Almost two weeks ago now I started reading Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. I’ve not ever read Hardy before. I know! I have seen a movie version of Tess a very long time ago, does that count? Anyway, whenever I’ve mentioned Hardy on this blog over the years I’ve gotten two reactions:
- He’s sooo good, you have to read him!
- He’s really depressing so be prepared
The so good and the really depressing even come from the same people, implying that depressing does not mean a bad book. So when I began Far from the Madding Crowd I was expecting a really good book that is also a downer. Maybe it’s me, or maybe this is Hardy’s only non-depressing book, but I’ve been laughing while reading it. Laughing a lot. This I did not expect and was confused at first, worried perhaps I was misreading or something. But no, Hardy is funny. How can this not make you laugh?
Oak sighed a deep honest sigh—none the less so in that, being like the sigh of a pine plantation, it was rather noticeable as a disturbance of the atmosphere.
‘Come, Mark Clark—come. Ther’s plenty more in the barrel,’ said Jan. ‘Ay—that I will, ’tis my only doctor,’ replied Mr. Clark, who, twenty years younger than Jan Coggan, revolved in the same orbit. He secreted mirth on all occasions for special discharge at popular parties.
Or that one man in the neighborhood is known only as “Susan Tall’s husband” because he has no distinguishing characteristics of his own. I find myself giggling every time Susan Tall’s husband shows up, which isn’t often enough if you ask me, but I suppose you have to play lightly with that joke or it will wear itself out too quickly.
It’s not like Hardy’s humor slaps you in the face, it is pretty subtle most of the time. It doesn’t make me laugh out loud but it does make me grin. I’m far enough along to know there is trouble ahead for Bathsheba, but I’m not sure that it will be enough to turn everything depressing. Am I safe to put my hanky away or should I keep it in reserve?