death of his wife. He becomes a wandering preacher, while Thomasin marries her former lover, the faithful Diggory Venn.
It is a powerful novel and is acclaimed by many as the best work of Hardy. In the characteristic Hardy manner, the novel shows in this sorry scheme of things tragedy results because the wrong man and wrong woman come together first, while the right ones remain indifferent or unknown to each other.
7. Jude the Obscure
Jude the Obscure is a powerful novel. It is the story of a young man who has high intellectual aspirations but fails to satisfy them owing to the vagaries of chance and circumstance. Early in life he tries to satisfy his passion for learning by working as a stone mason. He reads voraciously whenever he gets time. But he is soon entrapped by one Arabella Donn whom Hardy contemptuously calls, “a mere female animal.” As the marriage is based only on a momentary impulse, and not on any harmony of tastes or temperaments, it proves an utter failure. After living with him an unhappy life for sometime, she deserts him following a bitter quarrel.
Jude overcomes his frustration somehow or the other, and goes to Christminster, the centre of learning, hoping one day to enter the university as a student. There he meets a distant cousin, Sue Bride-head, and despite all his efforts to the contrary, falls violently in love with her. The two have a strange fascination for each other.
Sue marries an elderly school teacher Philloston. But she has a strange and perfectly unaccountable horror of the very touch of her husband. As a result, she leaves him and comes and lives with Jude. Thus, this time Sue comes in the way of his literary aspirations which he was now to give up for good.
The two try to ractify their illegal relation through marriage. They can marry, for both of them have been divorced by their respective spouses, but each time they try to marry, she shrinks from the step at the very last moment. Their illegal relationship is condemned by society. The two are involved in daily increasing difficulties. They are unable to get any accommodation for their large family. Frustrated at their plight, and feeling that they are not wanted in this already over-crowded world, Father Time, the son of Jude and Arabella, kills himself as well as all his younger brothers and sisters. Father Time, Comments Hardy, represents the coming universal wish not to live.
Sue is filled with remorse. She feels that the tragedy is a punishment for her sins. Repentent, she return to Philloston. She considers it an act of self-chastisement, a kind of torture inflicted on herself. Jude takes to drink and then is enticed away once again by the sensual Arabella Donn. He falls ill and dies a miserable death in loneliness and poverty.
The publication of this novel lead to a storm of hostile criticism. It was condemned as being immoral. It was nick named Jude, the Obscene. Copies of it were burnt in large numbers. Thomas Hardy bade good-bye to novel writing after this.
8. Tess of the O’urbervilles
Tess Durbeyfield is the eldest of the half-dozen children of shiftless parents. The father John Durbey-field, a haggler by profession, is an invalid, a drunkard, who does work regularly to support the family. The result is that the Durbcyfields have already fallen on evil days. The schooling of the children has been neglected, though Tess could reach the sixth standard. The mother, .loan, is simple to the extent of being foolish.
One day Parson Tringham of the neighbourhood informs John Durbeyfield that he is the last descendant in the male line of the noble and knightly D’urbcrvilles. The new turns the head of the haggler. He goes to the village inn to celebrate the event; and is brought back to home late in the night. The result is that ‘Sir John cannot go to the city with the bee-hives that night. As the matter is urgent, Tess and her younger brother Abraham go instead. Abraham and then Tess fall sleep, with the result that their poor horse Prince is killed in an accident with the mail cart. The death of the horse disorganises the haggling business forthwith and penury looms large in the horizon for the family.
It now becomes necessary for Tess to take up service with a rich relative, Mrs. D’urbervilles, a blind and whimsical lady. Her young son, Alec, follows her about and pesters her with his lovemaking and at last seduces her. As soon as Tess realises the true, nature of their relations, and the full significance of the wrong that has been done to her dawns upon her, she leaves the place in horror and disgust. No persuasion on the part of Alec can prevent her from leaving.
At home, her life is dull and dreary. She lives within the seclusion of her home, entirely cut off from society, till the death of her child, Sorrow, the Undesired. Then she leaves home a second time and goes to be a dairymaid at Talbothays, a large, fertile farm in the valley of the Great Dairies. The Dairyman is kind and considerate, nature beautiful and fertile, and soon Tess “Rallys”. It is here that she meets Angel Clare, and is wooed as no dairymaid was ever wooed before. Soon the two become accepted lovers and are married.
On the very first night of their wedding, the husband recounts the story of his forty-eight hours dissipation with a stranger in London, and begs her forgiveness. He is at once forgiven and thus encouraged, the wife proceeds with the narration of her own troubles. She is sure of forgiveness, for she had already forgiven him for the same sin, and she was more sinned against than sinning. But she receives the shock of her life. The husband is not ready to forgive her. Tess with pale face falls half unconscious at his feet and weeping bitterly begs to be pardoned. But Clare tells her that she is not the woman he loved, but all together a different one. Forgiveness does not apply to such cases. Moreover, they should think of their children, the shame of the mother should not be visited on their innocent heads. Tess is stunned and stupified. After a few days the two decide to separate. Clare gives her fifty pounds for her immediate needs and directs her to apply to her parents whenever she likes. Then Tess, leaves for her home, and he sails for Brazil some time later.
During the summer months, Tess could get temporary employment, now on one farm and now on another. But with the cominu of winter she had to suffer great difficulties. She was compelled to do the roughest-kind of work. Her money was all gone, but her sense of self-respect did not allow her to apply to Angel’s parents. She followed the instructions of her husband to the very letter and did not write to him of her plight. He on his part was ill in Brazil at the time and was amazed at her continued silence. He misunderstood her silence as forgetfulness. Tess drilled onwards, towards Flintcomb-Ash farm. Here Tess had to do the roughest kind of work in bitter cold and stinging rain. Poor Tess endured all this, but there are limits to human endurance. Moreover, she was worried about her husband and wanted to know his welfare. So one Sunday she walked to Emminster to meet Clare’s parents. But she met the brothers first instead of the kindly parents. This chance encounter shattered all her hopes in that quarter and she returned frustrated and heart-broken. Such is the irony of fate.
On her way back, Tess was attracted by the voice of a preacher preaching vehemently in a nearby barn. Tess passed by the door and was startled to see that it vvas Alec D’urberville in the dress of a clergy. Alec, too, observed her and the effect was paralysing. He could preach no more. He followed her now with rapid strides and soon overlook her. He followed her now with offers of help. He came to her at Flintcomb-Ash farm with a marriage licence ready to marry her. Maddened by his passion for her, he gave up his religion and all the arts of man and devil were employed to ensnare the girl. In desperation Tess wrote a pathetic appeal to her husband likely to touch even the most stony-hearted.
The Durbcyfields fell on evil days. The father died suddenly and the Durbcyfield’s lease on the house and allotment Was terminated. They were compelled to leave the house and migrate to new surroundings. Joan chose Kingsberg as it was the ancient seat of the Durbervilles. Hither Alec followed them. When starvation loomed large in the horizon, Tess agreed to live with him. Alec took her to Sandbowfne, a gay watering-place. To this pleasure city came Angel in search of her. Her appeal reached him late. He found Tess dressed like a lady of fashion, and wealth. He was dumbfounded to learn the agonising truth. He came out of the house and wandered listlessly. Tess followed him soon after, having murdered her seducer in a fit of anger and desperation. They wandered through the forest of fir trees for about a week in a state of idyllic happiness, till Tess was arrested for murder and hanged. It is all a harrowing tragedy.