Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Lesser Light: Reflections on Thomas Hardy's Two on a Tower

A few weeks ago, in my “Cornucopia of Recommendations” post, I said you couldn’t go wrong with a Thomas Hardy novel.  Much as it pains me to admit it, I have to take back the remark.  I recently finished reading Hardy’s lesser-known novel Two on a Tower, and while there were some features of it that were classic Hardy, it certainly didn’t live up to the usual Hardy experience.

The premise has promise: a woman of feeling and religious devotion falls in love with a younger man of science whose ambition is to be a great astronomer.  The woman is Lady Constantine, a recently widowed 28 year-old; the would-be astronomer, a local farm boy named Swithin St. Cleeve, whose father’s social standing was brought down by his marriage to Swithin’s lower-class mother.  Swithin is thus genteel enough that when Lady Constantine first discovers him making stellar observations from a tower on her property, she is moved to aid him in his ambitions as she can.  At the time that she strikes up her acquaintance, she doesn’t yet know her husband is dead, simply that he has been in Africa for some years.  By the time she learns he is dead, Lady Constantine has fallen in love with Swithin, and Swithin with her.

But there are complications.