A Pair of Blue Eyes

A Pair of Blue Eyes is a novel by Thomas Hardy, published in 1873, first serialised between September 1872 and July 1873. It was Hardy's third published novel, and the first not published anonymously upon its first publication.

A Pair of Blue Eyes
A Pair of Blue Eyes
First edition title page
AuthorThomas Hardy
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherTinsley Brothers
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Pages3 volumes


The book describes the love triangle of a young woman, Elfride Swancourt, and her two suitors from very different backgrounds. Stephen Smith is a socially inferior but ambitious young man who adores her and with whom she shares a country background. Henry Knight is the respectable, established, older man who represents London society. Although the two are friends, Knight is not aware of Smith's previous liaison with Elfride.

Elfride finds herself caught in a battle between her heart, her mind and the expectations of those around her – her parents and society. When Elfride's father finds that his guest and candidate for his daughter's hand, architect's assistant Stephen Smith, is the son of a mason, he immediately orders him to leave. Knight, who is a relative of Elfride's stepmother, is later on the point of seeking to marry Elfride, but ultimately rejects her when he learns she had been previously courted.

Elfride, out of desperation, marries a third man, Lord Luxellian. The conclusion finds both suitors travelling together to Elfride, both intent on claiming her hand, and neither knowing either that she is already married or that they are accompanying her corpse and coffin as they travel.


Elfride Swancourt, the heroine, is both extremely attractive and emotionally naive; a Victorian Miranda.

Stephen Smith, her first suitor, also has this childish innocence, and she loves him because he is 'so docile and gentle' (chapter 7).

Henry Knight, the second suitor, is more dominantly masculine, with the expectation of Elfride's spiritual and physical virginity.[1]


This was the third of Hardy's novels to be published and the first to bear his name. It was first serialised in Tinsley's Magazine between September 1872 and July 1873.

The novel is notable for the strong parallels to Hardy and his first wife Emma Gifford. In fact, of Hardy's early novels, this is probably the most densely populated with autobiographical events.[2]


A review in the Examiner of Far from the Madding Crowd retrospectively referred to it as 'not so exclusively pictoral [as Under the Greenwood Tree]; it was study of a more tragic kind, with more complex characters and a more stirring plot.... Both Under the Greenwood Tree and A Pair of Blue Eyes are very remarkable novels, which no one could read without admiring the close and penetrating observation, and pictoral and narrative power of the writer.'[3]

Late in his life Hardy met composer Sir Edward Elgar and discussed the possibility of Elgar basing an opera on the novel. Hardy's death put an end to the project.

BBC Radio 4 recorded the book as a serial, with Jeremy Irons as Harry Knight. Re-broadcast on Radio 4 Extra, 29–30 December 2014.

Literary criticism

A Pair of Blue Eyes is normally categorised as one of Hardy's minor works, 'a book with a few good points but a failure as a whole'.[1][2] Like Desperate Remedies, it contains melodramatic scenes which appear disconnected from the characters and plot.[2]

A focus of critical interest of the novel is the scene in which Henry Knight reviews the entire history of the world as he hangs over the edge of a cliff (reputedly the origin of the term 'cliffhanger'), and is eventually rescued by a rope of Elfride's underwear. Carl J. Weber sources the scene to a picnic Hardy and his wife had, in which he was sent to search for a lost earring, claiming this passage is the 'first indication in the novels of Hardy's ability to sustain interest in a tense situation by sheer power of vivid description.'[4] On the other hand, Millgate claims the scene forms part of the 'irrelevant' description suited to the 'rag-bag' of a novel.[4] For Jean Brooks the scene is 'macabre' and an illustration of 'cosmic indifference', also highlighting the comic in the rescue.[4]

However, Gittings and Halperin claim it is more likely the idea for this scene comes from an essay by Leslie Stephen called 'Five minutes in the Alps'. The 'cliff without a name', as it is referred to, is probably based on Beeny Cliff.[4]


  1. ^ a b Steig, Michael (Spring 1970). "The Problem of Literary Value in Two Early Hardy Novels". Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 12 (1): 55–62. JSTOR 40754081.
  2. ^ a b c Wittenburg, Judith Bryant (Winter 1983). "Early Hardy Novels and the Fictional Eye". Novel: A Forum on Fiction. 16 (2): 151–164. doi:10.2307/1345082. JSTOR 1345082.
  3. ^ Minto, W (5 December 1874). "Far from the Madding Crowd". Examiner.
  4. ^ a b c d Halperin, John (October 1980). "Leslie Stephen, Thomas Hardy, and 'A Pair of Blue Eyes'". The Modern Language Review. 75 (4): 738–745. doi:10.2307/3726582. JSTOR 3726582.

External links

1873 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1873.

1873 in the United Kingdom

Events from the year 1873 in the United Kingdom.


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Boscastle lies within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Almost a third of Cornwall has AONB designation, with the same status and protection as a National Park, and the South West Coast Path passes through the village.


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Emma Gifford

Emma Lavinia Gifford (24 November 1840 – 27 November 1912) was the first wife of British writer Thomas Hardy.

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Further line-up changes in 1981 saw them emerge as a guitarless four piece band with 2 tracks on Bristol Recorder 3 and their second release on Monopause of the single ‘Croaked’/’Butler (in running shorts)’. The single received some notice in the New York independent charts and resulted in a US east coast tour in the summer of 1981, however the band split after their return.

A third single ‘Monkey Glands’ was never released, but did appear on both of the band's albums. Their second compilation CD ‘Chronicles’ included the track 'Mau Mau' which was recorded in 1981 by Art Objects/The Blue Aeroplanes and included on their Cassette/CD ‘Weird Shit’. Gerard Langley of The Blue Aeroplanes has a long history of producing, performing and writing with Steve Bush, ever since their initial group The Biros. Langley on the cover notes of the Avon Calling CD referred to Essential Bop as ‘closet Doors fans with a grudge’.

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Florence Dugdale

Florence Emily Dugdale (12 January 1879 – 17 October 1937) was a writer of children's stories and the second wife of Thomas Hardy. Although Thomas Hardy's biography was published under her name, it was in fact written by Hardy himself in his old age.

Harry Knight (disambiguation)

Harry Knight was an American racecar driver.

Harry Knight may also refer to:

Harry Knight (Canadian football) (born 1953), American football quarterback

Harry Adam Knight, writer

Harry Knight, character in A Pair of Blue Eyes

Horatio Mosley Moule

Horatio Mosley Moule (1832–1873) was the fourth son of Anglican priest and inventor Henry Moule, and is best remembered as a friend of Thomas Hardy. He was generally known as Horace, to distinguish him from his Uncle Horatio, after whom he was named.


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Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy (2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928) was an English novelist and poet. A Victorian realist in the tradition of George Eliot, he was influenced both in his novels and in his poetry by Romanticism, especially William Wordsworth. He was highly critical of much in Victorian society, especially on the declining status of rural people in Britain, such as those from his native South West England.

While Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life and regarded himself primarily as a poet, his first collection was not published until 1898. Initially, therefore, he gained fame as the author of such novels as Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). During his lifetime, Hardy's poetry was acclaimed by younger poets (particularly the Georgians) who viewed him as a mentor. After his death his poems were lauded by Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden and Philip Larkin.Many of his novels concern tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances, and they are often set in the semi-fictional region of Wessex; initially based on the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Hardy's Wessex eventually came to include the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Hampshire and much of Berkshire, in southwest and south central England. Two of his novels, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd, were listed in the top 50 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.

William Tinsley (publisher)

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Wimborne Minster (often referred to as Wimborne, ) is a market town in East Dorset in South West England, and the name of the Church of England church in that town. According to Office for National Statistics data the population of the Wimborne Minster built-up area as of 2014 is estimated as 15,552 inhabitants and is situated at the confluence of the River Stour and River Allen, 5 miles (8 km) north of Poole, on the Dorset Heaths. The town is also recognised as part of the South East Dorset conurbation.

Short story collections
Short stories
Poetry collections

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