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Posted August 4, 2002
The Hand of Ethelberta starts well, maintains its' lively pace through the middle with many plots and schemes all throughout, and finishes well to boot; but not in the way one first expects it to conclude. Ethelberta, Hardy's heroine for this book, is one of the most complex characters in Hardy's work. She is the daughter of a butler, who, being ambitious, aspires to raise herself up through a well placed marriage with someone of wealth and class. (As the story begins she has done this once already and became widowed a mere 3 weeks later.) She is cunning and resourceful in ways few others are, but, while being driven in part by motives not entirely selfish, seems at times cold and calculating. She is pursued first by an old lover, Christopher Julian. Mr. Julian was once a potential marriage for her but she opted for his rival, Mr. Petherwin, instead. He has since fallen into ruin after the death of his father and, being penniless, turned to his hobby of music for his profession. His lone companion at this point in his life is his sister, Faith, with whom he lives. But Mr. Julian has rivals. There is Mr.Neigh, the nephew of an influential family, with whom she is acquainted with by the name of Doncastle, who is said to be independently rich and known to be more than a little aloof, if not eccentric. And there is Mr.Ladywell. A painter of moderate celebrity but is from a good family and is wealthy, of course. As if things weren't bad enough, there is Lord Mountclere, a rich and powerful womanizer, whose enjoyment of the childish games he plays is fueled as much by his jealousy as by his sense of power. Hardy gives this story its' tension by making Ethelberta's lineage unknown to all concerned, but already known to Mr. Julian. In Hardy's time social class was EVERYTHING. The upperclass was for the upperclass only. The lower class was expected to keep its' respectful distance and know its' place. Ethelberta had dined at their houses, attended their gatherings, not as a member of her own true class, but as an equal. This would have been scandalous in its' day. To have excepted the daughter of a servant as an equal to those with money, education, and worldly opportunity and experience would have been unheard of. A marriage with an upperclass bachelor to that of a woman whose lower class pedigree is confirmed by her father's occupation, that being a butler, could hardly be expected to be entered into knowingly. Hardy gives us other characters that balance out the narrative. There is Picotee, one of Ethelberta's sisters, who falls in love with Mr.Julian. Her invalid mother, Mrs. Chickerel, who is afraid of almost everything except giving unsolicited commentary and advice peppered with her own doubts and misgivings. Her father, Mr. Chickerel, who tries to be fatherly on occasion but really only seems fit to be a butler. There is Mr. Mountclere, the brother of Lord Mountclere, whose condescending manners are the stuff revolutions are fueled by. And last but not least there is the perfidious Miss Menlove, whom the men certainly do seem to love but are never really more than a flirtatious fling to her, who threatens to be Ethelberta's undoing. For fans of Victorian Literature already acquainted with Hardy's work or not, Make This Purchase Now! With a rich story line and its' incredible heroine, Ethelberta, this novel deserves to be read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.