A Pair of Blue Eyes, though early in the sequence of Hardy s novels, is lively and gripping. Its dramatic cliff-hanging episode, for example, is at once tense, ironic, feministic and erotic. With settings in Wessex and London, the novel also has some strongly autobiographical features, as the blue-eyed heroine, Elfride Swancourt, is based largely on Emma Gifford, who became Thomas Hardy s first wife. Elfride s vivacious nature attracts several lovers, but she is beset by sexual prejudice, and the ensuing ironies reveal the constraints of her times. A Pair of Blue Eyes provides an engaging and moving experience for today s readers.
Read this as part of the Thomas Hardy reading challenge. The second time I have read this novel, and yet I found I had remembered nothing of the story at all. I was puzzled by this as I found it hugely readable, and really very gripping in parts, which I must surely have done the first time I read it. The prose is beautiful, the descriptions of landscape, and buildings are lovely. It is a wonderfully accessible Hardy novel, and one I would recommend to people who don’t like some of the better known later novels which can be much darker, not that this one ends all happily ever after or anything, this is Thomas Hardy after all.
What Hardy manages to highlight beautifully in this novel, are the double standards that society placed upon Men and Women at this time. Elfride is judged harshly by the men in her life. Another familiar theme is that of the disparity between people of different classes. Elfride’s love interest’s are each from a higher social standing from the one before. Essentially the story is of Elfride’s relationships with young architect Stephen Smith, who’s humble family background finally drives them apart, and then later with Smith’s older friend and mentor Henry Knight. The stories of these three likeable people are portrayed with all the protagonists victims to circumstance rather than there being villains and heroes. Secrets, lies, an embittered widow who threatens to reveal all she knows, and a dramatic cliff top scene make for a brilliant page turner of a read.