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Introduction and Notes by Jane Thomas, University of Hull. The Well-Beloved completes the cycle of Hardy's great novels, reiterating his favourite themes of man's eternal quest for perfection in both love and art, and the suffering that ensues. Jocelyn Pierston, celebrated sculptor, tries to create an image of his ideal woman - his imaginary Well-Beloved - in stone, just as he tries to find her in the flesh. Powerful symbolism marks this romantic fantasy that Hardy has grounded firmly in reality with a characteristically authentic rendering of location, the Isle of Slingers, or Portland as we know it. Overt exploration of the relationship between erotic fascination and creativity makes this novel a nineteenth-century landmark in the persistent debate about art, aesthetics and gender. This volume breaks new ground by including in full the1892 serialised version of the novel - The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved.
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This novel, Hardy's last, is quite a delightful tale, almost comical in tone, and its wry, tongue-in-cheek flavor is beautifully realized by reader Robert Powell. It concerns sculptor Jocelyn Pierston and his 40-year quest for the incarnation of the ideal woman. This phantom eludes him as it flits from woman to woman most especially Avice Caro, his sweetheart at 20; then Avice's daughter, Anne Avice, who charms him when he is 40; and finally Avice the third, the granddaughter, whom he courts at 60. Alas, none of these romances reach fruition, and he loses both his artistic abilities and drive and his interest in the old quest. At 62, he can pass for 75, and in his old age he finds an old flame who sees him into his dotage. Hardy classed this work with his "Romances and Fantasies," and it is indeed almost an allegory or fable. Very enjoyable and excellently read, this is a good addition to fiction collections that feature important British writers. Harriet Edwards, East Meadow P.L., NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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