Saturday, 13 April 2013

The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read - Abraham Lincoln

I have never been a morning person. Ever. I can stay up till all hours of the night. On form. Functioning better sometimes, methinks. But the morning for me is brutal. Shocking. I know that it can be beautiful and fresh. I know it. Just can't appreciate it.

So being obliged to get up at the crack of dawn causes me no end of stress. It thus rarely happens. Except when I'm travelling. The company you have in such moments is crucial. Choosing the right books is thus vital.

Last week, I left my house at 5am to travel to Rabat. That's not good. It's not even human. And yet I was made to forget my torment - more or less - reading Thomas Hardy's A Mere Interlude. Which was anything but.

An interesting and somewhat refreshing conclusion for someone who had only ever to that point associated TH with the darkest doom and gloom. The Return of the Native was my initiation as a teenager. I never understood how my best friend loved that book. It was tortuous to me. I later pursued my need to know TH better and took up Jude the Obscure. Not a happy read.

So I was more than pleasantly surprised to enjoy A Mere Interlude. More than enjoy. I was of course reading it on my darling Kindle. Which was always going to cheer me up. But here was a TH I had never known. Light. Charming. Insightful. And ironic.

These artfully constructed tales made me chuckle to myself. Even at 6am. From pure and embarrassed recognition. TH showed a telling and perceptive insight into the female make-up. Generally speaking, of course. Don't all rush and tell me that you're not like that. I know many wonderful females who aren't.

But take our first protagonist: Baptista Trewthen decides to sacrifice herself in a loveless marriage to a man a good deal older, and wealthier, in order to save herself from a job she hates. Unthinkable, you might say. Until you're in a job you hate. And can see no way out. The Mere Interlude of the title is a brief and eventful encounter with the man she really loves on the eve of her wedding.

In An Imaginative Woman, Ella Marchmill is married and bored. She falls deeply and unrepentantly in love with a man she's never met. Has never seen. But whose mind and work she admires. She is, says TH, "an impressionable, palpitating creature". She is, methinks, the epitome of the romantic, dreamy woman.

Whereby men are so visual in their pursuit of partners, Ella represents all women who convince themselves to fall in love. From a look. A gesture. A melancholy moment. And who can construct a whole love story from the tiniest seed. Which may only have fallen inadvertently. And actually has no root.

I don't say either approach is better. But it made me smile inside that a man understood the depths of some of our motivation.

TH's short stories were a revelation to me. Absorbing, mesmerising. Thrilling. I see there are many more to delight in. And I will. I think that's how I will enjoy and appreciate him. But, of course, only after my Classics Club challenge. At sometime in the (seemingly very) distant future...

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