01 September 2013

+JMJ+

"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 63

First of all, please accept my apologies for the lateness of this post. Last week started out well but rapidly devolved into something which kept me in bed and unable to keep much down for three days. The good news is that when I finally crawled out and rejoined civilisation, I was svelte. =P

But what is more relevant to this readalong is that I finally know why some Far from the Madding Crowd covers prominently feature the seashore . . .

At three in the afternoon [Troy] found himself at the foot of a slope more than a mile in length, which ran to the ridge of a range of hills lying parallel with the shore, and forming a monotonous barrier between the basin of cultivated country inland and the wilder scenery of the coast. Up the hill stretched a road nearly straight and perfectly white, the two sides approaching each other in a gradual taper till they met the sky at the top about two miles off. Throughout the length of this narrow and irksome inclined plane not a sign of life was visible on this garish afternoon. Troy toiled up the road with a languor and depression greater than any he had experienced for many a day and year before. The air was warm and muggy, and the top seemed to recede as he approached.

At last he reached the summit, and a wide and novel prospect burst upon him with an effect almost like that of the Pacific upon Balboa's gaze . . .

I can't help comparing Troy's stark isolation here to Gabriel's solitude at the very beginning. While the latter is not "a person standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight" in the sense that he isn't contemplating the cosmic view which Thomas Hardy goes on to describe, he seems to understand nonetheless that he is merely making "stately progress through the stars"--and this is likely why his great loss, when it comes, does not beat him down so badly. But Troy gazes not at the stars during midnight vigil, but at the horizon during nones; and this makes a difference.


Chapters 44 to 50

If the way Hardy breaks the news of Bathsheba's wedding is meant to remind us that Bathsheba is not the centre of Far from the Madding Crowd, then these chapters which barely shift the focus from Sergeant and Mrs. Troy are meant to remind us that neither is Gabriel. So let's stick to Troy for now.

I feel a little bad comparing him to Gabriel, but I find the twists of fortune they each endure interesting to lay side by side. Now, Gabriel arguably receives the bigger blow, losing everything he has worked hard for over ten years and the independence that came with it. In contrast, Troy loses the labour of a few hours, which was driven by a romantic whim--damage which proves easier to fix than even I had guessed. Yet the second man takes his blow much harder, for an interesting reason.

Hardy guides us to that awful point in Troy's life brilliantly, by way of the Weatherbury church's gargoyle--or as I suppose we can also spell it, gurgoyle. (Would you say that it gargles or that it gurgles?) Such an ornamental spout makes for easy personification, but Hardy makes this particular character seem especially malicious.

It was too human to be called like a dragon, too impish to be like a man, too animal to be like a fiend, and not enough like a bird to be called a griffin. This horrible stone entity was fashioned as if covered with a wrinkled hide; it had short, erect ears, eyes starting from their sockets, and its fingers and hands were seizing the corners of its mouth, which they thus seemed to pull open to give free passage to the water it vomited. The lower row of teeth was quite washed away, though the upper still remained. Here and thus, jutting a couple of feet from the wall against which its feet rested as a support, the creature had for four hundred years laughed at the surrounding landscape, voicelessly in dry weather, and in wet with a gurgling and snorting sound.

On the night when Troy tries to make amends for something he is truly sorry about, the "creature" laughs again. And because its laughter is not simply sound, but also vomiting, it can erode both the ego and what the ego tries to leave upon the earth. I can't really blame Troy for waking up, seeing what has happened, and taking it personally. That's really easy to do when a gargoyle has been sneering at you all night . . . and when you have no faith.

What happens next is probably the most outrageous part of the story for me. I've read another Hardy novel in which a major character, similarly seeking to escape what he believes is a bad marriage, takes a ship to the Americas--and it was unbelievable there, too. I have no idea what Hardy thought went on across the Atlantic ocean, but his sending Troy to the United States, where he makes a decent living as a Professor of Gymnastics, Sword Exercise, Fencing and Pugilism, seems to be the Victorian equivalent of the 80s training/makeover montage. That is: it works as a plot point only if you don't see that it's magic.

I had an even harder time swallowing Troy's "reincarnation" as Turpin--but that's partly because I'm not sure what to make of the traveling circus. There seems to be a place for such touring entertainers in Greenhill Fair, but they're not agricultural, not rustic, not very traditional, and certainly not far from the madding crowd. I wish I had something more profound to say about it, but not as much as I wish for this post to be published as soon as possible--so perhaps we can figure it out together in the combox.

At last and as for Mrs. Troy, did anyone notice that after she had to have that look in the coffin, she has been looking more often and feeling less comfortable with being looked at by others? Her watching Gabriel through his window is a reversal of the time he watched her through the hole in the cow shed.

What are your thoughts on Chapters 44 to 50?

1. Would you say that Troy's disappearance and return are consistent with his character's lack of roots and unusual career choices, or does Hardy drop the ball while expecting us to suspend disbelief?
2. What do you make of the circus?

Image Source: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

17 comments:

Belfry Bat said...

Contrasts, yes, fascinating contrasts... congratulations on your recovery, then, by the way. For one thing, if only the silly Troy could wait patiently, as Gabriel does so naturally. If he could have seen all the patient and forgiving things Bathsheba does when she calms down a little and emerges from her despairing pride — !!!

But instead of waiting (or suffering), he dithers and wanders. It seems to be an incurable habit with him that he can't be happy with any good thing — A solid job or rising through soldier ranks or Fanny's apparent devotion or being actually married to Bathsheba (just let her keep on with the farming, silly boy, and you'll be comfy for life!) or prospering as he well might in America or... never his mind on Where he Was, never a thought for What he Was Doing, like Yoda to speak.

1) Say, have you seen Little Big Man, with Dustin Hofman playing a man somewhere between the ages of 18 and 102? Because there's plenty in that there all-American classic that's far and away wackier than a Professor of Gymnastics, Fencing, Sword Exercise, and Pugilism; it's certainly of a piece with the American Dream, and the 2nd Amendment and all, that such a Professor would have plenty to do, if he were good at it (which Troy should be) or even just charismatic enough (which Troy certainly can be...).

2) Now, the Turpin affair... it does seem a bit more farcical than the rest. Maybe that's just me. Is it reading too much into it to think the point is just to show how low Troy has sunk by this time? Or is it just the cleanest way to deliver Troy incognito into a half-inadvertent close encounter with his wife? Also: are carnies as creepy in Victorian Wessex as they are in ... er... oh dear; the only examples I can conjure are the Sluggyverse and Austin Powers! In the Girl Genius serial the circus at least has a self-suppressed heroic element... but anyways, ... creepy? Or is that gypsies?

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

That's an interesting analysis of Troy (and one very close to a thought I edited out when I realised it would mean quoting The Last Psychiatrist again); but I'm not sure where you're going with the first of your other points . . .

1) What I mean is that Hardy's making his characters go off to the Americas when he needs them to be out of England seems over the top. There are other countries which are much more accessible, but he makes them cross the Atlantic anyway.

2) We don't get much of a sense of the circus people, but I think it's safe to say they're not creepy. Whether Hardy's readers would have found them so anyway, I have no idea. They don't seem to be gypsies, but the nomadic element is there and enough of a contrast with the earthy, rooted Weatherbury residents.

Belfry Bat said...

1bis) Oh, I see. Well, there's a reason the US speaks English, today. (There was also a vote decided by a margin of one, but that was, I think, incidental to the development of demographics.)

In the meantime, we've no idea what Troy's facility with continental languages might be... I wonder if the fifth-chapter allusion to Napoleon on St-Helena signifies that the date is at least after 1815? Oh! Here's a fun page: British Wars. It seems that since 1817, outside of Russia and Ireland, and apart from the World Wars, Britain hasn't been at war with any of the rest of Atlantic Europe, nor the US! A pity we need so many qualifiers... Lucky Troy, though, not to be sent to the Crimean!

But I think Troy's decision to visit the States really is as described in the book: the boat that rescued him happened to be going there, and he took a fancy to the idea. And isn't that just like him!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Troy's decision to visit the States is fairly consistent with his character, but Hardy's decision to make it the States instead of a destination in, say, Africa is what really tests my derivatives. (I can feel you shuddering from here! Bwahahahahahaha!) I don't think Hardy has ever been there, though he certainly has some strong impressions about what "there" is like.

I'm reminded of a Filipino movie I once saw in which one character had just come home from a trip to the States. The filmmakers dressed her in what they must have imagined were American styles and got her to exaggerate her accent somewhat. Now, I wasn't in the States myself the year the girl supposedly was, but I do know that the outfit she was wearing looked like the latest shipment of Chinese knockoffs of American designers (I live near the country's second biggest flea market) and that her manner of speaking seemed patterned after one of the main characters in High School Musical (the year's Disney Channel hit--and a personal favourite of mine =P). There's just something about Hardy's America that is similarly off.

Belfry Bat said...

But I can't quite get what you're about, now: is it the funniness of Hardy's sense of America, or is it going to America at all? Oh, maybe you mean the combination? Well, I really don't know.

However, I will point out that it's not just Hardy; Conan Doyle is similarly funny about America, and it shows when he has Holmes say the what might be either the most republican (classic sense) or the most monarchist (...) thing possible, and one can only tell which by knowing Holmes, and I'm sure it goes over like a lead (Pb) dirigible. That's in the Noble Bachelor, among the Adventures. I'm trying to recall if Dickens has such a penchant... the only mention of America I can recall in Dickens so far is an oblique mention of the Declaration at the beginning of Two Cities. Then there is Kipling's Captains Courageous, which is about a spoiled rich American boy on an American fishing vesel (a sail boat towards the end of their heyday), but the crew is as cosmopolitan as New York, and Kipling was very well travelled.

Now that you mention Africa, it's spoiler-free to mention that Waugh's character Guy Crouchback tried and gave up on farming in Africa somewhere, and later on he fails to fit in among various exiles in Italy.

Maybe we should scour Melville to find what he thought of England. Of course, being definitive about that whereof one knows naught is part of the fun of novelizing; or, as W.R. Hearst is said to have said, "don't let the facts get in the way of a good story".

Sheila said...

1. Did Hardy write before or after Mark Twain? Because I imagine Troy ending up like the Duke of Bridgewater from Huck Finn -- playing up the "Britishness" to convince a bunch of gullible Americans that he's nobility, and thus conning them out of their money. It actually seems completely believable to me.

2. Convenient way to stick Troy back into the story? Hint that where he's been and what he's been doing has not been at all respectable? Remember his shame at the thought of the people back home knowing he was an actor. That was about the most disreputable thing you could be at the time.

I am amazed, though, that you don't mention Troy and Bathsheba's showdown over the coffin! I found that the most dramatic scene in the book. And I felt that Bathsheba behaved very badly. Troy has just lost his former lover AND his firstborn child ... and all she can think is "Kiss me too"? I understand she's jealous, but doesn't she realize other people have feelings too -- and that she is asking for the worst possible reaction with her neediness?

I must say, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief when Troy was swept out to sea. "Ah, these Victorian novelists, always killing off inconvenient spouses! Thank goodness she'll be rid of him!" And then, when the boat comes to pick him up, "Oh no! At least he's not coming home yet, but now we know he'll be back." I really, really dislike that fellow.

Belfry Bat said...

Re. "testing" your "derivatives", with some tempering, you might be a real smooth operator. Four of those words are jargon, and they do fit together, and derivatives figure as well. And, no, they don't mean what you think.

Thinking digressively through my fingers again...come to think of it, the business halves of two of Doyle's four Holmes novels are set somewhere in the States, and there's all sorts of fascinating things going on there... they both hinge on the lawlessness of isolation, which Holmes explicitly laments in the Hound, whose eponymous heir Baskerville spent time in the States, and is said to have picked up American manners...

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Bat -- Math never means what I think! =P

Back to Troy's American adventure: yes, I'm getting at the combination you wrote of. Hardy knows no more about the Americas than my Kiwi friends who insisted that the majority of people in the States were religious fundamentalists, yet he keeps sending characters there; and all the while, there are countries closer by, which he'd presumably know more about, that he ignores. Was America that magical to him?

Troy and his other character seem precursors to the traveler in the movie Love, Actually who wants to go to the States because he thinks American girls are "easy." So he picks the most American place he can think of, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (ROFL!), and is able to have sex with four girls (one in a cowboy-themed outfit!) the very night he arrives. Of course, the difference between Hardy and the makers of Love, Actually is that the latter knew they were being silly. =P

Sheila -- Troy's playing up his Britishness would explain his title of "Professor." I think one thing I found really hard to swallow was the idea that the full title and job description were an American designation. But looking at it as self-styling really makes sense. How would they know he wasn't the fancy "professor" he claimed to be?

And now that you put it that way, Troy's coming back as an actor does seem even more shameful than Fanny having a child out of wedlock. At least we know that Fanny was genuinely in love and tried to get her baby born in a proper family. But Troy has no decent excuse for joining a traveling circus. (Then again, did he have a decent excuse for anything he has done?)

The scene around the coffin was deeply dramatic for me, too! But I didn't write about it because, believe it or not, I felt that I had nothing to add! My reaction was incredible relief that things which were hidden had become known, and I confess, some not-very-nice satisfaction that Bathsheba and Troy should see that even the most casual of actions should have such terrible consequences. But I also felt that I had beaten that drum too much where Bathsheba was concerned, so I kept silent.

But I'm glad you didn't, because your reading of that scene is better than anything I could have done! =) While I've been focussing on Bathsheba's selfishness, I've tended to overlook her neediness. But it is true that the reaction anyone can have to another person's death is to make it all about himself. (This is also, I now realise, exactly what Mr. Boldwood does when he hears that Troy may have drowned. What are his actions except a "Kiss me too!" without words?)

love the girls said...

I saw S. Troy's lament as paralleling David's lament of Bathsheba. Fanny signifies the Faith he casts aside for a pretty and exciting face.

And his going out to sea not unlike going into the desert.

In other words, Bathsheba's own guilt in the affair could not begin until David recognized his error first.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

What's especially interesting to me is that Bathsheba gets to play King David herself. Troy fails as a David figure because he doesn't properly repent--or to be perfectly accurate, because after the gargoyle (as proxy for the whole church?) literally spits on his offering, he abandons all his better ideas and drifts along again. This time literally.

Bathsheba did not know about Fanny until after the dying girl showed up again, so the former has no guilt in this affair. She is guilty, however, for what she did to Mr. Boldwood.

love the girls said...

Miss E,

Bathsheba's and S. Troy's sins in need of repentance are vanity and desiring the glamorous over the steadfast.

Their sins parallel the sins of Wessex.

Like S. Troy, David's laments were probably rather weak in the beginning. But even a weak lament over wanting and rejecting Bathsheba is enough for her, given her nature to see the light of her own fault.

Once Uriah was dead, she was in a pretty bad situation, and if she could have, would have raised him from the dead.

love the girls said...

Or course, my concept would make more sense if Gabriel had by tricked by S. Troy in ending up out to sea for a few years, thought dead and returned, while B. lamented her ending up with a S. Troy who rejected her by spending his days down at the graveyard with his son and Fanny.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Since David had the biblical Bathsheba come to live with him immediately after he heard about Uriah's death, I don't think she was ever in a bad spot. I doubt she felt any guilt until her baby died and she presumably interpreted it as the punishment for her adultery.

love the girls said...

Miss E.,

The only parts I'm sure about, given the catharsis, is that the story is the story of Bathsheba's redemption, and Hardy is rewriting bringing Uriah, i.e. the steadfast Gabriel, back to life.

Steadfastness is important because its why David killed Uriah. Uriah's steadfastness to duty was why he didn't go see his wife prior to his returning to duty.

love the girls said...

And I should add,

I'm also sure that following a train of thought that leads one off a cliff is detrimental not only to sheep and philosophers but . . .

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

. . . also to husbands? =P

Belfry Bat said...

It doesn't much help the train to have your company, either. ;-)