Good Reading : September 2007
reading life Meet Colleen McCullough, one of Australia’s most celebrated storytellers, and enter our exclusive competition! Travel Special Oh, the places you’ll go! All over the world with Tony and Maureen Wheeler of Lonely Planet ... ... along Fremantle’s Writers’ Walk with Susan & Keith Hall... ... to Santiago de Compostela with modern-day pilgrims ... ... through time and space with Derek Parker’s pick of the best travel books ever! ORDER YOUR COPY NOW! NEXT ISSUE on sale 28 September In this latest extract from NICK HORNBY’s column, ‘Stuff I’ve Been Reading’, which appears in American magazine the Believer, Nick marvels at the lugubriousness of Thomas Hardy. One thing I knew for sure before I started Claire Tomalin’s biography of Thomas Hardy [Thomas Hardy:The Time-Torn Man]: I wouldn’t be going back to the work. Hardy’s prose is best consumed when you’re young, and your endless craving for misery is left unsatisfied by a diet of the Smiths and incessant parental misunderstanding. When I was seventeen, the scene in Jude the Obscure where Jude’s children hang themselves ‘becos they are meny’ provided much-needed confir ma- tion that adult life was going to be thrillingly, unimaginably, deliciously awful. Now I have too meny children myself, however, the appeal seems to have gone. I’m glad I have read Hardy’s novels, and equally glad that I can go through the rest of my life without having to deal with his particular and peculiar gloom ever again. I suppose there may be one or two people who pick up Tomalin’s biography hoping to learn that the author of Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude turned into a cheerful sort of a chap once he’d put away his laptop for the night; these hopes, however, are dashed against the convincing evidence to the contrary. When Hardy’s friend Henry Rider Haggard loses his ten-year-old son, Hardy wrote to console him thus: ‘I think the death of a child is never really to be regretted, when one reflects on what he has escaped.’ Every cloud, and all that … Those wise words could only have failed to help Haggard if he was completely mired in self-pity. Hardy died in 1928, and one of the unexpected treats of Tomalin’s biography is her depiction of this quintessentially rural Victorian writer living a metropolitan twentieth-century life. It’s hard to believe that Hardy went to the cinema to see a film adaptation of one of his own novels, but he did; hard to believe, too, that he attended the wedding of Harold Macmillan, who was Britain’s prime minister in the year that the Beatles’ first album was released. Hardy was a modern celebrity, but his characters inhabited a brutal, strange, pre-industrial England. What happened to Hardy after his death seemed weirdly appropriate: In a gruesome attempt to appease both those who wanted the old boy to stay in Wessex and those who wanted a flashy public funeral in London, Hardy was buried twice. His heart was cut out and buried in the churchyard at Stinsford [Dorset] where he’d always hoped he’d be laid to rest; what was left of him was cremated and placed in Westminster Abbey, where his pallbearers included Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, AE Housman, Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, JM Barrie and Edmund Gosse. Nick Hornby’s collected essays from the Believer, September 2003– June 2006, were published as The Complete Polysyllabic Spree: The Diary of an Occasionally Exasperated But Ever Hopeful Reader in October 2006 by Penguin/Viking, rrp $35.00.