Literary daybook, Jan. 2

Real and imaginary events of significance to readers.

Published January 2, 2002 7:07PM (EST)

Today in fiction

It snows (even the old people had never seen snow).
-- "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" (1951)
by Carson McCullers

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1885, Thomas Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge" began serialization. This was the first novel Hardy had written for weekly rather than monthly serialization, and his journal entry for this day expresses his worry that he had overplayed the need for a steady stream of dramatic incident: "I fear it will not be so good as I meant, but, after all, it is not improbabilities of incident but improbabilities of character that matter." More than one early reviewer did indeed find the novel "too improbable," Henchard's rum-inspired auctioning of his wife in chapter one being particularly "impossible to believe." (In fact, Hardy had researched three such incidents in the local records.) In her diary Virginia Woolf tells the amusing story of going to see Hardy in 1926, a year and a half before his death. She had just finished a draft of "To the Lighthouse," one of those novels that would speak for modernism as much as Hardy's "Wessex" novels spoke for the past. She took "The Mayor of Casterbridge" with her on the train, found she could not put it down, and told him so, "beset with desire to hear him say something about his books." Hardy was cheerful, welcoming and animated, but "delivered of all his work [and] not interested much in his novels or in anybody's novels." Especially modern ones:

"They've changed everything now," he said. "We used to think there was a beginning and a middle and an end. We believed in the Aristotelian theory. Now one of those stories came to an end with a woman going out of the room." He chuckled.

Though less than a torch-passing, their visit did not go unmarked: As a parting gift, Hardy presented a copy of his story collection "Life's Little Ironies," inscribed to "Virginia Wolff."

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," email Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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