Thomas Hardy too miserable to read | Tales from the Vale


I expected a storm of complaints about my last column which had a bit of a go at ‘famous Dorset novelist’ Thomas Hardy – he of the droopy moustache and even more wilting marriage to a woman who (understandably) rather went off him.

I rattled on about his misery and bleak view on life. And I explained the rather ludicrous plot of his most famous work, Tess of the Ds.

But almost everybody who bothered to read the piece and who then had the even greater misfortune of seeing me, said they agree. And a female friend in the village said, ‘you’re right, he’s a miserable bastard.’ My friend is rather well spoken and abhors swearing so you can see the strength of her view.

And my old mate (MA in English Lit) said, ‘Have you read The Mayor of Casterbridge? Give us your opinion in the next digital Blackmore Vale Magazine.’

Well, yes I have read it – and it wasn’t the most uplifting few hours of my life – in fact by the time I arrived at the predictably bleak end (after the dreary beginning and unlikely middle) I felt like summoning Jeeves and calling for a restorative Brandy & S (not that I like brandy. Or have a man servant).

And I’m happy to tell you the plot. It’ll save you reading it. But first, let’s recall Tess. In Tess, you’ll remember that the tale implausibly hangs on the fact that two-faced wimp (this is proper non-London book reviewing, this is Dorset book reviewing) Angel Clare was given a letter from Tess explaining (before they got married) that she’d been raped and the ensuing child (called Sorrow, not the greatest start in life) had died. But the letter was slipped under his door and went under a rug and was unread. We’ll leave aside the fact that it’s literally impossible, to do this. I have tried. Pity Thom didn’t – might have had a happy ending and sold more copies. His wife might have thought he was the tops.

In the Mayor of Casterbridge, you won’t be surprised to learn that the plot hinges again on letters going awry, in this case by disgraced ex-mayor Michael Henchard returning incriminating old love letters to his ex-flame, Lucetta, now the shiny new wife of the new mayor, Donald Farfrae (he’s Scottish, you’ll note).

How does Henchard convey these explosive letters to Lucetta in a way that ensures her sordid past will never be known, so that she and Donald (he’s still Scottish) enjoy marital bliss and a public aura of spotless virtue?

Logic again suggests that Hardy perhaps, just perhaps, should have Henchard personally putting the incriminating letters directly into the hands of Lucetta.

But no. That’s too sensible. It’s not Thom’s way.  There’s a danger of a happy ending.

Henchard, although now unemployed and idle, is ‘too busy’ to do this (obviously he’s playing Grand Theft Oxen-Drawn Haycart V) so he hands the letters over to a known wretch, Jopp, who Henchard himself continually belittled, then fired, and therefore might, just might, have a grudge against Henchard.

Result: Jopp takes the letters down the pub, probably Ye Olde Wetherspoons, hands them around and, despite literacy at the time being negligible for such people, everyone has a good read (pointing out grammatical errors, howlers with syntax, clever use of tautology) and the disgraced Henchard ends-up dying in a hovel on Egdon Heath.  And poor Lucetta and Donald are made figures of fun probably but I skipped the end due to the unremitting misery and pressing the bell for Jeeves again. By the time the reader gets to the end she/he realises that that’s another few hours they’ll never get back, all thanks to Hardy being cited as ‘Dorset’s Great Novelist.’

So, for me, while interesting for its historical sociological points, Hardy don’t cut the mustard as literature. I don’t care if it’s artisan mustard lovingly hand-made and sold at a typically successful function in Mappowder village hall, but he don’t cut it.  And he could have cheered up a bit. And trimmed that ‘tache.

Further academic notes on great novels that’ll help students sail through GCSEs are available on application from Vale University Audiobooks (Copyright).


Right, the editor’s told me to put some funny-ish stuff in and mention some local people, so I’ll add this: further on the topic of novelists, this time a great, hugely successful living novelist, and young female one at that. I refer to the world famous Tracy Chevalier who, as I write this, is in the Piddle Valley working on her next book which I have no doubt will be another international best seller.

But her response in this issue to a reader’s letter in the last issue did make me smile.

Now what really tickles me about this is Ms Chevalier, despite working hard every day on her new book, and also dealing with a thousand requests from literary magazines and university students all over the world, was still intrigued enough to go out and buy different flavoured crisps to see if her initial judgement that ‘Plain is Sane’ is correct.

Talking of wasps…

In the village shop nearby is a hand written card in the window saying, ‘Wasps Nest Destroyed. £20. Senior Citizens £15.‘

Now I know what they’re saying, but it don’t look good.

Perhaps a mistake?

And on the subject of misreading, there’s a vegan Thai restaurant in Dorch called B8 Café off Trinity Street.

You pronounce the name bait (B Eight) which is London street slang for something that’s unusual but attractive.

And ‘bait’ is a good name as the food looks absolutely fantastic – see their website (LAURA DO THE HONOURS).

Their website says it is still open for take-aways but the restaurant is remaining closed’ then they add, ‘we apologise for the incontinence.’  I’d like to think they meant inconvenience.

My wife says they’ve done it on purpose so they get talked about. Seems to have worked.

More good food

My local, The Antelope in Hazelbury Bryan, has introduced a mouth-watering inexpensive tapas menu. We popped in on a Saturday lunchie not intending to eat. Rhiannon showed us the menu. And we ate. Despite getting second degree burns from the stuffed jalapeno peppers, it was terrific.

My wife ordered fries with hers. Rhiannon’s hub came out to see if we enjoyed it. ‘The fries were amazing,’ Kae said, pulling the dish away from my predatory eye.

‘They’re triple-cooked,’ Greg said proudly.

I just couldn’t resist it.

I said,‘If you’d done them properly first time round, you’d only have to fry them once,’

I just can’t not say these things.

Greg fixed me with ‘the look.’ He had a mask on, but I’m sure he was smiling?

What is a ‘Gentleman?’

‘What’s the definition of a gentleman,’ I was asked by Pete, who, with Sue, runs The Old Chapel stores in Buckland Newton.

Without waiting , he gleefully supplied the answer, ‘it’s a man who can play the bagpipes, but doesn’t.’

Then Pete chuckled at his own wit, while Sue and I shared a sorrowful glance.

Dolly’s best quote

I teach guitar and had a new lovely new little student, a girl aged 10 who wanted to play the Taylor Swift song, Shake it Off. It struck me that these are the same opening chords as Jolene, by the great Dolly Parton.

The little girl’s mum and gran were in my Studio too, so I told them Dolly’s best quote. ‘It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.’

Brief Encounter

There’s a charming note in the window of the lovely old sweet shop by the Abbey in Sherborne.

The advert is from ‘Dave’ who got talking to a lady on the train from Bath to Sherbers. Obviously they got on well. Obviously love-lorn Dave was too embarrassed to suggest they swop phone numbers. But in the note he asks the lady to give him a call (number provided) as he’s keen to meet up.

Now, it takes courage to do that and I hope he doesn’t get too many prank calls and I dearly wish Dave and the lady meet up, continue to get on, get married and have lots of happy children.  If he reads this perhaps he’ll let us know.

All reminiscent of the 1945 David Lean film where Trevor Howard, helping Celia Johnson remove a piece of grit from her eye, says, ‘Aye heppen to be aye doctor’ in that affected upper-class voice used at the time where the ‘e’ is substituted for ‘a’.

They go on to meet regularly – which was a bit saucy in 1945 as the lady was married.

But apart from it being very funny, it allows me to muse on this regarding the film.

Celia, very upset by the painful farewell with Trevor (‘Aym going to Efrica’, don’t think he’s that specific about where, maybe Elgeria) and returns to her dull but worthy husband who, knowing something’s afoot, pleasantly says ‘Whatever your dream was, it wasn’t a heppy one was it.’ No. ‘You’ve been a long wey awey …thenk you for coming beck to me’ and gives her a hug, which maybe he should have done before she strayed.

Now I’m pretty convinced that somewhere in the film, Celia’s husband, doing a crossword, reads out a clue which is from the poet Keats ‘When I behold upon the night-starred face, huge cloudy symbols of a high……’ (7).

Well, that’s the clue. What’s the answer?

Here’s another clue – the answer is what is missing in their relationship.

And for the first correct answer pulled out of a hat, Laura the editor will give the winner an M&S chocolate biscuit. Just one biscuit, not the whole pack.

She’s like that, you see.

By: Andy Palmer


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