Art Talk: Hardy Party with the Overlords

O’Brien: I just finished reading “Jude the Obscure,” which may be the saddest book I’ve ever read.

Karellen: “Jude” isn’t sad, O’Brien. It’s one of the great comedic works of the English language, a veritable chuckle-fest from start to stop, if you find despair amusing, as I do. Plus, Hardy teaches an interesting lesson about women. Stay away from the mousy intellectuals; stick with the farm girls.

Mustapha Mond: I read “Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” and that was more than enough Hardy for one lifetime. He’s right up there with Dickens for writing soap opera drivel, as far as I’m concerned. Anybody want a watercress sandwich? I made a big old batch last tonight, so there’s plenty to go around.

Karellen: After having read “Tess,” I also read “Jude,” and “Jude” is indeed much, much better. Why young English majors are forced to read the former rather than the latter is just stupid, a true testament to the idiocy that leaks out of the ivory tower like dirty, smelly, pretentious pus. Mmmm . . . say, Mustapha, these are some good watercress sandwiches! I love the way you cut them in squares, diagonally, without the crusts. Well done, sir!

Wintermute: I actually chose to read “Jude the Obscure” after reading “The Mayor of Casterbridge.” So something drove me back. It’s pretty soap opera, yeah, but not so much drivel to me. It did have a list of mixed lessons at the end, none of which were clear: should we condemn society for creating a world where the mousy intellectual has no place in it? Or condemn the mousy intellectual for refusing to find a place in modern society. The farm girl (Arabella) was just as bad in her own way. Her presence begged the question of whether we are better off with the commonsensical farm girl or the mousy intellectual. Should you choose to do well and stay within your class or make the leap to another class and get thru all the suffering that ensues? The other important question was whether you are better believing in the God of the church and following the rules set forth, or following a code that you develop yourself based on your observations and views on the topic. Based on the ending, Hardy seems to tell you that it doesn’t matter one fat rat’s ass what you do. You go from one miserable situation to another. Then you waste away all by yourself.

O’Brien: That’s what I mean about being the saddest book I’ve ever read. Well, that and the fact that I have moved the time it took me to read it closer to death, with nothing much to show for my effort. The way I see it . . .

Wintermute: Shutup, O’Brien, I’m not done. So, for me, I guess the big unresolved question is: does the wasting away occur because society has no place accepting those who cannot live within its norms or is it because society should open up to new ideas and create a world where ways of doing things that are outside of the norms are accepted? Should Jude have changed himself or should society have changed to accommodate Jude? Or is the tragedy simply inevitable seeing as neither of the individual nor society really could change these aspects of themselves that differed without losing their fundamental nature?

O’Brien: Well, I think that it’s all a matter of . . .

Karellen: O’Brien! Zip it! We’re talking about Thomas Hardy here! Let the big boys speak, and you be a good fellow and go make us all some tea to go with these delicious watercress sandwiches that Mustapha brought us. Off with you! Chop chop! Go! Now, where were we before we were so rudely interrupted by that silly little Overlord? Oh, yes . . . those are all good points, Wintermute. There’s also the division of the intellect (let’s call it potential) to the body (let’s call it kinetic), and the inevitable subjugation of the former to the latter, by necessity. Or something. Pass me the chutney there, will you?

Wintermute: Here you go, Karellen. These truly are some great watercress sandwiches, Mustapha! Bravo! So, anyway, Arabella is the worse of the two women, the way I see it, being the calculating, manipulative one, but one is hard pressed to hold her responsible for that, given that she is subject to the same (well, differently, actually, but all part of the same larger structure) social restrictions/necessities. Her friends give her the advice of getting preggers, and getting her man that way, but that’s just the reality of the farm girl. In the end, it’s not the women who spell the downfall of Jude, but the conflict between what he would be ideally and that of which he is capable. He could, of course, stay in his attic, learning Latin, but the girl flashes him a smile and all that is physical about him trumps his intellectual pursuits, and soon enough, he’s beat. He can’t help it, because he’s not this purely intellectual being, but instead one possessed of intellect in conflict with desire, folly and physical need. I say “folly,” of course, which has its origins in “fool,” but that is not right. It’s not to indicate that his fall into the arms of a farm girl (or any other, for that matter) is the result of his own failing, but rather the natural, human desire to not spend the rest of one’s life in alone an attic, studying Latin. And, also, by “physical necessity,” I don’t just mean “poon-tang” (is that actually hyphenated? I don’t know), but also the basic needs of a job, food, shelter, etc. Which is what Arabella was dealing with as well. She gots to get hers, namsain?

Karellen: “Poontang” is a little too Motor City Madman for my tastes, Wintermute. I prefer “pussy.” Otherwise, you’re spot on target.

O’Brien: Tea?

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Published in: on March 13, 2010 at 2:49 am  Leave a Comment  

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