I stepped on Thomas Hardy (1840-1928).
It wasn't entirely accidental, I'll admit. Nevertheless, I apologized profusely. In my defense, poet’s corner of Westminster Abbey was crowded and I was presented with the dilemma of either stepping on Thomas Hardy or Charles Dickens. So really, I did what anyone would do when faced with such a choice – I elected not to bowl over the pregnant woman on my right in order to skirt both graves and I chose to step on the writer whose work I enjoy least.
Hence, I stepped on Thomas Hardy. (This was some time ago. Alas, I can still hear him grumbling.)
In my novel, “Gabriel’s Inferno,” literature plays an important role in the structure of the narrative. Broadly speaking, the relationship between the male and female leads is modelled on the relationship between Dante and Beatrice. But there are other lesser literary references in the narrative, sometimes only a quip or two, in which there is a bit of foreshadowing or an analogy.
In one such scene, Rachel Clark and her friend Julia are engaged in a discussion about the sad times facing Rachel’s family. By way of comparison, she mentions a few famous writers, and ends her remarks by hoping that her life does not follow the lives of Thomas Hardy’s characters. She then offers a brief expletive, telling the reader exactly what she thinks of him.
Lest anyone misunderstand Rachel’s remarks or my quick-stepping indifference in the Abbey, I should state that I don’t dislike Thomas Hardy. I admire his writing greatly and unreservedly recommend his works. (Start with The Mayor of Casterbridge, then work up to Tess of the d’Urbervilles, then if you’re really brave and have a lot of Scotch on hand, read Jude the Obscure.)
Although I admire Hardy's writing, I don’t enjoy his stories. They’re disturbingly haunting, though, and for that reason they tend to stay with you while their lesser counterparts have long since fled your memory. They also provide rich fodder for reading groups and dinner parties.
Hardy appears to construct his novels in such a way that a character's missteps condemn him or her for the rest of his life, tainting any possibility of future happiness. Women tend not to fare very well in his stories; children do worse. Whether this was simply typical of the historical period in which he was writing or not, one can certainly contrast his stories with those of his older contemporaries, such as Dickens or Elizabeth Gaskell, in order to find (occasionally) more hopeful visions.
Once again, I won’t offer spoilers from “Gabriel’s Inferno," but I will say that I believe in both hope and redemption and these elements are intrinsic to the story.
I will also point out that one can enjoy the novel without being familiar with the literary references. Nevertheless, if one is looking for clues as to the successive mysteries, the artistic elements are the first place one should look.
All the best everyone and thanks for reading,
PS. I’ve been gratified to learn of a number of different book clubs that are reading “Gabriel’s Inferno.” Please contact me to let me know of others. I'm hoping to be able to do something special for each club.