“These eyes were blue; blue as autumn distance... a misty and shady blue, that had no beginning or surface, and was looked into rather than at...”
Published in 1873, and highly controversial in its day because of its blunt look at the values of English society, A Pair of Blue Eyes is the story of Elfride Swancourt living in a remote corner of England, who is forced to choose between two very different men.
Elfride, the beautiful daughter of the local parson, struggles with becoming a woman and experiencing romantic feelings for the first time when she meets the young architect, Stephen Smith, upon his visit to 'Endelstowe' to begin restoring the old parish church.
At first, the vicar encourages his daughter to spend time with him. It soon emerges, however, that Stephen has been hiding an important secret from the Swancourts; something that could put his relationship with Elfride in jeopardy.
Later in the book, another man arrives at the Vicarage – Henry Knight, an essayist from London – and Elfride has to make a difficult decision.
Elfride’s secluded life has given her a childlike innocence and vulnerability and a male visitor is a big event. But when Elfride and Henry are watching for the ocean steamer that is bringing Stephen home, Henry slips and falls over the edge of a precipice.
To save him, Elfride removes her (extensive) Victorian underclothes and weaves a rescue-rope while wearing only her skirt, which exposes her bare thighs and a wet bodice revealing the vivid outline of her breasts.
A Pair of Blue Eyes represents a series of significant ‘firsts’ in the novelist’s career. It was Hardy’s first commercial success in fiction, and was the first of his novels to carry his real name on the title page. It also foreshadows so many things he would revisit in his later work: the tragic wronged heroine, the erotic love triangle, and the way ‘circumstance’ often thwarts our dreams and desires.
THOMAS HARDY (1840-1928) was an English poet and novelist. Author of Far From the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, The Return of the Native, Satires of Circumstance, The Trumpet-Major, and Poems of the Past and the Present, he is considered one of the world’s most influential literary figures.