When reading the novels of Thomas Hardy one can't help but want to delve into the author's mind about these incredible women that he has developed. ThWhen reading the novels of Thomas Hardy one can't help but want to delve into the author's mind about these incredible women that he has developed. Think about it for a moment. What Victorian male author do you know of that has created such a suite of women? Women who are strong-minded, strong-willed, soulful, and imbued with their latent natural femininity and sexuality; and that these women defy the Victorian norms and convention at every turn. While the outcomes of some of these novels have the power to absolutely devastate me, I am at the same time simply amazed at the depth and breadth of the character of the female heroines that he has created. Being the father of two beautiful and incredibly intelligent adult daughters, I have to say that I am an unabashed fan of these women who round out the spheres of each of Hardy's novels (and a good bit of his short stories and poetry too).
I recently ran across a bibliographic citation to Rosemarie Morgan's book, "Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy", in the Introduction to the Everyman's Library edition of Hardy's "The Return of the Native." I decided that this was definitely something I wanted to read, and while it was a bit difficult to procure, I was able to find a nearly brand-new copy on-line.
Dr. Morgan is the current President of the "Thomas Hardy Association"and is considered quite the Hardy scholar. And while her book is clearly a scholarly analysis, it is eminently readable and quite fascinating. After reading Under the Greenwood Tree, A Pair of Blue Eyes, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Woodlanders, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure I knew that I needed to dig deeper and try and better understand all that Hardy was trying to tell me about these women. Reading these novels you can't help but become very much aware of each of these amazing women. Hardy almost physically forces you into their space and into their mind, and sometimes it is damned uncomfortable and very painful; and I think that is just as he intended it to be.
The women in Hardy's novels are not perfect; far from it. In fact, Hardy himself vehemently rejected the model of the 'perfect woman in fiction.' Sharing his feelings in a letter to a friend in 1891, Hardy wrote, "that I have felt that the doll of English fiction must be demolished." Well, all I can say, in having read his novels in order of publishing, is that I believe he has accomplished this in every case. Even before I read Dr. Morgan's book I had come to the conclusion that Hardy liked to include a 'witch' in his novels. These witches aren't necessarily bad, but they are enchantresses; they are powerful, seductive, assertive, and self-determined women. These are not the 'limp-wristed' helpless beauties of so many of the Victorian authors that we read today. No, these are women that we can all relate to in almost every way, and in almost any time.
Morgan sets forth the notion that Hardy's fusion of moral seriousness and feminine sexuality yields, as she says,
"a set of fit and healthy, brave and dauntless, remarkably strong women. The sexual vitality which infuses their animate life generates vigour of both body and mind; from thence springs intelligence, strength, courage, and emotional generosity, and that capacity so many Hardy heroines possess for self-exposure expressing both daring and intimacy--the ultimate intimacy which demands facing the fear of ego-loss in those moments which call for abandon.
Morgan's thesis continues with the observation that
"Hardy's platform remains consistent and forthright: the world that denies autonomy, identity, purpose and power to women, is to be, on his terms, the loser."
Morgan's aim with the book then, in her words, "is to present a revisionist study of Hardy's treatment of female sexuality, a new vision of his work, reshaping our impression of him through the refracting lens of his view of women."
Dr. Morgan's book walks the reader through her interpretation of Hardy's authorial intent associated with the following heroines (and my editorial comments): the sweet Elfride Swancourt (A Pair of Blue Eyes); vivacious Bathsheba Everdene (Far From the Madding Crowd); my favorite 'witch', Eustacia Vye (The Return of the Native); my dearest beloved, Tess (Tess of the d'Urbervilles); and the ethereal Sue Bridehead (Jude the Obscure). If you read Hardy, and if you love Hardy, you simply must read this book. If you are a fan of Victoriana, this is a book that must be on your shelf. If you truly want to explore women's issues and female sexuality in the late-Victorian then this book is for you.
It is my experience that people tend to automatically pigeon-hole Hardy's novels as "bleak," "black," "depressing," or "morose;" but these labels are nothing but superficial; and while they are certainly tragedies in the Greek sense, they are at the same time uplifting, liberating, and enlightening for the situations in which women are placed in the late-Victorian. In my opinion, and this is an important facet, I think Hardy does the job well. He is one of the 'Voices in the Wilderness' screaming for the emancipation of women, the equality of the sexes, and the recognition of natural female sexuality in a time that rejected all of it out of hand; and especially when it came to the rigours and institution of marriage. He truly believed that marriage needed to be reconsidered from the perspective of the female participant. This, I believe, is Dr. Morgan's contention, and I agree wholeheartedly. I applaud her, and I most especially applaud Thomas Hardy for his moral fortitude in presenting these magnificent women, just as they are, and their issues, to us for our view and consideration. How can we not fail to accept them for who they are? Can we honestly fail Eustacia, Tess, and Sue yet again?...more
I found this very well-written and interesting book the other day on the bargain table at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore. Christopher Benfey’sI found this very well-written and interesting book the other day on the bargain table at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore. Christopher Benfey’s A Summer of Hummingbirds, while just a touch over 250 pages in length, is a fascinating look at a series of seemingly unconnected historical events involving a group of prominent literary, theological, scientific, and artistic Americans during the late-1860s through the 1880s. Interestingly, what seems to link these persons together was their unmitigated passion for hummingbirds!
As Dr. Benfey writes, “they wrote poems and stories about hummingbirds; they painted pictures of hummingbirds; they tamed wild hummingbirds and collected stuffed hummingbirds; they set music to the humming of hummingbirds; they waited impatiently through the winter months for the hummingbirds’ return.” Dr. Benfey puts forward the proposition that this fascination was one result of the great tragic, but ultimately liberating, experience of the American Civil War. Benfey believes that “Americans during and after the Civil War gradually left behind a static view of existence, a trust in fixed arrangements and hierarchies. In science and in art, in religion and in love, they came to see a new dynamism and movement in their lives, a brave new world of instability and evanescence. This dynamism, in all aspects of life, found perfect expression in the hummingbird.”
The book kicks off with Thomas Wentworth Higginson and his black Union soldiers near Jacksonville, Florida, during the American Civil War. Before his military service began, Higginson wrote an essay entitled, The Life of Birds, that was published in The Atlantic in 1862. He began the essay with a long look at hummingbirds which, in his words, were “an image of airy motion,” and wondered if “gems turn to flowers, flowers to feathers, in that long-past dynasty of the humming-birds?” A fanciful nod to Darwinism, perhaps.
Higginson, during the war years, was already corresponding with Emily Dickinson, the shy and reclusive brilliant poet of Amherst, Massachusetts. In fact, in 1862, Dickinson sent three poems to Higginson for his opinion and asked if they had the potential for publication. Dickinson, it seems, was inspired by Higginson’s nature essays to begin writing poems about hummingbirds, including this example:
“Within my Garden, rides a Bird Upon a single Wheel— Whose spokes a dizzy Music make As ‘twere a traveling Mill—
He never stops, but slackens Above the Ripest Rose— Partakes without alighting And praises as he goes”
I learned some interesting new things about Emily Dickinson, Henry Ward Beecher, his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe (the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin), Mabel Loomis Todd, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. To me though, I was most intrigued with Martin Johnson Heade. Heade was an artist, largely a landscape painter, of the American mid-19th century “Hudson River School;” that also produced artists like Thomas Cole, Thomas Moran, and Albert Bierstadt. Heade loved painting nature and the wildlife that lived in it. It appears that he also had a bit of wanderlust in him as he traveled all over the globe in pursuit of practicing his art. He particularly loved to paint hummingbirds in their natural habitats, and visited Central and South America in pursuit of these little flying jewels. Many prominent Americans, including Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) ownws paintings by Heade.
Generally, the book gives a wonderful overview of each of these amazing people and what made them important in their own time. The real point of the book though, in my opinion, is Dr. Benfey’s contention that there was a convergence, of sorts, of most of these people in and around Amherst, Massachusetts from the mid-1870s to the mid-1880s, for a variety of reasons. I really don’t want to give anything away, but there are some really interesting and juicy tid-bits concerning Henry Ward Beecher, Austin Dickinson, the beautiful and talented artist Mabel Loomis Todd, Martin Johnson Heade, and Emily Dickinson.
Benfey’s book then, in a sense, is really a ‘string-of-pearls’ of connected, or quasi-connected, relationships among the book’s principals. These relationships occur over the twenty-year period following the Civil War, the so-called 'great American Golden Age,' and culminate with Henry Flagler’s promotion and development of Florida as a winter travel destination. As I mentioned above, the book starts in Florida with Higginson; it goes full-circle and ends in Florida with Flagler and Heade and Flagler's fabulous resort hotel in St. Augustine, Florida.
This was a very thought-provoking and fun book to read. I have to say that learning more about Emily Dickinson, the person and woman, has increased my appreciation of the brilliance and genius of her amazing poetry. Getting to know her brother Austin, and sister-in-law, Susan, and her friends David and Mabel Todd was an added bonus. Discovering Martin Johnson Heade’s life and paintings was fantastic, as I am a huge fan of the Hudson River School, landscape art in general, and especially paintings of birds. Finally, the book includes an excellent collection of end-notes and a superb index. This is a fast read and will make a wonderful addition to anyone’s American literature bookshelf. I highly recommend Dr. Benfey’s A Summer of Hummingbirds....more
This is an absolutely indispensable and priceless book. You can skip about and fall in love with each and every chapter in this book! So incredibly enThis is an absolutely indispensable and priceless book. You can skip about and fall in love with each and every chapter in this book! So incredibly enlightening. Gilbert is brilliant!...more
This review is associated with the translation of Beowulf by Howell D. Chickering, Jr. (1977, 2006)--
This is simply a superb translation that feels anThis review is associated with the translation of Beowulf by Howell D. Chickering, Jr. (1977, 2006)--
This is simply a superb translation that feels ancient and mystical. This is such a great story--the monsters, the dragon, and the treasure and all--and Chickering's translation really makes the reader feel like they are in the smoky mead hall listening to the bard sing this tale. I need to go back and read Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf again, but I really think that this stacks up very well with Heaney's. And like Heaney's translation, Chickering's translation also includes the original Anglo-Saxon text on the facing page for comparison. He also has a couple of hundred pages of background information about the poem, in-depth analysis and commentary, and an extensive index and glossary. I highly recommend having a copy of this is edition of Beowulf on your bookshelf...more
If you love Dickinson's poetry, or are interested in approaching her poetry, then this is a 'must have' volume. Dr. Vendler takes you on an intimate aIf you love Dickinson's poetry, or are interested in approaching her poetry, then this is a 'must have' volume. Dr. Vendler takes you on an intimate and in-depth tour of 150 poems by Emily Dickinson. Vendler invites you to view each poem as a window into the mind, soul, and heart of the 'Belle of Amherst' and oh what a marvelous experience it is. I learned so much about Dickinson, the poet and the person, as well as the technical and emotional merits of her substantial body of work. I come away from Vendler's amazing book about Emily's poetry realizing that she really is not only a great American poet, but one of the greatest poets of all time....more
This collection of the best poetry of the English language is superb. All of the poems were selected by Professor Harold Bloom, and are truly represenThis collection of the best poetry of the English language is superb. All of the poems were selected by Professor Harold Bloom, and are truly representative of the best poets over the past 400+ years. Professor Bloom provides some historical and literary content to the poets and most of the poems. Also, his introductory essay, "The Art of Reading Poetry," is worth the price of the book alone. This a must-have-book for any reader interested in poetry, and is perfect to sit down with and just kill an hour or two visiting old friends, and meeting new ones. ...more