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The Hand of Ethelberta (1876)

von Thomas Hardy

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4881238,976 (3.32)32
Red joins George Elliott Clarke’s previous ‘colouring’ books#150;Blue and Black#150;in which he displays an expansive range of poetic forms and rhetorical poses. Its poems mix the candid sexuality of pre-Christian Rome with the pop sentimentally of Italian screen scores of the 1960s and 70s, drenching us in the brute violence of Titus Andronicus, the reflections of Malcolm X and the music of Charles Mingus (whose "bass sounds like a typewriter/Punctuating Ulysses"). Whether he situates his reader in his father’s Halifax cab, on a beach in Rhodes, or in front of Alma Duncan’s painting Young Black Girl, Clarke is ever sensitive to "the hard work of words,/The even harder work of love." Red rings with Clarke’s lush voice, full-throated and unparalleled.… (mehr)
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Read as part of the Hardy group.

I'm going to have to call this book quits without finishing. Got most of the way through, got distracted by about 8 other books, and have had difficulty getting back into it. Another time, and I might complete it.

It was...ok. The first (and I think only) Hardy book to be set primarily "in town" (London) rather than in Wessex. Ethelbertha is the toast of the town, having produced a book of poems and then reciting her own stories in the fashionable salons around town. Most people dont realise she is the daughter of a butler, and the servants in her house are her mother and siblings.

She finds herself in the position of 3 men wanting to marry her - with her already having given up the apparent love of her life when she got married the first time.

"A comedy in chapters" is a little difficult to understand - perhaps from this distance it's not possible to see the humour. There is a little farce in having three men in Ethelbertha's house at the same time, all wanting her hand in marriage.

Unfortunately I got little further than this point. Whenever I attempt to read more, I find it difficult to get through a few pages at a time, so now to give up. ( )
  nordie | Jan 30, 2021 |
The Hand of Ethelberta is very different from other novels I have read by Thomas Hardy. It is quite long for a start, and it seems to me to resemble a Charles Dickens novel, much of it set in London. It concerns Ethelberta who is the dominant figure of the family, a very strong and determined woman who nevertheless gets tangled up in her love life and on one occasion says 'I wish I were a man'. Some of the book and the antics of the family, supporting or not supporting Ethelberta, reminded me of the Nickelbys. The extended family is removed from Wessex to London in order to keep them together and to be able to support Ethelberta as the breadwinner. She makes her living first by poetry and then recitations and public storytelling. There is a lot of banter among the family members and lots of humour associated with Ethelberta’s various suitors. Characters such as Neigh and Ladywell are wooden but the main suitor, Christopher Julian, is not. There are the usual unexpected meetings, misunderstandings and cases of mistaken identity. Messages are sent and intercepted and just as the end approaches there is a trick in the tail. However, the situation is retrieved and a sequel chapter at the end ensures that most characters are more or less happy. In many respects Ethelberta is like Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the madding crowd. Sometimes she acts on impulse only to regret the consequences. Hardy provides hundreds of wonderful turns of phrase, for instance, 'she'd rather hear thunder than her singing.' Picotee, one of Ethelberta's sisters, is endearing and would certainly win a supporting character award. ( )
  jon1lambert | Jun 27, 2019 |
“The Hand of Ethelberta” may be considered the runt of Hardy’s litter, but that doesn’t mean it should be avoided.

This is light fiction with some good comedy blended in. I like moments such as when Picotee – Ethelberta’s sister, and my favourite character – criticises a man for laughing like this: “Hee, hee, hee!”

So while this isn’t a Hardy masterpiece, it does show this great author’s versatility as a writer. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Apr 15, 2018 |
Very enjoyable read and loved the opportunistic character of Ethelberta. ( )
  brakketh | Apr 2, 2018 |
The hand of Ethelberta is a fairly early Hardy novel, which appeared two years after Far from the madding crowd. He classed it as one of his "novels of ingenuity" and as a "comedy in chapters", both of which give a strong hint that we're not in the world of grim, arbitrary rural tragedy that readers of Tess or Jude might expect from a Hardy novel. But neither are we in the bucolic world of Under the greenwood tree - this is a social comedy of ambition and class-differences, very much part of the modern world of 1870s Britain (almost in HG Wells country), even if the plot sometimes seems to owe more than a little to Moll Flanders...

Ethelberta is a clever, enterprising, young woman from a working-class background who has risen in the world by a series of accidents that would easily fill a three-volume novel in themselves, but which Hardy summarizes in a couple of paragraphs on the opening page. Unfortunately, she has acquired social standing without very much money to back it up, so she has to use all her ingenuity to earn enough to support her many siblings. She finds a niche for herself as a professional story-teller, but the novelty value of this is clearly going to be short-lived, so it's a case of maximising the opportunities her various suitors present. If possible, without hurting that very nice young musician who will never have enough money to marry her.

The plot frequently requires the complex mechanisms of French farce (not Hardy's greatest skill as a novelist) and at a couple of points drifts into a parody of bad-baronet-style melodrama so good that it's hard to realise that it is meant to be funny. Which probably explains why this isn't one of Hardy's better-known books. But what does make it interesting is his careful analysis of the pain and misunderstanding that can be caused by the rigidity of a framework for social relations based on the assumption that a person's "class" is immanent and invariable, whilst in reality, late-Victorian society provided more opportunities than ever before for people to move up and down the social ladder.

The key scene in the book is a dinner-party where the Doncastles have invited Ethelberta to meet Lord Mountclere, without being aware that Ethelberta is actually the daughter of their tactful and efficient butler. Hardy resists the temptation to produce a big revelation here, but allows us to appreciate the pain that father and daughter must both be feeling as she sits there whilst he pours her wine and neither of them can afford to give any acknowledgement of their relationship. And, of course, to make his middle-class readers pause for a moment and wonder if it's possible that some of their own servants might be human beings with private joys and sorrows...

Reading this directly after Trollope made me realise what a wonderfully three-dimensional view of society Hardy has. He's a writer who can't describe the presence of a jug of milk on a table without wondering about all the people who were involved in getting it there, and in many cases telling us something about them as individuals.

The landscape is always important in Hardy as well, of course - in this case much of the action takes place around Swanage, Corfe Castle and Bournemouth, and it always feels as though you'd have little difficulty following the journeys by land and sea he describes, if you could only find an 1870s map. ( )
2 abstimmen thorold | Jan 5, 2018 |
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Red joins George Elliott Clarke’s previous ‘colouring’ books#150;Blue and Black#150;in which he displays an expansive range of poetic forms and rhetorical poses. Its poems mix the candid sexuality of pre-Christian Rome with the pop sentimentally of Italian screen scores of the 1960s and 70s, drenching us in the brute violence of Titus Andronicus, the reflections of Malcolm X and the music of Charles Mingus (whose "bass sounds like a typewriter/Punctuating Ulysses"). Whether he situates his reader in his father’s Halifax cab, on a beach in Rhodes, or in front of Alma Duncan’s painting Young Black Girl, Clarke is ever sensitive to "the hard work of words,/The even harder work of love." Red rings with Clarke’s lush voice, full-throated and unparalleled.

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