What can I say-I love Hardy. Why do I love an author whose books seem to move from one heartbreak to another? He is definitely not one you read for a light pick-me-up, that is for certain. But his writing is so nuanced that it feels as if I am floating down a quiescent rural stream; I know turbulent water lies ahead-I can feel the increasing pull beneath me-yet there seems to be no urgency to try to pull away in opposition. Going there just seems to be the natural flow of life. So why do I love this man whose plots I willingly follow into the very depths of despondency? Because the prose...oh, the prose!
Thomas Hardy is a master of every literary element. For him, setting, especially, takes on such presence that it becomes an amalgamation of every place you have ever been. All of your senses become engaged. You hear the church bells peal across the meadow. The flank of the cow against Tess' cheek feels warm and fluid beneath your own. As she toils in the field you feel the grit of harvested grain in the sweaty crease of your neck and taste its dryness in your mouth. You feel refreshed by the wind and gladdened by the birds in flight.
When it comes to character, Hardy is the consummate teacher. We don't just know that Tess' mother is hard at work on wash day. Her weariness is palpable. We aren't told that Tess is a good daughter. She pitches in just where she is needed, time and time again. Each character, major and minor, is presented so completely through their speech and actions that the narrator need fill in very little. For me they each even acquire a distinctive voice in my head.
So if you have shied away from Hardy for lack of interest in his wrenching plots, I urge you to give one of his novels a try and experience the power of his incomparable prose.