Addressing himself initially to magazine readers rather than the book-buying public and the memberships of lending libraries, Hardy is writing outside the traditions of London society and university education. The somewhat headstrong but virtuous female protagonist and the villainous man of education and substance seem to be derived more from the conventions of the contemporary theatre rather than from the Victorian novel prior to 1870, although one sees affinities between Hardy's characters and those of Wilkie Collins. Although a voracious reader and consumer of ideas, Hardy was still very much a countryman when his first critical success, Far From the Madding Crowd, was published in the pages of London's respectable Cornhill Magazine, edited by a man of letters (Leslie Stephen), in 1874.
Hardy, wanting desperately to give up architecture and become a professional writer, desired, as he told his editor, "to be a good hand at a serial." Thus, each monthly 'part' (anything from three to five chapters, but of roughly the same number of pages) moved towards a climax and a cliff-hanger, the "curtain" (ending of one instalment and opening of the next) both implicitly posing and answering a question of suspense in the reader's mind. For example, at the close of Part One of Far From the Madding Crowd (Chapter 5), one is left wondering what will become of Gabriel Oak after the younger of his dogs has destroyed his flock and bankrupted him. This implicit question Hardy immediately addresses at the start of Part Two (Chapters 6 through 8): what question does he similarly pose then answer at the close of Part Two and the opening of Part Three (Chapter 9)?
Content last updated 23 January 2001