Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Far from the Madding Crowd
The Mayor of Casterbridge
Okay, so ... you know the way chatty, informal, first person narratives are the done thing now in popular fiction? I'm guessing that using a narrator who is at least three steps removed or ideally wholly unconnected to the true protagonist of the plot and advancing said plot by really unlikely letters was the done thing in the 1800s. IT IS SUPER FRUSTRATING.
Another thing - a very troubling one - I've noticed is this rigid adherence to the notion that the apperance of evil denotes the precense of evil in one hundred percent of cases. You just have to decide by a very small consensus that someone is ugly and they immediately become evil and capable of murder.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde does not have the most gripping opener. A dude called Mr Utterson who turns out to have no personality to speak of and is beloved by all (probably because of that) takes a walk with his cousin and sees what will later be revealed as Mr Hyde's house. They chat about what an asshole Mr Hyde is because one time he was walking down the street and some kid who wasn't paying attention ran into him. That's how it's described but they act like he threw her to the ground and started beating her up. I'm assuming that scenario what Stevenson was going for (despite it NOT being what he described), judging by the horrifed response of the bystanders. Hyde pays them off.
Much discussion about how he is ugly and monstrous and obviously evil as a direct consequence.
More random characters have dinner, including Jekyll and Dr Lanyon, who later improbably dies because of the shock of the relevation of Jekyll/Hyde's crimes. We are then told the story of how Hyde beat to death an old man who is described as having 'innocent and old world-kindness of disposition, yet with something high too, as of a well-founded self content." This, mind, by a maid who saw him out of a window for two seconds at night. For this reason his death is more deplored, even though the correlation seems to be it would have been fine for Hyde to off a bad guy?
Things go on in an incredibly blah manner and while Jekyll goes through the terrors of an inability to control his morphing into Hyde, we are stuck with the dull POV of Utterson. Here's a wonderful exchange:
"I hope not," said Utterson. "Did I ever tell you that I once saw him, and shared your feelings of repulsion?"
"It was impossible to do the one without the other," returned Enfield."
Like - what? What? Did they never stop to consider what it was in THEMSELVES that made them so repulsed by a small and ugly man?
We then go on to sport with the servant who brings Utterson to figure out what's wrong with Jekyll for about fifty thousand pages. The action in this is calibrated all wrong. Obviously we discover that Jekyll tried to split off the bad and good parts of himself and by magic (coz this ain't science son) made them into two different people. Even if I didn't know that before starting, I doubt I would by this point have cared. Why would I? Stevenson, for reasons unknown, decided the more interesting person here was Utterson and devoted most of the narrative to him.
Note: no named female characters.
The other half of this book is a short story called The Bottle Imp. I'm not even GOING there.
Far from the Madding Crowd
I am not going to get along with Thomas Hardy. That much is plain.
Far from the Madding Crowd was INUTTERABLY BORING. Bathsheba isn't a person; she's a moral with a pretty face, whose characterisation is completely inconsistent so as to allow the stories of the men in her life to make some coherent sense. The multiple fucking confusing descriptions of fields and trees and shit drove me absolutely wild. There are endless references to women as weak, stupid, unworthy, lesser. (I feel this is a running theme in his work.)
See, the bones of this is a great story: Gabriel, the farmer who loses everything due to owning a stupid dog (I'm sorry, that was the least tragic and most ridiculous way for that to happen - much like a lot of Hardy's plot points, where he needs to get someone from A to B and does so by whatever is the first means that jumped into his head, be they ever so unlikely), goes to work for the love of his life, Bathsheba, who has come into the inheritance of a farm. She decides to run said farm ON HER OWN, how amazeballs is that, but instead of focusing on it we get lots of interludes with what I'm going to call the Rude Mechanicals (as they turn up in the Mayor of Casterbridge too), clones who like drinking and saying stupid things because they're uneducated and low class you know, and are obviously based on Bottom and friends from A Midsummer Night's Dream only five million times more boring.
For some INEXPLICABLE - like literally; there is no real explanation for why Bathsheba would do this, because Hardy never thought giving her a personality or desires or a character arc was a priority - reason Bathsheba sends Boldwood, another farmer, a Valentine, which he interprets a bit too literally. I only realised at the end, when Boldwood goes mad after shooting Troy, that I was supposed to read him as having incipient mental illness all along. Which goes to show how clear Hardy's characterisation is ... not.
Anyway, for reasons of Plot, Bathsheba falls in love with and marries bad boy soldier Troy, who's an alcoholic gambling womaniser (well done on ticking all the boxes for generic villain there Hardy). Previous to this he knocked up another girl who crawls back to the village to die in childbirth. There's this SUPER OFFENSIVE scene where Gabriel rubs off 'and child' from the coffin because obviously it's FAR LESS TRAGIC when only a WOMAN dies and he doesn't want Bathsheba's feelings hurt. That's a bust anyway because she opens the coffin to have a look. His plots are all like this: character decides to do X because reasons, changes mind, does Y, ends up doing X anyway, ARGH THE FRUSTRATION. Troy goes for a swim and is presumed to have committed suicide until he turns up again in a travelling fair and gets shot by Boldwood at a party he threw for Bathsheba who promised to marry him BECAUSE REASONS. Boldwood shoots him, goes to jail, and Gabriel gets the girl because she's annoyed that he's not paying enough attention to her. Actually if this was flagged better earlier by I dunno SOME ACTUAL INTERACTIONS BETWEEN THEM I would totally have shipped it. But how was I to know Hardy's favourite plot is to have one of the two main players marry the wrong person who gets killed off in a ridic manner so at the end they can marry the person they should have married in the first five pages?
The Mayor of Casterbridge
The Mayor of Casterbridge is better because at least for the first half the pacing and plotting is much tighter and moves along much faster. I was already predisposed to dislike a book that suggested it was about a 'Man of Character' who SELLS HIS WIFE. Unless they mean a 'man of character whose character is asshole.' Not surprisingly I was REALLY IRRITATED at how the book treated Lucetta. Why not go the whole hog and have her fuck Henchard instead of this namby-pamby 'ooooh I was just nursing him and I was MISINTERPRETED' bullshit. Because if that's really the case why was it such a big deal? And the way she DIED oh my GOD could you have at least had her suffer from epilepsy before so it wasn't such a narratively convenient death?! AND WHILE PREGNANT TOO. OBVIOUSLY THAT IS THE REAL TRAGEDY WE GET IT HARDY OKAY. While Elizabeth is the presumable heroine - I know this because she doesn't dress fancy and give herself airs, vanity is the greatest sin after all, not like, murder or whatevs - we don't see anything of her second-best courtship by Farfrae. And the bit at the end where Henchard decides he likes Elizabeth after all and wants to be her dad and brings her back but OH NOES Newson isn't dead after all (what the actual fuck seriously) but lies about it just so he can have this tragic solitary death on the moors OH SPARE ME. JFC.
Frankenstein is, compared to the other three books, far more readable. Frankenstein himself is pretty reprehensible, but Shelley uses the same pretty = good, ugly = bad dichotomy here without anything to back it up. The daemon has all my sympathy. I was truly astonished that Frankenstein just let him off as soon as he came to life just because he didn't like the look of him. Considering what the daemon was able to learn just through observation of Felix and Co, he could have been AMAZING. But no. Ugly people are only allowed ugly lives you know!
Also very hard not to read Walton's feverish compliments about Frankenstein and his overwrought morning as a lover's. Still though WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE THIS ISN'T YOUR STORY.
She also makes a few really good points on human nature that I can't be bothered to type out in full.