I decided I wanted to be a novelist because of Charles Dickens. I loved the way he told a story with vivid characters, rising and falling crises, and story arcs that arrive at a happily-ever-after, or a how-sad-but-sweet-the-world-is ultimate goal. Sometimes he reached both destinations with the same story, like in David Copperfield or The Old Curiosity Shop. I have wanted to write like that since I read The Old Curiosity Shop in 9th Grade.
Thomas Hardy has a lot in common with Chuck. I mean, more than just being old Victorian coots. Hardy knows the Wessex countryside, Blackmoor and Casterbridge with the depth and understanding that Dickens bestows on London. Hardy can delineate a character as clearly and as keenly as Dickens, as shown by Diggory Venn, the Reddleman in Return of the Native, or Tess Durbyfield in the novel I am reading at the moment. These characters present us with an archetypal image and weave a story around it that speaks to themes with soul-shaking depth. Whereas Dickens will amuse and make us laugh at the antics of the Artful Dodger or Mr. Dick or Jerry Cruncher from a Tale of Two Cities, Hardy makes us feel the ache and the sadness of love wrecked by conflict with the corrupt and selfish modern world. Today I read a gem of a scene with the three milkmaids, Izz, Retty, and Marian looking longingly out the window at the young gentleman Angel Clare. Each wants the young man to notice her and fall in love with her. Sad-faced Izz is a dark-haired and brooding personality. Round-faced Marian is more jolly and happy-go-lucky. Young Retty is entirely bound up by shyness and the uncertainty of youth. Yet each admits to her crush and secret hopes. Tess, meanwhile, overhears all of it, all the time knowing that Angel is falling in love with her. And worse yet, she has sworn to herself never to let another man fall in love with her because of the shameful way Alec D’Urberville took advantage of her, a quaint old phrase that in our time would mean date rape. There is such bittersweet nectar to be had in the characterizations and plots of these old Victorian novels. They are more than a hundred years old, and thus, not easy to read, but worth every grain of effort you sprinkle upon it. I am determined now to finish rereading Tess of the Durbervilles, and further determined to learn from it, even if it kills me.