The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved and The Well-Beloved
In The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved (1892) and The Well-Beloved (1897), Hardy writes two different versions of a strange story set in the weird landscape of Portland.
The central figure is a man obsessed both with the search for his ideal woman and with sculpting the perfect figure of a naked Aphrodite. The pursuit finally fixes on three women called Avice Caro – grandmother, mother and daughter – in a way that mixes tragedy and high farce.
The books were written one before and one after his 'last' novel, Jude the Obscure (1895). Both stories are richly ambiguous but the first shows the successful exercise of masculine power and the second shows women triumphant. The double work, coming at the end of Hardy's long career as a novelist, anticipates modernist writing by offering not merely alternative endings but alternative plots. This edition is the first to provide both separate texts and separate commentaries.
In her introduction, Patricia Ingham explores Hardy's preoccupation with contingency and 'might-have-beens' in female-male relationships.
Student review by Kimberley Chen, studied at Queen Mary University of London.
Thomas Hardy has created two excellent versions of the story in which Jocelyn Pierston consistently fails in his attempts to seek his absolute ideal woman in The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved and The Well-Beloved. This review however will specifically focus on Hardy’s The Well-Beloved.
The Well-Beloved is a bizarre, but hugely engrossing story from a highly accomplished storyteller. Jocelyn Pierston is an incredibly successful sculptor who reignites the great public’s passion for the art of sculpture once again at the prestigious Academy. Yet despite the meteoric rise of his artistic career there is something which deeply frustrates him; that is, he has become utterly fixated upon searching for his perfect woman both through his art and in person. His pursuit for his ideal woman reaches ridiculous heights when he seeks this feminine form of perfection in three generations of women from the same family, grandmother, mother and daughter. All three women, to heighten the absurdity of the situation, are named Avice. There is a brilliant moment of comedy when the youngest Avice discovers that Jocelyn has had previous relationships with both her mother and grandmother:
‘(I was) Your mother’s and your grandmother’s young man,’ he (Jocelyn) repeated.
Hardy continually stresses in many of his works, the inability to capture the ideal in real life. The ideal is always merely a fluctuating possibility, but it never fully materialises in reality. Jocelyn’s strong desire to continuously strive for perfection is greatly beneficial for his art as he incessantly revises and improves his sculptures in the hope to create the most splendid female figure out of sculpted stone. However, Jocelyn’s endlessly restless quest for his dream woman is romantically and emotionally disastrous. He is always falling in and out of love with a strange rapidity, it is Laura, Lucy, Jane, Flora, Evangeline, Elsie and the list goes on, but he is constantly dissatisfied and forever hunting for “the One”.
Thomas Hardy is a first-class writer and this story has touches of humour and plenty of misjudgements and rash decisions which will keep the reader extremely entertained.
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