I've been reading Fanny Howe's collection of essays, The Wedding Dress: Meditations on Word and Life. Her chapter on Thomas Hardy sent me to the bookstore to find The Woodlanders, which I'll read as soon as I finish Howe's book, start the one on the origin of language, and, well, this is how it goes with me. An associative chain of readings. I look forward to Hardy, though. A turn from the contemporary fiction on my reading table that has been disappointing lately. Just finished Enright's The Gathering, a Booker winner last year. Nothing special. Dysfunctional (of course!) Irish family that reminded me of Alice McDermott's American counterparts (Charming Billy for instance). She did a curious playing around with memory and imagination that may have been what captured the judges' attention.
But back to Fanny Howe and Thomas Hardy. I liked some of her observations on his writing.
"He writes as if he were ploughing a path from the wall to the gate. The future is always behind him."
Which made me think about the Aymara, a South American indigenous people with an antithetical concept of time from ours. The past is in front of them; the future behind. Their gestures for past and present reflect this mindset. They point backwards to refer to future events. Not illogical really. What lies ahead comes from behind I think.
Other Howe thoughts on Hardy:
"Hardy lived in the years when land was becoming landscape."
"He was one of the last great describers, an occupation that film would soon take over. Like Gerard Manley Hopkins, he labored to make no manual distinction between words and natural things as sensual realities."
I like being reminded of Hardy, especially today, with the rain sluicing across the last snow mound, muddy remains streaking the road and now the runoff slowing, cloud and grey pulling back as the late afternoon light finally pushes forward.