In The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved (1892) and The Well-Beloved (1897), Hardy writes two different versions of a strange story set in the weird landscape of Portland.The central figure is a man obsessed both with the search for his ideal woman and with sculpting the perfect figure of a naked Aphrodite. The pursuit finally fixes on three women called Avice Caro-grandmother, mother and daughter-in a way that mixes tragedy and high farce.
The books were written one before and one after his "last" novel, Jude the Obscure (1895). Both stories are richly ambiguous but the first shows the successful exercise of masculine power and the second shows women triumphant. The double work, coming at the end of Hardy's long career as a novelist, anticipates modernist writing by offering not merely alternative endings but alternative plots. This edition is the first to provide both separate texts and separate commentaries. In her introduction, Patricia Ingham explores Hardy's preoccupation with contingency and 'might-have-beens' in female-male relationships.
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Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset in 1840 and became an apprentice architect at the age of sixteen. He spent his twenties in London, where he wrote his first poems. In 1867 Hardy returned to his native Dorset, whose rugged landscape was a great source of inspiration for his writing. Between 1871 and 1897 he wrote fourteen novels, including Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. This final work was received savagely; thereafter Hardy turned away from novels and spent the last thirty year of his life focusing on poetry. He died in 1928.