*The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved*, by Thomas Hardy

I had never heard of this novella, and yet it is a splendid and and indeed frank exhibit of Hardy’s rather brutal and tragic view of human psychology.  It is explicitly a version of the Romeo and Juliet story, except the pair end up marrying rather than dying.  What happens then?  The story is full of behavioral economics and rational choice dilemmas.

Here is one excerpt:

“The only woman whom I never loved, I may almost say!” he added, smiling; “and therefore the only one I shall ever regret!”

Hardy later rewrote this novella under the title The Well-Beloved (available in the same Penguin volume), but a brief skim indicates to me that the first version was much better (here is one analysis of the differences in revision, pdf).  In any case there is much Thomas Hardy out there waiting to be rediscovered.  Some Google searches indicate this novella is not extremely well known, commonly read, or analyzed in detail.  Yet it will turn out to have been one of the best things I have read this year.  Caveat emptor: this one does not pull any punches about the male romantic psyche.

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