Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Far from the Madding Crowd

An illustration from the 1958 Heritage Press edition of Far from the Madding Crowd.

Were you, like me, raised on Thomas Hardy? Secretly unable to believe that Tess of the D'Urbervilles was better than your favorite, Far from the Madding Crowd? Rereading FFTMC almost as regularly as Jane Eyre over the years? Unable to comprehend Bathsheba's rejection of Gabriel Oak? Utterly horrified by the tragedy at his sheep farm? Discouraged by Sergeant Troy's macho courtship? Thinking Boldwood was just pathetic?

Imagine my excitement when I found a copy of the 1958 Heritage Press edition of Far from the Madding Crowd, with engravings by Agnes Miller Parker, at a used bookstore for $10.

It was one of those heavenly spring afternoons, perfect for bicycling. The snow is gone. The earth is brown again. Birds sing, green tiger lily stalks are unfurling, and the waving prairie grass is not yet burned.

I like to check out a couple of used bookstores, a perfectly green trip by bicycle. I couldn't find what I wanted, of course. For some reason I was in the mood to reread Gone with the Wind--curious to see if it were really a Southern plagiarism of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, as I thought when I first read it. But they didn't have it.

Just as well, because I am always in the mood for Thomas Hardy, rarely in the mood for Mitchell. I found FFTMC while kneeling beside a bargain cart that had some very strange bargains--enormous leather volumes of War and Peace (thank goodness for paperbacks, because personally I like to be able to LIFT a book!), musty histories of Scotland, and a set of The Happy Hollisters (I used to adore those books, by the way, but didn't want to be disillusioned by trying them again).

The Heritage Press editions are gorgeous and come in boxes, rather like the Folio Society books. Some of them are too tall and big. We have one enormous volume of Joseph Conrad's works that I swear is as big as our coffee table. Now when are you going to read a book like that?

But this one is a regular book-sized book. In addition to illustrations, it has an excellent introduction by Robert Cantwell. It's the kind of old classic imitated by the new Penguin Hardcover Classics. Take a look at this cover and you'll see the influence on Penguin designs these old classics have.

It's nice buying at "real" bookstores again, because that way shopping is contained: I'm not salivating over every book written by or about Thomas Hardy because there is no computer screen flashing icons to tempt me. I love Amazon--I swear by it!--but there is still the pleasure of finding books in a bookstore. Long may used bookstores live!


Hannah Stoneham said...

Lovely post. The Woodlanders is actually my favourite - but my Aunt has always sung the praises of Madding over those of Tess....

I love Thomas Hardy -

Thanks for posting!


Frisbee said...

I'll have to read The Woodlanders. I'm a little vague about that one and Under the Greenwood Tree, meaning I read one of them and saw the other on Masterpiece Theater. Which one God only knows!

Vintage Reading said...

That is a beautiful hardback. I'm actually quite fond of Jude the Obscure although it is utterly depressing in parts. Love Tess and I really need to re-read FFTMC. Enjoyed your post.

Frisbee said...

Jude upset me very much the first time I read it. Then in college I was persnickety about it. Then I reread it a few years ago and wept but could bear the tragedy because I appreciated the writing.

I do like beautiful hardbacks and have to admit these old ones are nicer than the new hardcover Penguins. The paper is better quality.

There must not be a demand for this quality of book anymore, though obviously Penguin is trying to fill the niche. And more power to them!

Buried In Print said...

Oh, The Happy Hollisters: I'd forgotten all about those! Thanks for the reminder (though I'd probably steer clear of re-reading them as well).