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The Well-Beloved completes the cycle of Hardy’s great novels, reiterating his favourite themes of man’s eternal quest for perfection in both love and art, and the suffering that ensues. Jocelyn Pierston, celebrated sculptor, tries to create an image of his ideal woman - his imaginary Well-Beloved - in stone, just as he tries to find her in the flesh. Powerful symbolism marks this romantic fantasy that Hardy has grounded firmly in reality with a characteristically authentic rendering of location, the Isle of Slingers, or Portland as we know it. Overt exploration of the relationship between erotic fascination and creativity makes this novel a nineteenth-century landmark in the persistent debate about art, aesthetics and gender.
A person who differed from the local wayfarers was climbing the steep road which leads through the sea–skirted townlet definable as the Street of Wells, and forms a pass into that Gibraltar of Wessex, the singular peninsula once an island, and still called such, that stretches out like the head of a bird into the English Channel. It is connected with the mainland by a long thin neck of pebbles ‘cast up by rages of the se,’ and unparalleled in its kind in Europe.
The pedestrian was what he looked like—a young man from London and the cities of the Continent. Nobody could see at present that his urbanism sat upon him only as a garment. He was just recollecting with something of self–reproach that a whole three years and eight months had flown since he paid his last visit to his father at this lonely rock of his birthplace, the intervening time having been spent amid many contrasting societies, peoples, manners, and scenes.
What had seemed usual in the isle when he lived there always looked quaint and odd after his later impressions. More than ever the spot seemed what it was said once to have been, the ancient Vindilia Island, and the Home of the Slingers. The towering rock, the houses above houses, one man’s doorstep rising behind his neighbour’s chimney, the gardens hung up by one edge to the sky, the vegetables growing on apparently almost vertical planes, the unity of the whole island as a solid and single block of limestone four miles long, were no longer familiar and commonplace ideas. All now stood dazzlingly unique and white against the tinted sea, and the sun flashed on infinitely stratified walls of oolite,