I have read lots of Thomas Hardy's books but somehow I had never read this one, The Trumpet-Major. While it isn't Hardy's best book (I can't decide on that, but it's between Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd), I enjoyed this one.
First published in 1880, this book is a historical novel set at the beginning of the 19th century. England is all a-flutter because everyone believes that Napoleon is about to invade. After all, "it was sometimes recollected that England was the only European country which had not succumbed to the mighty little man who was less than human in feeling, and more than human in will; that our spirit for resistance was greater than our strength; and that the Channel was often calm."
"'Can it be the French?' she said, arranging herself for the extremest form of consternation. 'Can that arch-enemy of mankind have landed at last?' It should be stated that at this time there were two arch-enemies of mankind - Satan as usual, and Buonaparte, who had sprung up and eclipsed his elder rival altogether. Mrs. Garland alluded, of course, to the junior gentleman."
That last little paragraph gives a good idea of the tone of the novel - it is much lighter than most of Hardy, and often funny. The back of the Penguin Classics edition uses the word "affectionate," and that's just right. Hardy really seems to love the people he's writing about. Historical notes tell us that the material for the novel came from family reminiscences.
In addition to the fear of Napoleon, the other emotion that has the countryside all riled up is love. Where there's war, or at least, potential war, there are soldiers, and there are wonderful descriptions of what the arrival of the soldiers does to the community. This reminded me a lot of the excitement over soldiers in Jane Austen novels, and as I reflected about it I realized that this is just when she was writing. Hardy tells us, "courtship began to be practised in Overcombe on rather a large scale, and the dispossessed young men who had been born in the place were left to take their walks alone, where, instead of studying the works of nature, they meditated gross outrages on the brave men who had been so good as to visit their village."
Like Bathsheba Everdene in Far From the Madding Crowd, Anne Garland has three suitors. One of them is an obnoxious oaf, one she's been in love with for years but he has been rather fickle, and the other one is in love with her. Guess which one she's going to end up with, after many reversals of fortune? Actually, the ending, after all the twists and turns, is the least satisfying part of the book - almost as though Hardy just wanted to wrap it up and be done with it.
This is my book #1 of 2007!
5 hours ago