Nicki's Reviews > A Pair of Blue Eyes

A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy
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's review
Sep 03, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: victorian, 2010, beloved-favorites
Read from September 03 to 13, 2010

A Pair of Blue Eyes tells the story of Elfride Swancourt, relating her struggles in love as she juggles two very contrasting love interests. The first is Stephen Smith, an architect who visits the remote village where Elfride lives to develop plans for a church restoration. After he’s won her heart, he reveals that he has a burdensome secret. The essence of his secret uncovers that he is socially inferior to Elfride, a fact that Elfride is not concerned with but her father cannot be convinced that it is a good match and will not approve their union.

Stephen embarks on an ambitious quest to boost his social standing and thereby make himself acceptable to Elfride’s father. However, in his absence, Elfride’s heart is won over by another, Henry Knight.

A Pair of Blue Eyes is clean and smooth, though not as dense as the two other Hardy novels that I have read. The narrative includes striking descriptions of the landscape and surroundings, which are not just superfluous meanderings, but an essential element in conveying the tone and context of events. In my experience with reading Hardy’s novels, the setting is never just a backdrop for the story, but an integral force in the story itself. As a naturalist, Hardy no doubt believed in environment as a strong influence in determining both the actions of the characters as well as the uncontrollable incidents inflicted on their lives. I found this concept to be more cleanly stated in this novel, where it has felt more implied in others.

There is more to this book than just the story, though the story itself is well told. There’s a message embedded in A Pair of Blue Eyes, even if it’s not one that slaps you in the face. Fate and nature are “impartial;” they can wreak havoc on the deserving as well as the undeserving. A good or bad outcome does not depend on one’s morality or immorality. Coming to a bad end, therefore, is not solely a result of one’s decency, or lack thereof. Conversely, strict adherence to the social and moral code of the day is what ultimately brings this novel to its tragic end, thereby making a case for the indecency embedded in a supposedly moral code. Just like in Tess of D’Urbervilles, perceptions and social stigma are held as superior to genuine love and affection; a later realized social flaw can supersede love and take precedence over one’s owns feelings and the feelings of the other, regardless of how deep those feelings might be.

On a somewhat lighter note, we can thank Hardy for our use of the word “cliffhanger,” as the term apparently resulted from a scene in this novel. This book was first released as a serialized publication, spanning approximately 10 months and one of those issues ended with one of the characters quite literally hanging from a cliff. No doubt this was a device employed by Hardy to drum up anticipation for the next issue, but it was not mere sensationalism. While hanging from the cliff, the character finds himself eye to eye with a Trilobite, a fossil embedded in the rock; an occurrence that winks at our impermanence and the fleeting quality of human life.

Once again I find myself in awe of Hardy’s ability to combine a “good story” with beautifully poetic descriptions of the setting and characters, which are further enhanced by great depth of thought and insight on the human condition.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this novel when you're finished. I really did enjoy it quite a lot. Enjoy, Nicki!

Nicki I'm about halfway through now and I'm really enjoying it.

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