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The Hand Of Ethelberta

3.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1419165306
ISBN-10: 1419165305
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Editorial Reviews


"The Hand of Ethelberta is … a portrait of two artists – Ethelberta Petherwin and Thomas Hardy …"
—Tim Dolin --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Publisher

Founded in 1906 by J.M. Dent, the Everyman Library has always tried to make the best books ever written available to the greatest number of people at the lowest possible price. Unique editorial features that help Everyman Paperback Classics stand out from the crowd include: a leading scholar or literary critic's introduction to the text, a biography of the author, a chronology of her or his life and times, a historical selection of criticism, and a concise plot summary. All books published since 1993 have also been completely restyled: all type has been reset, to offer a clarity and ease of reading unique among editions of the classics; a vibrant, full-color cover design now complements these great texts with beautiful contemporary works of art. But the best feature must be Everyman's uniquely low price. Each Everyman title offers these extensive materials at a price that competes with the most inexpensive editions on the market-but Everyman Paperbacks have durable binding, quality paper, and the highest editorial and scholarly standards. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 388 pages
  • Publisher: Kessinger Publishing, LLC (June 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1419165305
  • ISBN-13: 978-1419165306
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I liked this book very much. Sure, critics have scorned it since it was first published, over a hundred years ago, but it is still a good read. Ethelberta is a complex character; she is a woman supporting her mother and ten siblings by finding profitable work as a poet and a storyteller. She is usually criticized for her coldness (so unladylike) when she considers marrying a rich man in order to solve her family's financial problems, but I see it as courage. Ethelberta dreams of her own success and freedom, but her first thought is the safety and comfort of her family, especially the younger children. She is the brains of the whole operation; they support her plans by following her orders.
In addition, Hardy uses this book to explore class distinctions in Victorian England, one of his recurring themes. Since Ethelberta's father is a butler, her family belongs eternally to the working class, and the only way she can mingle freely with the gentry is by drawing on her late husband's name and pretending to be what she is not. The charade works, but exacts a severe mental toll. She says that she feels like two people and she wakes up in the night terrified that someone will find out the truth and expose her. What kind of society is so stratified that this type of discovery causes such strong fear?
Unlike the better-known Hardy novels, this one has a happy ending for nearly all of the characters. Some critics say that it has a weak, "happily ever after" fairy tale quality. But I think Hardy didn't need Ethelberta to meet the usual tragic fate. The story isn't about her inability to accept the realities of life; Ethelberta accepts her world as she finds it, but she twists the rules of society in order to reach her goals. Therefore, she expects those rules to continue working perfectly, and this leads to the happy ending when she marries the rich man and provides for her family while at the same time gaining legitimate entrance to upper class society.
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Thomas Hardy's first major success was Far from the Madding Crowd, which he followed with The Hand of Ethelberta, now little-known. A desire not to repeat himself or be forced by expectations to become a template writer led to a very different novel - a situation like the one that resulted in Desperate Remedies, his first published novel, after his first written one was rejected. As then, he took up genres - the comedy of manners and high society courtship drama - decidedly unsuited to his unique talents. Ethelberta is thus far from his best - an awkward fit where genre elements are not always well-executed but where his own strengths sometimes come out - but still readable and worthy. It remains notable as an overlooked example of Hardy's diversity - interesting for fans, perhaps attractive to those not usually fond of him.

The actual plot and execution are not as entertaining or realistic as the genre's best novels, but Hardy does include some suspense and interesting twists. However, there are definitely some weak elements. The pursuit of Ethelberta by the various suitors and the ensuing jaunts through tourist hotspots are dragged out so long as to become boring. This is of course a genre convention, but Hardy does not give the scenes enough extra material to keep them fresh, as the genre's best works do. Such things will probably be equally frustrating to fans and non-fans. That said, some of the elements with a more Hardy-esque flavor - e.g., the rush to reach Ethelberta before her wedding - are well-done, raising the book above convention even on this basic level.

Far more interesting is how Hardy uses the genre to explore favorite themes, namely class.
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Format: Paperback
The Hand of Ethelberta is one of Thomas Hardy's least well known novels. It concerns the career of a girl named Ethelberta growing up as the daughter of a butler. The Wessex lass manages to become a governess in the home of a wealthy family. She marries the son who soon dies leaving her a young widow. Ethelberta seeks to conceal her working class back ground as she wends her way through the labyrinthal byways of a Victorian love story. She comes from a large family of ten children and situates them in a boarding house she runs in London.
Ethelberta has four lovers seeking to win her beautiful hand:
1. Christopher Julien is a young musician who writes Ethelberta a song after she has won notoriety for a book of poems. Christopher and his devoted sister Faith are the most admirable characters in this novel. He will eventually fall in love with Ethelberta's younger sister Picotee.
2. Lovelady is an artist infatuated with Ethelberta. His character is not well drawn and he is no more than a stock figure in this unrealistic melodrama. One supposes he is supposed to elicit humor in the reader but I found the novel mirthless!
3. Neigh-What was said of Loveday is also true of this aristocrat.
4. Old Lord Monteclere is an old roue who offers Ethelberta the gift of money and social respectability in class conscious nineteenth century British society.
Thomas Hardy is one of my favorite writers but in this novel he strikes out! His sentences are long and clumsily written. Many of the characters would never converse in an English sentence using such flights of overblown prose. Hardy was learning his craft when he penned this potboiler for the periodicals, The novel would have been better if the number of Ethelberta's lovers had been reduced from 4 to a triangle!
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