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The Well-Beloved (1897)

af Thomas Hardy

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382550,611 (3.52)7
The Well-Beloved: A Sketch of a Temperament is a novel by Thomas Hardy, serialized in 1892, and published as a book in 1897. The main setting of the novel, the Isle of Slingers, is based on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, southern England. Many of Hardy's novels were set in Dorset. The Well Beloved is one of Hardy's last novels. It was first published in three-part serial form in 1892, and then revised and re-published as a book in 1897, after Hardy's last novel Jude the Obscure (1895). The Well-Beloved tells the story of sculptor Jocelyn Pierston and his love for three generations of women - the grandmother, her daughter and grand-daughter over a period of forty years. Pierston is seeking for perfection in his choice of lover and in doing so lets opportunities for happiness pass him by. However, at the end of his life, he finds some kind of contentment in compromise. Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was an English novelist and poet. A Victorian realist, in the tradition of George Eliot, he was also influenced both in his novels and poetry by Romanticism, especially by William Wordsworth. Charles Dickens is another important influence on Thomas Hardy. Like Dickens, he was also highly critical of much in Victorian society, though Hardy focused more on a declining rural society. Initially he gained fame as the author of such novels as Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). However, since the 1950s Hardy has been recognized as a major poet, and had a significant influence on The Movement poets of the 1950s and 1960s, including Phillip Larkin. The bulk of his fictional works, initially published as serials in magazines, were set in the semi-fictional region of Wessex and explored tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances. Hardy's Wessex is based on the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom and eventually came to include the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Hampshire, and much of Berkshire, in south west England. [Elib]… (mere)
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For Jocelyn Pierston, a sculptor who is the central figure in Thomas Hardy's “The Well-Beloved,” the object of his affection changes with the wind — or with the woman. What he thinks of as his Well-Beloved is not a real woman but an image, an ideal, a mirage.

In the opening pages he becomes engaged to two women. He jilts Avice to propose to Marcia, who then jilts him. Through the years of young manhood, he wanders from one Well-Beloved to another, never marrying any of them.

Hardy's novel skips ahead at 20-year intervals, so we next find Jocelyn at 40 meeting Avice's lovely daughter, also called Avice, who instantly becomes his new Well-Beloved. Yet she must turn down his proposal because she is already married, even if unhappily.

Twenty years later, Jocelyn at 60 spots the third Avice, a girl even lovelier than her mother or grandmother at the same age. His chances of marrying her look good, especially with her mother working to make the marriage happen. She missed her chance to marry the wealthy artist and wants her daughter to take advantage of her own opportunity.

Hardy gives us some plot twists at the end that add interest to a short novel that otherwise seems artificial and bland. Yet a few years after this book was published, Hardy himself would marry a woman 39 years younger than him. So maybe the story is not quite as fanciful as it may appear. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Jul 22, 2020 |
I didn't get the usual satisfaction from reading a Thomas Hardy novel. It seems to be an exercise of fitting characters into ideas. The hero, Jocelyn Pierston, a sculptor, is looking for the ideal woman and develops consecutive platonic relationships with three generations of Avice Caro. It is a bit far-fetched. In the end Jocelyn's quest is superseded by grim reality and a loss of appreciation of anything artistic, also a pessimistic outcome. The action takes place in Portland and London, two different worlds. ( )
  jon1lambert | Jul 5, 2019 |
This is the last novel that Thomas Hardy wrote although the story was serialized in a somewhat different form about five years before. I thought this book was lighter in tone than Jude the Obscure which probably derives from the fact that the idea was conceived before Jude.

Jocelyn Pierston, an up and coming sculptor, returns to his birthplace on the Isle of Slingers (the name Hardy gives the Isle of Portland) to visit his father who is a successful stonecutter on the island. He stops in to see his neighbours, the Caros, and young Avice Caro kisses him on the lips as she used to when they were children. She is embarassed to be so bold with him now that he is grown up. This action makes Jocelyn realize that Avice is a lovely young woman and he courts her during his stay on the island. This is not the first time Jocelyn has been in love; he has been in pursuit of the Well-Beloved for years but his female ideal moves from woman to woman often. Jocelyn asks Avice to marry him despite his fear that the Well-Beloved might not continue to be Avice; she consents. When it is time for him to return to London he asks Avice to take one last walk with him. Avice, fearful that Jocelyn will want to follow the island custom by having pre-marital intercourse and only marry if Avice becomes pregnant, sends a note explaining that she will not meet him. As Jocelyn walks over to the mainland he meets another young woman, Marcia Bencomb, who is fleeing her father. Mr. Bencomb is the chief business rival of Jocelyn's father. A storm forces them to take shelter together and Jocelyn's habit of falling in love with a new woman causes him to fall in love with Marcia. He asks her to marry him and she assents. Before they can be married (but possibly after they have had intercourse as Hardy seems to hint) Marcia goes back to her father and they leave the country on a long journey. Meanwhile Avice has married a cousin.

Jocelyn continues to remain a bachelor although his "Well-Beloved" appears a number more times. He becomes an Academician and his sculpture is admired. When he is forty he hears that Avice has died and he returns to the island for her funeral. There he meets her daughter and falls for her as well. Circumstances prevent him marrying her. Again when he is sixty he returns to the island and meets the third Avice. Although he is forty years older than Avice Three he falls in love with her.

This being Hardy there is no happy ending for Jocelyn and Avice but the ending is not completely bleak.

This edition also contains the earlier serialized version which is called The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved. I haven't read the entire thing but glancing at the ending it seems that it is quite different from the novel. Obviously Hardy edited quite a bit before it was published. ( )
  gypsysmom | Apr 30, 2014 |
3904. The Well-Beloved A Sketch of Temperament, by Thomas Hardy (read 27 June 2004) I have read with much appreciation all the best-known novels of Hardy, but Harold Bloom in his Western Canon includes this work too, and since I had not read it I decided to do so. It is the last of Hardy's novels to be published (in 1897). It tells a light story of Jocelyn Pierston, from the Isle of Portland (a peninsula on the south coast of England), at ages 20, 40, and 60. It is funnier than Hardy's usual work, And really quite good and worth reading. ( )
1 stem Schmerguls | Nov 5, 2007 |
The Well-Beloved was Hardy’s last novel – serialised in 1892, and published in novel form in 1897. Following the furore that surrounded the publication of Jude the obscure in 1895, Hardy turned his back on novel writing, and devoted himself to his poetry for the remaining thirty years of his life. The Well-Beloved is a work that Hardy himself revised several times, in 1897 for the novel’s publication, and again in 1903 and 1912. The edition I read uses Hardy’s revised 1912 text.
Coincidently I recently read a novel called ‘Winter’ – about Thomas Hardy and his second wife Florence at the very end of Hardy’s life. Exploring the idea that his character Tess, was Hardy’s own ideal – his Well-Beloved, a character based upon a young milkmaid whose daughter was to later play the part of Tess in a stage production. Winter was therefore great preparation for re-reading this novel. A novel often categorised as being one of Hardy’s Romance and Fantasies. The themes that Hardy explores in this novel are not unfamiliar ones for Hardy readers; conventional marriage, the search for an ideal and the effects of the passage of time.
The Well-Beloved of the title – is an ideal, a spirit which the central character Jocelyn Pierston, believes comes to temporarily inhabit the physical form of subsequent women and girls. Structurally the novel is divided into three sections, charting Jocelyn’s romantic life at twenty, at forty and finally at sixty, the three stages of his romantic education with three generations of women. The story of a transient spirit transferring itself from woman to woman is of course is the story that Jocelyn Pierston tells himself and his artist friend Somers in order to excuse what is obviously his own flighty, inconsistent behaviour.
“She came nine times in the course of the two or three ensuing years. Four times she masqueraded as a brunette, twice as a pale-haired creature, and two or three times under a complexion neither light nor dark. Sometimes she was a tall, fine girl, but more often, I think, she preferred to slip into the skin of a lithe airy being, of no great stature. I grew so accustomed to these exits and entrances that I resigned myself to them quite passively, talked to her, kissed her, corresponded with her, ached for her, in each of her several guises.”
Jocelyn is a sculptor – from a small “island” community, in fact a peninsular described by Hardy as the Gibraltar of Wessex – where a few families exist mainly by working in the stone quarrying industry, marrying and intermarrying for generations. The community have their own traditions surrounding betrothal which involves couples sneaking off together to fully consummate their relationship – thus making marriage necessary. Jocelyn has moved away from his island home, making his life mainly in London, he comes back from time to time to visit.
When he is twenty Jocelyn’s ideal of the Well-Beloved inhabits the form of Avice Caro – a girl he has known since childhood. Having asked Avice to marry him, the couple decide not to go through the form of traditional betrothal; Jocelyn later abandons Avice to run off with another woman, the daughter of his father’s greatest business rival, in whom he again sees the spirit of The Well-Beloved. In later years Jocelyn finds his Well-Beloved in other places and in other women, it becomes a more fleeting ideal with the passage of time. At forty Jocelyn returns to his Wessex home briefly, where he meets Avice Caro’s daughter Ann Avice and in her immediately sees the Well-Beloved again. In his sixties it is her daughter, Avice the third to whom he becomes briefly engaged.
With the passage of time Jocelyn comes to believe that the original Avice was the woman he least appreciated – the hereditary link between these three women seem in part at least, what draws Jocelyn toward them. These three stages of Pierston’s romantic education concludes with Jocelyn changing his attitude somewhat in the search for his ideal – contenting himself with affection and companionship with one single woman.
The premise of this novel is an odd one I suppose, and yet Hardy makes it work, allowing him as it does to explores those old familiar themes. This was my third reading of The Well-Beloved – a likeable enough Hardy novel although not a favourite of mine – I do think it offers us an interesting perspective on Hardy’s own attitudes to love, marriage and the pursuit of the ideal. ( )
1 stem Heaven-Ali | Feb 9, 2007 |
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The Well-Beloved: A Sketch of a Temperament is a novel by Thomas Hardy, serialized in 1892, and published as a book in 1897. The main setting of the novel, the Isle of Slingers, is based on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, southern England. Many of Hardy's novels were set in Dorset. The Well Beloved is one of Hardy's last novels. It was first published in three-part serial form in 1892, and then revised and re-published as a book in 1897, after Hardy's last novel Jude the Obscure (1895). The Well-Beloved tells the story of sculptor Jocelyn Pierston and his love for three generations of women - the grandmother, her daughter and grand-daughter over a period of forty years. Pierston is seeking for perfection in his choice of lover and in doing so lets opportunities for happiness pass him by. However, at the end of his life, he finds some kind of contentment in compromise. Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was an English novelist and poet. A Victorian realist, in the tradition of George Eliot, he was also influenced both in his novels and poetry by Romanticism, especially by William Wordsworth. Charles Dickens is another important influence on Thomas Hardy. Like Dickens, he was also highly critical of much in Victorian society, though Hardy focused more on a declining rural society. Initially he gained fame as the author of such novels as Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). However, since the 1950s Hardy has been recognized as a major poet, and had a significant influence on The Movement poets of the 1950s and 1960s, including Phillip Larkin. The bulk of his fictional works, initially published as serials in magazines, were set in the semi-fictional region of Wessex and explored tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances. Hardy's Wessex is based on the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom and eventually came to include the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Hampshire, and much of Berkshire, in south west England. [Elib]

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