October 23, 2017
Hardy, Casterbridge and Virginia WoolfOn this day in 1885, Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge began serialization. This was the first novel Hardy wrote for weekly rather than monthly serialization, and his journal entry for this day expresses his worry that he had overplayed the need for a steady stream of drama by incorporating too many "improbabilities of incident." More than one early reviewer did indeed find the novel "too improbable," Hardy's famous wife-selling opening being particularly "impossible to believe." In fact, Hardy's notebooks show that he had found three such incidents in the local records for the 1820s time period, two of them describing not only that the wife was sold but that she was also led through the streets with a halter around her neck. Beyond this, Hardy gave Henchard too many basins of rum-laced "furmity," a personality which, when under the influence, tended down the jocose-bellicose-comatose path, and a wife who had seen more than her fill. This is the crucial moment in the furmity-tent:
The woman's manner changed, and her face assumed the grim shape and colour of which mention has been made.
"Mike, Mike," said she; "this is getting serious. Oh!-- too serious!"
"Will anybody buy her?" said the man.
"I wish somebody would," said she firmly. "Her present owner is not at all to her liking!"
"Nor you to mine," said he. "So we are agreed about that. Gentlemen, you hear? It's an agreement to part. She shall take the girl if she wants to, and go her ways. I'll take my tools, and go my ways. 'Tis simple as Scripture history. Now then, stand up, Susan, and show yourself."
"Don't, my chiel," whispered a buxom staylace dealer in voluminous petticoats, who sat near the woman; "yer good man don't know what he's saying."
The woman, however, did stand up....
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