|Two on a Tower|
Swithin St. Cleeve is a young man interested in the stars. Lady Viviette Constantine is not quite a wife or a widow; her husband, Sir Blount Constantine, has been missing in Africa for years. Before he left, Viviette made him a promise to live as a nun until his return. But then she meets Swithin at the top of the tower where he has set up his telescope. And what starts as an innocent friendship soon deepens.
For propriety's sake, Viviette determines to keep her feelings hidden. But then she gets word of her husband's death, and her love for Swithin comes to light. Because of the difference in their ages, and Viviette's desire not to hinder Swithin's study of astronomy, they embark on a secret marriage. And then, as in all of Hardy's novels, other complications arise: the unexpected arrival of Viviette's brother, the death of Swithin's great uncle and the stringent conditions of his will, and the bachelor Bishop who suddenly decides he wants to marry Viviette himself. It soon seems like Viviette and Swithin will never get their happy ending. But then happy endings and Thomas Hardy rarely go together.
"The mental room taken up by an idea depends largely on the available space for it as on its essential magnitude: in Lady Constantine's life of infestivity, in her domestic voids, and in her social discouragements, there was nothing to oust the lightest fancy. Swithin had, in fact, arisen as an attractive interpolation between herself and despair."
One of the things I like best about Thomas Hardy is his honest portrayal of women and how their lives were so often limited by their circumstances. Viviette finds her choices limited by her sex, her marriage, her age, her poverty ... and finally by her own sense of what she owes to Swithin and his own promising future. So she denies her own happiness. Which made me sad ... and a little frustrated. But that's Thomas Hardy. I really wanted Viviette and Swithin to defy fate and find their own fairy tale ending. Because I liked them. But fate is rarely that accommodating.
Did I like this novel? Yes! Is it sad? A little. Would I read it again? Definitely.
Do you know what else I liked about it? All the great words Thomas Hardy so masterfully weaves together--words like: efts, infestivity, weir-hatch, and irrefragable. Whenever I finish reading a Thomas Hardy novel I always feel a little smarter. I'm looking forward to diving into Far From the Madding Crowd this summer.
Happy Birthday, Thomas Hardy!
(And happy reading.)