Updated on August 5, 2015
40. ‘The Distracted Preacher’ by Thomas Hardy
Tess of the D’Urbervilles is the first Thomas Hardy book that I ever read, and it is one of my favourite books of all time. I think it’s fantastically, sumptuously written and makes a poignant point about the poor treatment of women. When a Hardy novella popped through my letterbox, then, I was very excited to read this fantastic writer again.
However, I really didn’t like this story, or rather I didn’t like the ending. Most of the book is pretty empowering, as it follows the life of a young woman who is part of a smuggling ring. An enthusiastic new preacher moves to town and, suspicious of the strange hours his landlady keeps, starts to follow her at night when she goes out to help the smugglers. He discovers that the whole village is involved and he finds himself drawn closer to their crimes, whilst also keeping a morally superior distance.
I really loved Lizzy Newberry, the female protagonist: she is not concerned by the preacher’s stuffy beliefs and basically does what she wants. She smuggles partly because she needs the money for her mother, but mainly because it livens up the dull winter nights. Although the preacher falls in love with her – quite rightly, because she’s awesome – he cannot bring himself to marry a criminal and leaves town.
And that’s where the horrible ending comes in, and I’m going to spoil it so don’t read on if you don’t want to know. Two years later the preacher returns and finds that all the smuggling has ended. Lizzy’s mother has died, the smugglers have dispersed and she has become a cripple after being shot in the hand during one of her nights of crime. She ends up a faded version of herself, just right for marrying the preacher, which she does.
It may seem strange that I disliked this tragic woman’s story when I loved Tess so much, but I think I know why. Lizzy is a stronger, more independent character than Tess and so she has much further to fall. And I didn’t like seeing her fall at all.
“You dissent from Church, and I dissent from State … and I don’t see why we are not well matched.”
If you liked my review, why not read the book and let me know what you think?