In a continuing series, The MV Times asks book lovers to describe a memorable book that has made an impact, and continues to affect them.
I was a secret Thomas Hardy reader.
I read “Jude the Obscure” three times. It had mystery. It had drama. It had sex. It had passages that at age 12 I couldn’t even begin to decipher, but that I just knew, knew, must mean something strange was happening.
Later, I found “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” with its haunting fatality. Wow.
No one was really happy in Hardy’s books. Born in 1840, he was of the age and birth place (England) where good times were defined by misty moors, hopeless yearnings, and Victorian values. I loved every moment of it.
I found “Jude the Obscure,” which is about the unhappy life of an ambitious village stonemason named Jude Fawley, by wandering the aisles of my local library every Saturday. I lived in a small town, and my house was about two and one half miles from the library. I walked it every week, not as a sacrifice but as a reward for a hard week. I was a shy kid, prone to too-deep thoughts and melodrama. I could definitely relate to the sad, lonely, and cerebral characters in Hardy’s books.
But I also realized the books were a little too much for my conservative parents. I figured if they knew what Jude was up to (like marrying his cousin after stealing her from her husband), they’d snatch that book right away from me. Without any context, I had no idea that other books, like “Lolita” and even the sexy parts of “Gone with the Wind,” might have been better snatched-away material. I suspect those are the kinds of books that the librarians made sure were on the very top shelves, so short people couldn’t accidentally stumble onto them.
The last time I read Jude was as a tenth grader, when I had an English teacher who was highly engaged with the classics. We’d already made dioramas of a Shakespeare play, and we’d had to make a sketch book of images cut from magazines, to portray our ideas of what Ms. Haversham and Pip looked like from the Charles Dickens’ book, “Great Expectations.”
She asked us to do a book review on a classic of our own choice, one that she said had helped define who we were. I chose Jude.
I couldn’t write like Thomas Hardy, and I couldn’t live like “Jude the Obscure,” but I could dream bigger by just imagining that tortured soul struggling to becoming more than the Victorian age was going to allow.
Jan Pogue of Edgartown is a former journalist and editor turned publisher. Her company, Vineyard Stories, focuses on Island topics. The list of titles includes “Schooner: Building a Wooden Boat on Martha’s Vineyard,” and “Morning Glory Farm and Family that Feeds an Island.” Visit vineyardstories.com for more information.