Head colds and Hardy

I am spending the weekend curled up under a blanket, in my normal sickly way, catching up on TiVo and the many excellent books I am reading. I am perpetually behind in the numerous reading groups I have been drawn into by Yahoo, but (rising above my inadequacy as a participant) they continue to provide me with excellent books that would never otherwise have been a priority.

At the moment I am hard at work on "The Mayor of Casterbridge," only my second ever Hardy (after the grimmer "Tess") and a font of antisocial and macabre delights. The blurb on the back of the book is one of the worst pieces of literary advertising I have ever seen, mumbling drearily on about the honesty of the protagonist Henchard as a tragic hero. Meanwhile, the inciting action of the novel, an event worthy of a Victorian Jerry Springer, goes completely unmentioned, despite the fact that it occurs in the very first chapter: Henchard ("honest" Henchard), drunk and belligerent, sells his wife like a horse to the highest bidder in provincial market, sending her and their baby daughter off with an unknown (but apparently kindly) sailor.

Nonetheless, my favorite moment so far (I am about 13 chapters in) comes in the midst of Hardy's description of the Roman essence of Casterbridge's topogrophy and architecture:

"It was impossible to dig more than a foot or two deep about the town fields and gardens without coming upon some tall soldier or other of the Empire, who had lain there in his silent unobstrusive rest for a space of fifteen hundred years. He was mostly found lying on his side, in an oval scoop in the chalk, like a chicken in its shell; his knees drawn up to his chest; sometimes with the remains of his spear against his arm; a fibula or brooch of bronze on his breast or forehead; an urn at his knees, a jar at his throat, a bottle at his mouth; and mystified conjecture pouring down upon him from the eyes of Casterbridge street boys and men, who had turned a moment to gaze at the familiar spectacle as they passed by. Imaginative inhabitants who would have felt an unpleasantness at the discovery of a comparatively modern skeleton in their gardens, were quite unmoved by these hoary shapes."

What could I think of, but the skulls in the Museum of London?

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