The central figure is a man obsessed both with the search for his ideal woman and with sculpting the perfect figure of a naked Aphrodite. The pursuit finally fixes on three women called Avice Caro – grandmother, mother and daughter – in a way that mixes tragedy and high farce.
The books were written one before and one after his ‘last’ novel, Jude the Obscure (1895). Both stories are richly ambiguous but the first shows the successful exercise of masculine power and the second shows women triumphant. The double work, coming at the end of Hardy’s long career as a novelist, anticipates modernist writing by offering not merely alternative endings but alternative plots. This edition is the first to provide both separate texts and separate commentaries.
In her introduction, Patricia Ingham explores Hardy’s preoccupation with contingency and ‘might-have-beens’ in female-male relationships.