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Based in Lower Wessex, England in the late 1800's, "A Pair of Blue Eyes", by Thomas Hardy, tells the tale of an English lady by the name of Elfride Swancourt, the daughter clergyman, Christopher Swancourt and the journey that takes her through the highs and lows of romance.
Hardy is particularly good at portraying life in this epoch of history, and the deliciously descriptive nature of his work weaves a tapestry of fine detail that encompasses the intricacies of perceptions and beliefs surrounding the British class system of the time.
In other historical novels, one is tempted to skip paragraphs, though one of the most important aspects of Hardy's work is that words are never used to pad the text, and each are designed to give focus and authority to the written word. The man is extremely clever at it and has an astute sense of clarity.
In this particular book, the subject matter takes into account the strength of feeling imposed by the class system that still exists in today's society, although to a lesser extent. Elfride is a fanciful young lady with a naivety one can only imagine to have been rooted in the isolation of her upbringing in a rural area of Wessex.
Compared with another Hardy heroine, Tess, she most certainly does not have the same strength of character, though his affection for his created character is apparent, as he delves into the thought processes with a very good understanding and sensitivity towards the fairer sex.
Conversely, the male characters that dominate the book are extremely well formed and believable in the characterisations of Steven Smith, Elfride's first love, an Architect of lowly background, balanced out nicely by the character of Henry Knight, an educated essayist that is introduced to Elfride after having critiqued her romantic and idealized historical novel.
The spark between characters works very convincingly and the changing tides of fortune and fame that embrace the storyline and make it work effectively have been cleverly executed, leaving the reader involved in the lives of the characters painted by Hardy. He is particularly good at getting the reader interested, and this book is no exception to the rule.
Part of the Wordsworth Classics range of books, this book comes in soft-cover and the edition offers the reader the possibility of buying the whole range of Thomas Hardy books which have been cheaply reproduced to make collections of literature possible even to the student on a meager budget. The book also has an area at the back of the book for notes, and coming in at a very cheap price, these are ideal for students, though for those who wish to grace their bookshelves with a more lasting item, I prefer both the print and presentation of the Penguin classic version.
One of the sad historical things that took away the popularity of this book is that it was quickly overshadowed by the much loved "Far From the Madding Crowd", though for those that have read and enjoyed the more popular works, the book does have its merits, and is certainly a very nicely penned story indeed.
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd; New Ed edition (1 Dec 1995)
A worthy historical romance that takes the reader back in time, to Wessex, and it's English roots.