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This is a great story until the end. To me, it felt like Hardy was in a hurry to finish the book so he created a kind of cliche ending. Hardy is one of the most brilliant writers of the Victorian era and I became so engrossed and emotionally invested in some of his other novels but this one didn't create the same bond as the others. I liked the characters but they weren't as real as some of the others. This is a great book but just not as good as some of his others. What I did really enjoy was the subject and I thought he was clever in the way he approached it. His characters looking at the stars also shows Hardy perhaps looking at the future of not only science but of human relationships and that insight and way of looking at his own social environment is exactly what makes Hardy the great and timeless writer that he is. I definitely recommend this one, just be aware it's not his best.
5.0 out of 5 starsStar Crossed Lovers In Multiple Ways
Reviewed in the United States on August 3, 2014
Thomas Hardy's writing is always evocative of atmosphere and filled with meaningful symbolism. This tragic novel is no exception and once again fictional rural Wessex and the ecclesiastical center of Melchester provide the setting for two individuals who fall in love with all the circumstances of social position and differences in wealth arrayed against them. In the case of Viviette Constantine and the Astronomer St. Cleve age difference is added to the volatile mix of factors that doom their love for each other. Hardy provides several twists of fate that irrevocably challenge this pair who through an overly developed respect for social convention leave their feelings for each other hidden from everyone else in their lives with tragic consequences. For those who love Hardy's work and enjoyed Jude The Obscure or The Mayor of Casterbridge , Two On A Tower will satisfy the desire for another wonderfully written story with similar themes and settings. I personally can never get enough of Hardy and highly recommend this book to anyone who has enjoyed his better known works.
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. Much later novels like Sinclair Lewis' Arrowsmith (1925) are almost universally credited with first showing this, but Hardy was far ahead of his time here as in so many ways, essentially displaying it all in 1882. Two even anticipates stereotypes - such as scientists taking things too literally and being socially inept - not common until after World War II. It dramatizes many important related issues: scientists' single-minded devotion to study, the pure vs. practical research problem, the annoying but impossible to ignore finance issue, etc. It also incorporates related themes closer to Hardy's heart-centered, empathy-driven worldview: the problem of study vs. society, love vs. work, etc. Such dynamics are very complex, and he handles them deftly, making them not only interesting and thought-provoking but affecting.
All this may sound as if Two is inaccessible, but it is thankfully very far from so. Early chapters seem to move the book toward true early science fiction, well away from previous Hardy territory, but this soon proves untrue. It changes to his central concern: a story of - in this case quite literally - star-crossed lovers with consequent issues of class, law, morality, and religion. Fans will probably be glad, while some others may be disappointed, but the drama is so well-done that is surely impossible not to be at least moved. This plot aspect is very similar to several other Hardy works, and some elements are virtually verbatim, but many usual strengths are at near full force. Chief among them is Hardy's near-unparalleled portrayal of emotion; whatever else we think of the characters, it would take a hard heart indeed not to feel for them. Hardy always deals in universal human emotions, making his highly dramatic works accessible to all. The characters themselves are also very engaging; Hardy is famous for heroines, and Viviette is another in his long list of great ones and deserves to be much better known. Swithin is in many ways engrossing, if less sympathetic, while Louis and the bishop are two of his more memorable villains. The latter two may be somewhat one-dimensional, but the main characters are richly complex and full of verisimilitude. Finally, Hardy always pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable, and Two, like several of his other novels, was viciously attacked, even condemned, for undermining religion, law, and morality. Hardy's 1895 Preface notes that things had changed so much even by then that readers would be hard-pressed to find anything offensive, and Two is so superficially tame by our standards that the very idea of it causing controversy is laughable. However, time has allowed us to get past such trappings and appreciate Hardy's still unfortunately valid points about laws that are unjust and/or nonsensical, a church that is corrupt, and a society that is hypocritically prudish and optimistically self-important.
Strong as Two's core is, occasionally questionable execution keeps it well below Hardy's best. Different as it is in some ways from his other novels, it in other ways exaggerates tendencies that many always dislike in him. The plot is very dense, probably too much for many, with multiple twists in such quick procession that it is easy to dismiss the book as unbelievable. Hardy's heavy coincidence use is often noted; it is common in Victorian fiction but even more so in him, which often annoys those favoring more straightforward recent novels. However, unlike weak writers who rely on it for plot and hope we will not notice, he uses it deliberately and even draws attention to it because of his deterministic beliefs. Fans inevitably come to terms with this, but he arguably simply goes too far here, especially as he does not take as much trouble to justify it as usual. In addition, while there are no plot holes in the usual sense, some points, especially about Louis, are never explained. To be fair, it must be noted that Two has an incredible amount of suspense, far more than we expect from Victorian works. He also has a nearly scientific ability to know what we expect and do something different, which is highly admirable in any writer. On the other hand, the dialogue is also almost certainly Hardy's most artificial - so much so that it is at times nearly risible. Finally, Two is arguably a bit overly melodramatic, especially the rushed ending. Hardy later classed it as one of his "Romances and Fantasies" where realism was not consciously maintained, and his Preface admits the book was not well put together. This is partly because, in contrast to his usual practice, he did not proof the serial or revise for book publication; in addition, several differing manuscripts floated around at once, and not all changes were implemented. Hardy was usually an inveterate reviser but gave Two unusually little attention, and it shows. A thorough revision would likely have fixed at least several weaknesses, but Two is still quite strong.
All told, though Two should be no one's first Hardy novel, anyone who likes his others should certainly pick it up eventually, and those who have disliked one or two may also find it appealing.
4.0 out of 5 starsAn interesting story centres on the classic relationship between a ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 7, 2016
An interesting story centres on the classic relationship between a woman, her missing husband and the enigmatic younger man to whom she is drawn. As the female struggles to resolve her conflicting passion and sense of duty, the novel is as much a statement about the moral attitudes of the time as a story, Hardy delivers in his usual style.
1.0 out of 5 starsBuy a different version of this!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 10, 2017
The book is unreadable as it is badly misprinted, paragraphs in the middle of sentences, misspellings, chapters in the middle of pages, hyphens and commas etc. in the middle of words. Book is paperback in almost A4 format and difficult to hold.