Damn, it looks like a half dozen or more pages were missing from Chapter 20 in the version I downloaded from Amazon. I wonder what else is missing? So, anyway, I downloaded a version from Gutenberg.org. I'm surprised that Amazon, who only just poach out-of-copyright stuff from other people, can't even be bothered to fix mistake-riddled poaches. Shame on them. It turns out that the version on Gutenberg.org was better formatted as well. For example the table of contents was functional.
This book is essentially an old-fashioned soap opera. It's kind of fun. I'm not sure the story alone, however, would carry the book. Hardy has an amazingly poetic way with description that I find engaging. That makes sense, of course, apparently Hardy considered himself a poet first, and only wrote novels to make enough money to pay for his poetic endeavors. Or something like that.
Anyway, we open with a man and a woman with a babe in her arms walking down the road. They stop for some food, furmity, which is basically a kind of boiled grain mush with some milk and eggs and stuff thrown in. In this case, brandy was also thrown in and the man gets nasty drunk. He offers to sell his wife and child and a sailor takes him up on the offer, paying five guineas for her. Later, the man, Michael Henchard, feels some remorse and tries to find the woman he sold off, Susan, and daughter, Elizabeth-Jane. He doesn't find her, but eventually enters a church where he makes a vow to stay sober for the next twenty-one years.
So, then we jump some 18–20 years and find that Henchard has prospered as a dealer in hay and grain, and become the mayor of the town of Casterbridge. But then, slowly and inexorably, stuff begins to collapse around him.
His spouse, Susan, returns to find him with a teen-age daughter, Elizabeth-Jane in tow (who may or may not be the original Elizabeth-Jane). Then he makes friends with an itinerant Scotsman, Donald Farfrae, and hires him to help out in his business, and things prosper...for a time, at least. A former mistress shows up, and other stuff. Anyway, these lives all get tangled up and Henchard begins a long, downward spiral, much of it due to his own ego-driven impetuousness. I won't go on. Read it yourselves. It really is a good book, although as I said above, the writing is better than the story line.
But, one interesting thing I found was a new word, larry
. I've never seen it used before, except as a name. Hell, I've lived that word as a name since before I can remember. As nearly as I can gather from the context, larry
is a 19th century word for "tizzy", or applecart upset, or to use a more modern terminology, cluster f*k
, or something. Anyway, because, I can, I've appended three quotes from the book below. Perhaps any English majors who pass by can enlighten me on the etymology and use of this word and where else it shows up in literature.
"Oh, please, ma'am, 'tis this larry about Mr. Henchard. A woman has proved that before he became a gentleman he sold his wife for five guineas in a booth at a fair." ch 28
"Yaas, Miss Henchet," he said, "Mr. Farfrae have bought the concern and all of we work-folk with it; and 'tis better for us than 'twas—though I shouldn't say that to you as a daughter-law. We work harder, but we bain't made afeard now. It was fear made my few poor hairs so thin! No busting out, no slamming of doors, no meddling with yer eternal soul and all that; and though 'tis a shilling a week less I'm the richer man; for what's all the world if yer mind is always in a larry, Miss Henchet?" Ch 31
"That I can. But the worst larry for me was that pheasant business at Yalbury Wood. Your wife swore false that time, Joe—O, by Gad, she did—there's no denying it." ch 36