Etymology

I am by no means familiar with his entire canon, but even the scant exposure that I've had to the works of Thomas Hardy makes me confident in my conclusion that "hardy har har" does not derive from his name.

Thomas Hardy, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I probably wouldn't have invited you to any dinner parties. You're kind of a downer, man.

When I was a teenager with an enthusiasm for Pride and Prejudice and A Room with a View, I remember getting Tess of the d'Urbervilles from the library, thinking it would be right up my literary street. I abandoned it soon thereafter, rather ashamed, having found it to be inpenetrably dull.

Fast forward a few decades. There I am on my sofa, under a blanket, wine in hand, settling in to watch a glossy BBC miniseries of the novel. (Here, I feel I should warn you that if you have been saving Thomas Hardy as a special treat, and you wish it to remain a treasure trove of surprises, you should avert your gaze.) 

What is most baffling is how I could have found the book so very boring when it is positively brimming over with shocking events of unrelenting misery. It is not enough that the heroine should be raped and forced to bear her rapist's child, but then the baby, whom she loves despite it all, dies of some infant-killing malady. What's more, since her drunkard father refuses to have a priest in the house, she had been forced to baptize the baby herself which, as any Catholic will tell you, doesn't count.  Having been only pretend-baptized, the dead child is subsequently tossed into an unconsecrated grave.  Well, maybe not actually tossed, but it would hardly surprise me.

But wait!  The fun is just beginning. Our Tess sets off again and becomes a happy milkmaid (as happy as milkmaid can be following the whole rape/pregnancy/baby condemned to hell thing) in a house where, refreshingly, no one rapes her.  Here she wins the heart of good and true man with whom all the other milkmaids are also desperately in love. 

The man returns home to his fancy house to ask his parents if he may marry a milkmaid even though it's not quite what they had in mind. There ensues a long discussion during which the words "pure" and "purity" are uttered about 30 times, as in, "I do not care about her humble station, as long as she is virtuous, unsullied, untainted, unbesmirched, and possessed of the purest purity."  Great. That's going to go well.  Meanwhile Tess' mother keeps writing to her saying, "do not tell your intended about your hideous past. Seriously. Trust me on this. I know you are going to think unburdening your soul is a good idea, but it is a terrible idea. For real."

Obviously, she tells him. He is her true love, after all. They've been married for about an hour and he says. "Look. I should have told you this before, but I was afraid you wouldn't marry me. I'm really sorry. When I was young I had sex with a woman in London. I am obviously a terrible, impure person and I only hope you can forgive me."  She says, "I absolutely forgive you and I'm quite pleased you told me this because I wanted to tell you something, but I was afraid that YOU wouldn't marry ME.  Ha ha!  Isn't that a crazy coincidence? In fact, first I refused to marry you so we would never have to talk about this, and then I confessed everything in a letter that you never got and I was really worried about it, but now we're married and you're not a virgin either and everything will be fine.  My, how we will laugh about our mistrust of one another's love in years to come. So, anyway, a few years ago, I was raped in a forest and then I bore a bastard who then died piteously in infancy.  See?  We're even, my darling!"

As her mother predicted, he recoils in horror and says that she is not the woman he loved. He thought she was as pure as the purest purity--and that's what he told his father, for pity's sake--when really she is as smirched as a besmirched thing can be.  She keeps trying to interject things like, "Um...I think you're forgetting that I've had sex exactly once in my life. I remember it very well because it was that time I was raped in the forest by a monstrous, manipulative man. And then, though I previously knew nothing about sex, I got pregnant. I would have rather just read a pamphlet, really."  And he keeps telling her that it was her fault and she probably loved the rapist and is clearly a shameless hussy.  And then, as often happens a few hours after you marry your true love, he tells her that he's going to Brazil and she can't come because what if the Brazilians found out about their secret shame and wouldn't invite them to parties?  He gives her some money and leaves her on the road saying he'll write to her in a year.

Before he goes to Brazil, though, he swings by the old milking barn which is still full of milkmaids who are in love with him (including one who unsuccessfully tried to drown to drown herself when he Married Another [not to worry, plenty to go around, folks, everyone will get a nice serving of misery before the day is over]), and asks the one who isn't fat and isn't nearly dead if she fancies coming along to Brazil instead of his impure wife to whom he is tragically "chained for life" even though he's totally gone off her. The consolation prize milkmaid says that she'd love to, thanks, and goes to pack a bag.  When she comes back he tells her that, on second thought, that is a terrible idea. He is Good and Pure, you see, and a sullied wife is still a wife and, really, can one go sullying other milkmaids just because Brazil might be kind of lonely?  No sir, one cannot. What a mensch.

Tess meanwhile gives all her money to her parents (odds are good that instead of food and a new roof, the father will spend it all on ale) and tromps off alone in search of work even though it's winter and no one is hiring. One assumes she'll be assaulted by various other people before catching a chill and dying of exposure in a ditch.  That may be inaccurate. Possibly she dies of consumption in a workhouse. Or maybe she too tries to kill herself.  If you want to know, you'll have to find out for yourself because I have had enough. Enough, I say!

Why I thought ol' Tess might catch a break here and there I could not say, since my only other sampling was Jude the Obscure (again, I cheated and just saw the movie).  It made Ethan Frome, which my friend and I used to refer to as "the wintery, wintery tale of woe," seem like a light romantic comedy.  In Jude, so great is a family's poverty, the children decide they are an impossible burden upon their parents. And so they hang themselves.  The children. Hang themselves.

Thomas Hardy, for goodness sake, what is wrong with you?  You are no fun at all. 

I see that Hardy did not die until 1928, by which time P.G. Wodehouse had had 39 books published. I hope poor Thomas read at least one of them. It'd have done him good.