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Friday, 31 August 2012

Surprising Discoveries in the Early Hours

This story needs a little scene setting. I'm going away for a few days to visit a friend and, naturally, the most important choice I'll make is what books to take with me. I'd already settled on Claire Tomalin's biography of Charles Dickens but I wanted a novel to go along with it. I seem to be drowning in everything but novels at the moment but I was determined nonetheless.

I switched off my computer just before two o'clock in the morning and sat looking at my oldest bookshelf (mostly dusty university books I rarely look at) then I shuffled closer. I wondered if my copy of The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy was behind that scary looking letter from HMRC. It was. Now, although the novel is on my list for the Classic Challenge I'm participating in this year I haven't quite got round to it (probably because it was hidden behind that scary letter). Decision suddenly made, I plucked The Mayor of Casterbridge from the shelf. All clean and unruffled except... Hmm. There was something squeezed in between the last page and the back cover. Very odd for a book I've never read since I bought it five years ago.

A little examination revealed three worn pages of an exercise book with barely legible handwriting on them. My grandfather's handwriting. The odd thing is that he never touched this book and that the notes relate not to The Mayor of Casterbridge but The Return of the Native, which we don't have a copy of. The only logical answer is that I found the notes in another book when I was sorting through his collection and deciding which books I wanted to keep and the only Thomas Hardy novel I had in reach was The Mayor of Casterbridge. I'm just surprised I forgot doing it.

It's strange. In more dismal moments I forget that I have actually got a tradition of academia in my family. While my grandfather didn't climb as far up the ladder as I'm attempting to, he maintained a genuine interest in literature up until the end of his life. That's something that's vital, I think. If you don't have a real passion for your subject then you have no place working for your doctorate in it. Actually, I'd go further than that - if you're not passionate about your subject you have little hope of gaining your doctorate. You need a certain level of enthusiasm to get you over the speed bumps that research constantly throws up.

I've never read The Return of the Native but having taken a look at these notes then I want to. There's a particular paragraph that strikes me which is either borrowed from a critic or is his own:

"Though the descriptions are uncommonly good, the movement is uncommonly slow, the personages are uncommonly uninteresting, the action is uncommonly poor, the conclusion is uncommonly flat."

Is that an accurate description of the novel?! I'll definitely have to read it and find out. Oh, and on the back of one of the pages was this sketch, something that surprised me:

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