Trying to Read Claire Tomalin’s THOMAS HARDY

Self never realized that writing a novel would be such a bear. She just doesn’t know how people do it. She read somewhere that it took Sarah Waters four years to write The Night Watch. Four years! For the past several weeks — no, months — she’s been going at it, with the consequence that she’s spent hours and hours at her computer, and her right wrist feels stiff by the end of the day, and she’s taken to snacking. Yes, snacking. Which means that her jeans are now woefully tight. Every time self gets to a part of her novel where some of her characters are eating, she just can’t help stopping and googling delicious Filipino food that she remembers eating as a child. For instance, embutido. Or rellenong bangus. Or halo-halo. Which then has the predictable result of making self hungry. She wanders to her fridge — hence, the snacking.

(Self, what’s with all the ruminations? Can’cha just get to it???)

Anyhoo, self decided to try and finish Claire Tomalin’s Thomas Hardy. It’s too bad that this biography in no way excites her the way Tomalin’s writing excited her when she read Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (She read it on the plane to Berlin, five years ago. And, even with all the distractions of finding herself in that tremendous city, self continued to read it. That’s how riveting the book was).

(So then why, self, why are you making yourself finish this book? Yoo Hoo! Life is short!)

The reason self is making herself continue the Hardy biography is that Hardy was, of course, a novelist. And he struggled mighty hard to get his first novels published. And then, he was lashed with some not altogether flattering reviews of his first published work. And it wasn’t as if he was getting tons of moral support. Here’s how Thomas Mallon describes Hardy’s first wife, Emma, in a review in The New York Times Book Review:

Emma’s liveliness and complicated nature had made her, early on, a kind of muse and “mine” — Hardy’s own word — of material, but her own frustrated desire to write left her jealous of her husband’s success and even of his heroines. Annoyed by her habit of referring to “our books,” Hardy worked hard at being both loyal and oblivious to her.

In the part self is reading, covering the years 1867 – 1874 (It is so strange to read about someone’s life being segmented into seven-year stretches, as if everything were so neat and fell naturally into a pattern), Hardy is writing Under the Greenwood Tree, regarding which Emma “claimed in later years that she helped and advised Hardy with his writing, while he insisted that her help was pretty well confined to making fair copies … ”

And — and …

It suddenly occurs to self that if she were not trying to write a novel, she would be agonizing over something else, like bills. Or trying to make something complicated in the kitchen. Or exerting herself to get new plants into her garden. Something like that.

Well, in that case, she isn’t spending her time too badly, by trying to write a novel! Even if it turns out to be a bad one!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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