Judith Viorst – “It’s Hard to be Hip Over Thirty”

(25 December 2011 – from Sorcha)

I have given this slim volume of poems to several people over the years, and leafed through the easy-to-read verses – in fact I read about half of this on Christmas Day when I unwrapped it! Deceptively simple but poignant and perceptive as well as funny, the poems chart the often startling disconnect between young love and young and not-so-young marriage with children. Firmly rooted in the 1960s, with some cultural references that are not as immediately accessible as they would have been at the time of first publication, they also have a timeless, rueful quality that makes them eminently readable today.

Thomas Hardy – “The Hand of Ethelberta”

(Kindle)

A lesser-known work, published between “Far From the Madding Crowd” and “The Return of the Native” (and read late because I didn’t fancy it but then couldn’t bear to miss one of the books as I’ve joined Ali’s scheme to read them all in order!). Enjoyable and with a plot that can be engaging and fast-paced. Widowed young, Ethelberta must use all her resources to support her ailing mother and nine siblings, while her father supports himself in a job as a butler. In some ways, this is a very feminist book, highlighting with some sympathy the plight of the unsupported female who must maintain her delicate reputation. In Ethelberta’s case, this involves distancing herself from her family in appearance, while remaining close to them in fact, and negotiating her way around a quartet of suitors, making the right choice for economics and her family:

Somebody in the family must take a practical view of affairs, or we should all go to the dogs.

But Hardy also seems bitter about women’s methods of negotiating these minefields, which is interesting, and I wonder where this comes from. He is very perceptive about male-female relations, for example:

New love is brightest, and long love is greatest; but revived love is the tenderest thing known upon earth.

‘We don’t need to know a man well in order to love him. That’s only necessary when we want to leave off.’

Not the lovers who part in passion, but the lovers who part in friendship, are those who most frequently part forever.

And also on life in general: I loved this little point:

‘The deuce, the deuce!’ he continued, walking about the room as if passionately stamping, but not quite doing it because another man had rooms below.

There are also some interesting points made about the cult of celebrity which seem quite modern. The novel gets quite gothic towards the end, with chases, near-shipwrecks and horrible surprises, but holds the attention. Surely, though, the chilling quotation:

But ten of us are so many to cope with. If God Almighty had only killed off three-quarters of us when we were little, a body might have done something for the rest.

surely presages the horrors of Jude? Anyway, I am glad I read this, for completeness’ sake, and it was an interesting read on its own merits.