Thomas Hardy was a prolific 19th-century novelist and poet, whose books about life and love in rural England used to be staples on high school classics reading lists. His own life is perfect fodder for a historical novel. It’s thought he mistreated his first wife and, shortly after her death, he married his secretary who was thirty-nine years his junior. Winter looks back, poignantly, from the vantage point of the author’s winter years.
In 1924, Hardy is in his eighties, living with his invalid wife, Florence, in an isolated house in Dorset. Although he keeps to his schedule, working every day, he knows that his best writing is behind him. His mind wanders. He neglects his wife – an old habit. He loves his dog. But Hardy finds a new interest to perk him up. Embodying the cliché that there’s no fool like an old fool, Hardy grows infatuated with a local woman, in her twenties, who acts in the amateur theater in his town. He grants her the lead part, Tess (of the d’Urbervilles), in a new play and is so enamored of this flesh-and-blood example of his ideal of the perfect woman that he hangs around backstage, writes her love poetry, and insists that she must play the role on the professional stage or he will not sanction the play’s production in London. Needless to say, his wife is humiliated. Of a nervous disposition, Hardy’s erstwhile secretary can be a nag, but one can’t help pitying her.
The alternating points of view demonstrate this ill-suited but co-dependent couple at their worst as Hardy’s final act plays out. The few chapters from the viewpoint of the actress put things in a more rational perspective. Highly recommended for those readers drawn to books about writers.