A sad story about love, loss, regret, guilt, a long strained marriage, what it takes to be a writer and the fluidity of time and memories. This is all blended in with a ghostly tale …
This excellently written book by Elisabeth Lowry is set in 1912. One day in November 1912 the famous aging author Thomas Hardy, (Tess of the D’Urbervilles , Jude the obscure ) progressively and bitterly becoming alienated from his wife Emma, discovers her dying in her bedroom. By the time he calls her name and holds her, she has passed .
Hardy, buried in the rhythm of his writing , books and papers , is totally crushed and in shock .He has been unable to write anything for his publishers , and is already suffering writer’s block. The book follows Hardy’s suffering and despair which is exacerbated by his discovery of Emma’s journal, which turns out to be a portrait of a most unhappy marriage.
The day before she died, Emma and Thomas had an acrimonious argument – Hardy feels adrift and shaken. His family and his would-be mistress/wife Florence Dugdale expect he will be glad to be free and would be pleased. But he is bereft and dazed , doesn’t function properly .This is only augmented by his discovery of Emma’s journals from 1890 on that she kept hidden. He reads what Emma really felt and thought about him, that he was a ‘paper husband’, distant, wary of human affection, had never had a child with her and she was trapped in his house for forty years. Hardy now has big choices to decide and the book attempts to capture the secret areas between man and wife.
What made them decide to marry?
Hardy now has to completely reinvent himself, and remember Emma when they first met and the delights of their falling in love.
THE CHOSEN is a ghost story as we read of Hardy’s memories of Emma. Hardy drifting between this world’s reality and anguished fleeting visions and voices of Emma – has she returned ? Is she corporeal or a figment of his blurred imagination? He talks to her in his mind.
We also meet Hardy’s sisters Mary and Kate and his niece Lillian. Hardy’s great friendship with Edmund Gosse is also mentioned.
As well, Lowry captures the internal life of Hardy’s huge house, of which mostly he has been unaware – we read of Max Gate’s murkiness, how while it is coldly restraining it is oversized and devours energy and labour. Hardy (or Kate for the moment but she has to leave to look after ill Mary) has to organize practicalities such as comment on unsatisfactory cold pie, visitors at the door (he has a most unusual visit from Mr Ban, a gentleman from Shanghai, but Hardy can’t give him helpful advice), and someone has to pay the household wages, shopping bills and so on.He also meets the gardener and his grandson which gives him even more food for thought.
Does Hardy return to reality ? Will his writer’s block be released? A sad, sombre story , poignant and intimate, analysing what it takes to be a writer and the strains of a long marriage.