A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The Novelty Of Pageantry

Loren Webster is discussing the novels of Thomas Hardy in his blog, starting with The Return Of The Native. I've been reading The Return Of The Native too. It struck me that there's a lot of walking done in Hardy's novels. At the beginning of Tess Of The D'Urbervilles Jack D'Urbeyfield walks tipsily home from the inn. Bathsheba Everdene meets Sergeant Troy for the 1st time on her routine evening ramble round her farm in Far From The Madding Crowd. And The Return Of The Native opens with an old man - who turns out to be The Captain, grandfather of Eustacia Vye - walking across desolate Egdon Heath.

As an example of the loveliness and smooth flow of Hardy's prose, I've chosen this paragraph which comes at the start of Chapter 1 of Book Second of The Return Of The Native. As a bonus, the passage also mentions walking!

On fine days at this time of year, and earlier, certain ephemeral operations were apt to disturb, in their trifling way, the majestic calm of Egdon Heath. They were activities which, beside those of a town, a village, or even a farm, would have appeared as the ferment of stagnation merely, a creeping of the flesh of somnolence. But here, away from comparisons, shut in by the stable hills, among which mere walking had the novelty of pageantry, and where any man could imagine himself to be Adam without the least difficulty, they attracted the attention of every kind of bird within eyeshot, every reptile not yet asleep, and set the surrounding rabbits curiously watching from hillocks at a safe distance.

What a wonderful description of the slow, rustic life of this remote, bleak heathland with its scatttered cottages and farmsteads - an existence where ordinary, unremarkable activities take on an aura of great significance.

Egdon Heath - gloomy, glorious, monotonous, mysterious. Egdon Heath - in many ways the main 'character' in the novel, and the backdrop against which the human characters play out their tragic destinies. Egdon Heath - symbol of Reality. If I may quote what Loren Webster commented to me about the Heath: I think Hardy uses Egdon Heath to symbolize REALITY, the Nature of things. It is our reaction to reality, and not to our stereotypes of reality, that determines our happiness. Reality is not always a pleasant place, so at best people are going to be unhappy and miserable at times, but they have their best chance for happiness if they understand and adapt to that Reality.


The Weaver of Grass said...

There was a lot of walking done in them there days Robert - not for enjoyment but out of sheer necessity. Yesterday I drove to Sedbergh. I passed Garsdale Station, drove a further seven miles and then got to Garsdale village. If you caught the train"home" you had a seven mile walk after you got off it!
Kilvert's Diaries is another book I love which is absolutely full of walking.

Bella said...

"walking had the novelty of pageantry.." - wonderful words.

Followed the link to Loren's blog - beautiful photography.

Bella said...

Today I went into a secondhand bookshop and was resolute that I was not to buy any more books - but alas, there was a copy of "the Return of the Native" for only $4 -I had not heard of this novel from Hardy and although previously I would always boldly advance towards bleak literature, after reading your post I had decided I didn't need to read bleak at the moment...and also I didn't need to buy yet another book...Well, I bought the book just for the sheer serendipity of it all!
Cheers, 'enry 'iggins

Jay said...

The Woodlanders was the set book for my English O level back in the late sixties, and I really loved it. I liked the slow pace and the descriptive passages, and the way Hardy brought the juxtaposition of the working classes and the gentry together and showed how different their reactions were to everyday things.

I then went on to read about two thirds of his novels. I got a little tired of how stupid his heroes and heroines could be, but one has to put things into context. We say 's/he should have done 'x', because ..' but in fact what seems like a simple choice to us, was one that would have been enormously difficult for them. People in those days, especially the very poor and dependent just couldn't step outside convention so easily. Look what happened to poor Tess - who, incidentally, always seemed to be walking!

The Solitary Walker said...

Great comments one and all - thank you for them. This has encouraged me to continue blogging about Hardy for a while - who is one of my favourite novelists and poets.