Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Love" loses in the universe?

We remember Thomas Hardy for his most famous offerings: Jude the Obscure, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Return of the Native, etc. but little attention has focused on one of his lesser known offerings--Two on a Tower [1882]. One of the protagonists, Swithin St. Cleeve, is a young astronomer, who has set up his telescope atop an unused folly tower on a country estate, in order to make his mark in astronomy. There he is discovered by the landowner, Lady Viviette Constantine, nine years older than young Swithin, whose husband has left her to spend two years shooting up the animal kingdom in Africa. Swithin endeavors to teach the Lady about the universe, and she proceeds to teach Swithin something about the human heart. Who [or what] wins?

Read the book.

The Preface...

This slightly-built romance was the outcome of a wish to set the emotional history of two infinitesimal lives against the stupendous background of the stellar universe, and to impart to readers the sentiment that of these contrasting magnitudes the smaller might be the greater to them as men.

But, on the publication of the book people seemed to be less struck with these high aims of the author than with their own opinion, first, that the novel was an ‘improper’ one in its morals, and, secondly, that it was intended to be a satire on the Established Church of this country. I was made to suffer in consequence from several eminent pens.

That, however, was thirteen years ago, and, in respect of the first opinion, I venture to think that those who care to read the story now will be quite astonished at the scrupulous propriety observed therein on the relations of the sexes; for though there may be frivolous, and even grotesque touches on occasion, there is hardly a single caress in the book outside legal matrimony, or what was intended so to be.

As for the second opinion, it is sufficient to draw attention, as I did at the time, to the fact that the Bishop is every inch a gentleman, and that the parish priest who figures in the narrative is one of its most estimable characters.

However, the pages must speak for themselves. Some few readers, I trust—to take a serious view—will be reminded by this imperfect story, in a manner not unprofitable to the growth of the social sympathies, of the pathos, misery, long-suffering, and divine tenderness which in real life frequently accompany the passion of such a woman as Viviette for a lover several years her junior.

The scene of the action was suggested by two real spots in the part of the country specified, each of which has a column standing upon it. Certain surrounding peculiarities have been imported into the narrative from both sites.

T. H.

Two on a Tower

Thomas Hardy [Wikipedia]

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