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Two on a Tower (Penguin Classics) Paperback – July 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) immortalized the site of his birth—Egdon Heath, in Dorset, near Dorchester—in his writing. Delicate as a child, he was taught at home by his mother before he attended grammar school. At sixteen, Hardy was apprenticed to an architect, and for many years, architecture was his profession; in his spare time, he pursued his first and last literary love, poetry. Finally convinced that he could earn his living as an author, he retired from architecture, married, and devoted himself to writing. An extremely productive novelist, Hardy published an important book every year or two. In 1896, disturbed by the public outcry over the unconventional subjects of his two greatest novels—Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure—he announced that he was giving up fiction and afterward produced only poetry. In later years, he received many honors. He was buried in Poet’s Corner, in Westminster Abbey. It was as a poet that he wished to be remembered, but today critics regard his novels as his most memorable contribution to English literature for their psychological insight, decisive delineation of character, and profound presentation of tragedy.

Patricia Ingham is a Senior Research Fellow and Reader at St Anne's College, Oxford. She has written on the Victorian novel and on Hardy in particular. she is the General Editor of all of Hardy's fiction in the Penguin Classics and has edited Gaskell's North and South for the series.

From AudioFile

Although Two on a Tower is a minor Thomas Hardy work, minor Thomas Hardy is much worth a listener's time. In this novel, set in Wessex, the rich Lady Constantine lives a boring existence, also a chaste one, forced on her by an absent husband who may indeed be dead. But then she meets young Swithin, a naively ambitious astronomer, who shares with her his passion for the stars. Soon the two are passionate about each other, and the malevolent fate so often found in Hardy's novels begins to demand its seemingly inevitable retribution. A sad story, this, read perfectly by Michael Kitchen. He handles the major characters and the minor ones with careful distinction and sensi-tivity to their education and station, and is clearly sympathetic as Lady Constantine's few moments of happiness give way to tragedy. A first-rate reading of a truly fine novel, even if less well known than other Hardy works. T.H. © AudioFile 2001, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (July 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140435360
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140435368
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Carol on August 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
Two on a Tower was the 11th Thomas Hardy's 14 novels that I have read. Hardy can be depended upon to paint a vivid picture of the characters' environment, and their relationships to it, but this time with a twist: One of the two characters being an astronomer, most of the environmental descriptions are of the heavens, and are wonderfully appropriate for the characters' actions and 'aspects'.
Hardy had a gift of creating characters who are fascinating in their personalities and actions, and together with the environmental descriptions, reading his novels is just one step away from watching a really good movie of the story.
Of all Hardy's varied characters, I felt the most sympathy for the two on the tower. Viviette has a great need for love and is selfless in giving it. Swithin, a somewhat naive and literate scientist, is at the same time a tender and faithful lover. Of all Hardy's stories, I hoped that this one would somehow have that "happy ending", and I suffered uncounted times for both characters.
I highly recommend this book for emotional involvement, though it may tear you apart to read it!
I would also recommend another of Hardy's lesser known novels The Woodlanders, which I understand was his own favorite story, and remains mine also.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By "ringmaster_2k" on October 31, 2001
Format: Paperback
Beautifully written, Thomas Hardy goes all out to make the reader see, hear, and smell every scene in this book. From begining to end, you never know what's going to happen next, and just when you think the story is calming down, Hardy throws a swerve your way. Great surprises, not predictable at all.
Hardy perhaps one of the better describers of setting of his time, shows once again, why books were so highly read back in his age.
Thomas once again delivered another great book of sadness, happiness, pregnancy and marriage. Although the story is mostly sad, it is still a great book, especially for those who have read previous Hardy books. A great read.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
The story of a lonely woman caught between love and propriety, self-sacrifice and self-interest, "Two on a Tower" is one of the saddest novels I've read. I kept hoping for a description of a blissful-but-brief interlude for Viviette, but it never materialized. Instead, unhappiness dogged her to the novel's cruel end. Yes, cruel. The final event in the book was an unnecessary stroke. Also, while I usually accept a character's actions, I cannot believe that Viviette NEVER anticipated becoming pregnant. The possibility certainly haunted ME from the moment her secret marriage took place. For all of it's sadness, however, the story is engaging and provides a criticism of the unforgiving social conventions of Hardy's time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J C E Hitchcock on January 14, 2011
Format: Paperback
Thomas Hardy entitled his first attempt at a novel "The Poor Man and the Lady". The work was never published, and the manuscript is now lost, but its theme of love between people of different social classes is one he returned to time and time again. Its title could serve as an alternative title for several of his published novels, and several others, notably "Tess of the d'Urbervilles", could equally well be titled "The Poor Woman and the Gentleman".

"Two on a Tower" falls into the "poor man and the lady" category. The lady in this case is Viviette, Lady Constantine, the unhappily married wife of a country squire, and the poor man is Swithin St. Cleeve, a penniless young astronomer. The two meet and fall in love when Viviette gives Swithin to use a tower on her country estate for his observations. The death of Viviette's husband Sir Blount while on a hunting expedition in Africa leaves the lovers theoretically free to marry, but as so often happens in Hardy circumstances conspire to force them apart. They are quite literally "star-crossed lovers"; Hardy himself said that his intention was to "set the emotional history of two infinitesimal lives against the stupendous background of the stellar universe", and the book shows evidence of his own interest in astronomy.

The most important factor preventing their union is the force of social convention. Swithin and Viviette are divided both by class and age, she being some eight years older than he. The class structure of Victorian England was far more complex than a simple rich/poor or upper/lower divide, and the complexities of that structure are exemplified by the positions in which both main characters find themselves.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bill R. Moore on July 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Two on a Tower is among Thomas Hardy's least known novels, and though not in his top tier, is excellent and would be nearly anyone else's best. It certainly deserves a far wider readership, as it has both many usual strengths and is in several ways unique, making it worthwhile for both fans and others.

The main unique factor is the astronomy focus. Hardy had significant interest in and knowledge of astronomy, which pops up in his work here and there, but only Two deals with it extensively. The main male character is an astronomer, and the field gets considerable attention; readers can learn a fair amount about it from Two, as there are many technical terms, historical references, and other descriptions. The focus is indeed so strong that Two might almost be called proto-science fiction; astronomy is not integral to the plot, but its background importance is very high. Hardy was no scientist but researched extensively, taking great pains to be accurate, and it shows. The science has of course changed much in the century plus since, but the basics here focused on are essentially unaltered, and we also get an interesting historical perspective. Hardy in any case adapts astronomy to his purposes, not least by using terminology metaphorically - a risky move that could have been disastrously corny but is very well-done. More importantly, he shows it through the lens of his infamously pessimistic, naturalist philosophy. Many astronomers think of their field as one of wonder and beauty, but Hardy sees it very differently. Two is well worth reading for these factors alone, especially for anyone interested in astronomy.

The astronomy angle also has other important effects, not least in portraying the scientific mindset and culture of science just as it was beginning to arise.
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