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A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873)

by Thomas Hardy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,3121910,845 (3.78)49
'Elfride Swancourt was a girl whose emotions lay very near the surface.'Elfride is the daughter of the Rector of Endelstow, a remote sea-swept parish in Cornwall based on St Juliot, where Hardy began the book during the first days of his courtship of his first wife Emma. Blue-eyed and high-spirited, Elfride has little experience of the world beyond, and becomesentangled with two men: the boyish architect, Stephen Smith, and the older literary man, Henry Knight. The former friends become rivals, and Elfride faces an agonizing choice.Written at a crucial time in Hardy's life, A Pair of Blue Eyes expresses more directly than any of his novels the events and social forces that made him the writer he was. Elfride's dilemma mirrors the difficult decision Hardy himself had to make with this novel: to pursue the profession ofarchitecture, where he was established, or literature, where he had yet to make his name?… (more)
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» See also 49 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
I really enjoyed this early Thomas Hardy novel. In some ways it reminded me of Under the Greenwood Tree and the themes of his later novels, esp. the tragic consequences of a seemingly hasty decision were very evidently developing here. However, there were also more almost comedic elements that I didn't expect. Elfrida can be an exasperating heroine but her shining moment I really loved, telling Knight that perhaps he could have fallen in love with her for who she was and not who he wanted her to be. Just one brief paragraph but really made the whole novel for me.
  amyem58 | Jan 26, 2021 |
This is one of Hardy's earliest works, and it is tinged with autobiographical references. Hardy himself was an architect's apprentice, and the main character, Stephen Smith, is also an architect who falls in love with a woman in the West Country, much as Hardy did with his wife. Hardy's work is always tinged with female sexuality, and this early novel is no different. ( )
  dvanpelt | Nov 12, 2020 |
This is another unhappy ending tale of two (three or four) suitors who fall for one lady, the lovely (especially her hair) but hapless Elfride Swancourt. Smith and Knight are the main protagonists. Smith is too young, superficial and of an inferior class. Knight, older, wiser, with the right credentials and money as well as a mentor to Smith, is inexperienced in love and intellectually fixed in his views. If only he could chill out a bit, one thinks. There are the usual twists, turns and coincidences. Elfride saves Knight from falling over a cliff by divesting much of her clothing and using it as a rope to drag him to safety, daring for the time. There is the dash to and from London with Smith, the overnight stay raising all sorts of delicate questions. There is quite a lot of stodgy dialogue and commentary before the story regains its page-turner pace in the last 100 pages. This is triggered by a sudden and unexpected turning point, the collapse of a tower. The ghostly Gertrude Jethway, whose son died of a broken heart, yes Elfride again, seeks revenge beyond the grave. Elfride, all of them, are doomed and destined to a sad end. It was her passivity and compliance that let her down: 'Elfride, docile as ever, had hardly moved a step, for he [Knight] had said, Remain', page 384. I loved it. ( )
  jon1lambert | Sep 18, 2019 |
I thought I'd read most Thomas Hardy books, but found this one after a trip to Boscastle (the setting for the book).
Elfride Swancourt is the daughter of the local vicar. When a young man comes to examine the church for rebuilding, he is smitten. Elfride feels likewise, but Stephen is (in her father's estimation) inferior. After an aborted elopement, they agree to wait for marriage while Stephen makes his fortune. Complications arise, and Elfride is no truer to Stephen than she was to his predecessor.
It was an enjoyable read with some suspense as to how it might turn out. Elfride is annoying at times, mostly due to her youth, but the reader can forgive her as the story progresses. Her father reminded me of Sir Walter Elliot from Austen's Persuasion and I quite enjoyed his nonsense as the story progresses. ( )
  N.W.Moors | Feb 18, 2019 |
This was Hardy's third published novel, just before Far from the madding crowd, and it has a rather obviously autobiographical slant to the plot, with a young architect falling in love with the rector's daughter when he's sent to survey a church in a remote Cornish village. The rector isn't too happy about it when he learns that Stephen is not the gentleman he thought, but the son of a humble West-country stonemason. Which is pretty much exactly the situation Hardy found himself in when he met Emma Gifford, who was to become his first wife...

However, it's probably safe to assume that he made up the remaining features of the plot, which include two further suitors for the hand of Elfride (one deceased, one Stephen's best friend), a sinister widow who keeps popping up unexpectedly at dead of night, some interesting acrobatics on a church tower, and a final resolution of the plot that comes over as brutal and arbitrary even by Hardy standards. Not to mention the first recorded use of the device of ending an instalment of a serial with the hero dangling from a cliff by one hand, often cited as the origin of the modern term "cliffhanger". Or the scene where the heroine's brain explodes from the effort of trying to beat a man at chess. Or the chapter epigraph that reads "He heard her musical pants" - sadly Hardy never tells us where he picked that immortal line up!

Not Hardy at his mature best, then, but there are some very good scenes in this book, especially in the early part of the book where Elfride is still being allowed to be clever, headstrong and impulsive. The men are a little bit dull, though, and Hardy doesn't bother to include a second main female character, so Elfride has to do too much of the work on her own, which perhaps has a lot to do with her rapid decline. ( )
  thorold | Dec 28, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (37 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hardy, Thomasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dalziel, PamelaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Douglas, HazelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wickham, PeterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute;
No more.'
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Elfride Swancourt was a girl whose emotions lay very near the surface.
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'Elfride Swancourt was a girl whose emotions lay very near the surface.'Elfride is the daughter of the Rector of Endelstow, a remote sea-swept parish in Cornwall based on St Juliot, where Hardy began the book during the first days of his courtship of his first wife Emma. Blue-eyed and high-spirited, Elfride has little experience of the world beyond, and becomesentangled with two men: the boyish architect, Stephen Smith, and the older literary man, Henry Knight. The former friends become rivals, and Elfride faces an agonizing choice.Written at a crucial time in Hardy's life, A Pair of Blue Eyes expresses more directly than any of his novels the events and social forces that made him the writer he was. Elfride's dilemma mirrors the difficult decision Hardy himself had to make with this novel: to pursue the profession ofarchitecture, where he was established, or literature, where he had yet to make his name?

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