Thursday, February 21, 2008

Claire Tomalin on Thomas Hardy

Claire Tomalin came to speak to us here at Plymouth University last night - part of our ongoing 'great writers' series. The great writer in question was Thomas Hardy, Tomalin speaking as his latest biographer, though she has a fair claim to the great writer label herself.
She was a game speaker, talking melliflously for over an hour before embarking on questions and signings. She managed to win me back to Hardy woth her obvious appreciation of the man.
I gave up on Hardy after reading Jude the Obscure, with that oh so dire and melodramatic and gloomy sequence of suicides by hanging of a family. Hardy gave up on the novel at that point too, having made his fortune from that and the prior one, Tess of the D'Urbevilles. I learned from last night of Hardy's humble beginnings, and his travels with his musician father, going into ecstasies as he danced to his father's music. His first novel, now lost, was much praised but deemed to be too angry for the market. George Meredith advised him to write what people wanted, which he duly did. Come sixty, and with his royalties from those successful novels, he gave himself to final happy decades of poetry.
In her 70s herself, Tomalin was appreciative of this model of late flourishing from the elderly poet. He felt he had to pick up the pen every day otherwise he would stop doing so. One day (I'm remembering 11th December 1927) he picked up the pen and found he could no longer write with it. He died a month later - a fine show of writing to the end.
I enjoyed hearing of his spell of acculturation in London too, with no funds and no invitations but a zealous round oc fultural activities including hearing Dickens read. One wonders at the compromise of writing what people want ... but since fifty were turned away frm an oversold house, hundred stepping out into the night to hear tales of his stories more than a hundred years on from when they were written, one can't really thinik he made the wrong choice. And since Claire Tomalin reckons Jude the Obscure was that angry first novel rewritten in later life, perhaps we are blessed by not having more of the same!


Blogger Emerging Writer said...

Interesting blog. Can I ask you what you think your students get out of studying for a creative writing MA? I'm trying to decide if I should bite the bullet.

11:02 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

I was impressed with their level of engagement for a start - maybe some degree of confidence comes with actually getting onto a course, and then you find yourself surrounded by other bright, like-minded, committed people for whom writing is important. These people make great readers for your work too. Entering that workshop process is an important part of a course. Your then, an essential part of it all, getting feedback and guidance from experienced writers with expertise in their craft, in how to get it out in the world, and with teaching it. At Plymouth you get the chance to try writing in different forms, and you also get a research component - so while your dissertation will be focused on your chosen genre, other professional avenues are explored. You have to consider whether that's appealing or not ... different MAs offer different things. You get guidance in exploring other writers too ... so your reading is made challenging and geared towards developing your own craft. Hopefully it's a safe space as well in which to break your own bounds, not just focused on the commercial world. You have to be content to be in an academic environment, and be easy about opening up your work in front of others. If you're not, maybe mentoring is the route for you.
Hope that helps ... good luck with the choice. Let us know!

4:10 PM  

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