A Pair of Blue Eyes (Oxford World's Classics) (英語) ペーパーバック – 2009/4/15
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'Elfride Swancourt was a girl whose emotions lay very near the surface.'
Elfride is the daughter of the Rector of Endelstow, a remote sea-swept parish in Cornwall based on St Juliot, where Hardy began the book during the first days of his courtship of his first wife Emma. Blue-eyed and high-spirited, Elfride has little experience of the world beyond, and becomes entangled with two men: the boyish architect, Stephen Smith, and the older literary man, Henry Knight. The former friends become rivals, and Elfride faces an agonizing choice.
Written at a crucial time in Hardy's life, A Pair of Blue Eyes expresses more directly than any of his novels the events and social forces that made him the writer he was. Elfride's dilemma mirrors the difficult decision Hardy himself had to make with this novel: to pursue the profession of architecture, where he was established, or literature, where he had yet to make his name?
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throughout, and elicited empathy from this reader for the three main characters.
I admit that this is a slightly lesser novel than many of Hardy's other masterpieces, but the overall quality of the prose is so high that I have to give it a 5-star rating.(Especially when you consider the junky popular fiction that surrounds us). Hardy is a developing novelist in "A Pair of Blue Eyes" and the Oxford edition has an interesting essay about the autobiographical elements of the text. The story of Elfride, Stephen and Henry is moving and at times quite mesmorizing. Although the story doesn't carry the same level of passionate angst between Eustacia and Wildeve in "The Return of the Native", this fine novel is obviously an exercise for Hardy to hone those writing skills that later left us some of the greatest novels in the English language. For me, the famous "cliffhanger" scene lived up to my expectations, although I was surprised that it does not occur near the novel's end. Then I learned that the novel first appeared in serialized form, so Hardy literally left English readers "hanging", not knowing what was going to happen to Henry who was hanging off a cliff while Elfride looks on. The final 10 or 15 pages made me hold my breath as I waited to see the conclusion of the novel, even though Hardy doesn't make great efforts to hide the outcome from the reader. A great book is one in which we feel compelled to finish as quickly as we can, even though we may already know the outcome of the story. For me, then, this is a great book!
Bill R. Moore and John Martin previously analyzed this novel correctly, and I will merely second their well expressed views. Let me merely append a note on the novel's structure. The core of this book is a love triangle between Steven Smith (an assistant architect like Hardy himself) and Henry Knight (the literary man Hardy hoped to be), who vie for the love of the heroine Elfride Swancourt (who is very like Emma Gifford, the sister-in-law of the local rector who Hardy wooed and ultimately won). The book is, therefore, highly autobiographical. The two men -- Smith and Knight -- represent a duality in Hardy's own personality and reflect his ambivalence about giving up a highly promising career in architecture for the uncertainties of writing for a living. This duality expresses itself repeatedly in other contexts throughout the novel. The story is not a melodramatic contest between a good man and a bad man, but a rivalry between two men who are both meritorious and equally flawed, each in his own way. Making this, perhaps, the most personal of Hardy's novels, as reflected by the fact that he continued to work on the book, off and on, throughout his life.
The world likes to pigeon-hole talent and render it one-dimensional. But Hardy refuses to be pigeon-holed. He was both architect and creative writer. He was justifiably proud of his accomplishments in the profession of architecture and hopeful, but never quite sure, of his genius in the world of literature. In fact, he mastered both, ultimately. As an architect, Hardy was very conscious of structure and craftsmanship, much more so than most contemporary novelists. The plot of this book reflects his precise nature and his intellect. This book is most assuredly about something, it has direction, and it explores many of the major themes in Hardy's later works. Consequently, it affords those who appreciate the art of literature an opportunity to examine the progress of a novelist learning to weave plot, character, setting, and tone, before he acquires the polish in his later works that make all the seams disappear.
I recommend this book, not as great literature, but as great literary skill in the making and as a starkly honest expression of Hardy's literary vision. It is a book to be studied. In that regard, the masterful introduction by Tom Dolin is worth the price of the book in itself. The text is superbly edited by Alan Manford and augmented by a very helpful chronology, bibliography, and notes. It is a scholarly addition to the other esteemed Oxford World's Classics and should find a place on every serious writer's shelf.