Friday, 3 December 2010

Peasants Together - Thomas Hardy and Edward Elgar

It isn’t that both Edward Elgar and Thomas Hardy were creative men that fashions a bond between them; nor is it the fact they were born in the Victorian epoch before flourishing in their specific fields during the Edwardian era. Their shared link is this: both men were born into humble circumstances. Both men had to struggle, as had Dickens before them, with class prejudice and religious bigotry. Hardy, born in 1840, the son of a stonemason come builder in Dorset in a village called Higher Bockhampton that sat within the parish of Stinsford and Elgar some seventeen years later, in 1857, as the son of a piano tuner in Broadheath, near Worcester in the Midlands. Being the son of a piano tuner would have given Elgar the edge but class division then would have run deep believing tradesmen to be only slightly better than the peasant working in the field. 

Hardy’s first attempt as an author met with failure when he couldn’t find a publisher willing to take him on. Hardy destroyed the manuscript for “The Poor Man and The Lady” but his initial lack of success did not deter him. His subsequent novels met with the same scornful disdain from critics including “The Return of the Native,” “The Mayor of Casterbridge,” and yes even “Tess of the d’Urbervilles.” This singular lack of vision on the part of Victorian society, many of whom found Hardy’s work too earthy, too risqué, was typical of their times and puritanical attitudes.

It is with little wonder that the Victorian elite turned their spite on the author for it was with his novels that he challenged the tainted fabric of that era’s sensibilities. After the publication of “Jude the Obscure” with all the negative criticism it received (some book sellers sold it in brown bags) Hardy turned his back on creating novels to concentrate purely on poetry. Fortunately by this time he had a body of work that has added its considerable weight to the world of literature.

It is widely believed that the wealth of poetry he produced was informed, perhaps inspired  by the death of his first wife, Emma, who, though estranged from, he never quite got over. He married his second wife, his secretary, Florence, in 1914. Tragically, though Florence and Thomas Hardy were devoted to each other, the shadow of his first wife’s memory hung like a shroud over their relationship.

Somerset Maugham, although he denied it, wrote what might have been a story based around Thomas Hardy's relationship with Florence. In the preface to 'Cakes and Ale' Somerset Maugham strenuously denies his character, Edward Driffield is representative of Thomas Hardy. I think the author protest too much. I am not one for believing there is no smoke without fire but here I think there possibly was heat behind the embers.
Hardy died in 1928.

Edward Elgar felt himself to be an outsider: raised a Catholic in a protestant nation; his father a lowly piano tuner, his mother a farm worker; a self-taught composer from the lower classes who had to socialise with those who looked down their noses at his efforts. It now seems bitterly ironic that this Catholic composer is seen as the epitome of English musicality. Oddly though, his influences came from abroad. Schuman, Brahms, Rubenstein and Wagner  were among his greatest inspirations

During his formative musical years Elgar would often work out of his father’s shop where he gave piano lessons. It was whilst applying his talents to teaching that Elgar met Caroline Alice Roberts, a protestant member of a wealthy, well-to-do family. The couple fell in love but her family were so outraged, not by the fact she was eight years older but that their daughter had given her hand to a catholic, that they disinherited her. Their marriage proved to be a success even if the bride’s parents did not approve.

Elgar’s struggles were less obnoxious than Hardy’s even if his face didn’t fit his music began to warm the frigid hearts of Victorian England. It was in 1899 that Elgar’s big break arrived with the publication of his Enigma Variations. He was 42. The public took the music to their hearts.
As the 20th century moved on mercurial wheels fondly embracing technology, as Europe diced with war after war so Elgar’s popularity grew. After the Enigma Variations there followed a string of scores including “Pomp and Circumstance” and of course the now familiar “Land of Hope and Glory.”
For many, Elgar’s music represents purely the Edwardian era it was mostly composed in. It does offer another link between Elgar and Hardy. Both men’s body of work were representations of England: Hardy the rustic with his stories of illicit fraternisations and his vulgar working folk; Elgar with his nobility, his grandeur and elegance waving the Union Jack even as the Empire faded into blessed oblivion.

Elgar died February 3rd 1934 six years after Hardy.
Thomas Hardy and Edward Elgar were two ordinary men who achieved extraordinary things. In many respects their achievements, staggering then, could still inspire not only working class people today but also prove that getting older is not prohibitive of finding success.




Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog