This is my third Hardy novel, but I’m getting the feeling I should have stopped after my first. Both A Pair of Blue Eyes and Far from the Maddening Crowd are very different to the more nuanced, and at times dark, Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The former two read more like very typical Victorian-era, romantic fiction, where as the latter is much richer in both its content and gorgeous prose.
That said, I enjoyed A Pair of Blue Eyes much more than Far From the Maddening Crowd. The heroine Elfride Swancourt (who was based on Hardy’s first wife Emma Gifford) is flawed, but immensely likeable. The male leads are slightly annoying though, especially Henry Knight and his rather possessive and condescending nature. Knight’s views on women certainly highlight the oppressive and sexually-prejudiced atmosphere women existed in during that time. His attitude comprises one of the main themes of the novel and provides plenty of material that will aggravate modern readers, but is interesting from a theoretical perspective.
The bulk of the plot was pretty predictable and didn’t really grasp my attention that well. But this meant I was taken by complete surprise when Hardy chose to end the story in a way totally contrary to my expectations, which I loved.