Desperate Remedies, Thomas Hardy (1871)

“You speak truly. That we never meet again is the wisest and only proper course. That I regret the past as much as you do yourself, it is hardly necessary for me to say.”


After reading Jude the Obscure with a group on Instagram I decided to join their year-long Thomas Hardy Readalong—one book each month. First up, Desperate Remedies, which we read in January. This is Hardy’s second ‘first” novel, because his first was rejected by his publisher. After getting tips from his reader at the second publisher, the writer George Meredith no less, Hardy wrote Desperate Remedies which was published in 1871.

The novel opens with a love affair that ends in mystery: the woman breaks it off only to disappear leaving the man heartbroken. He does recover and after some years marries and has a daughter whom he names Cytherea. She is left an orphan when her father dies and is forced to find employment as a lady’s maid with the imperious Miss Aldclyffe. Cytherea has fallen in love with an architect in her brother’s firm, but he is engaged to marry his cousin, a match made years ago without any enthusiasm in the present. When Owen, Cytherea’s brother becomes very ill the steward of Miss Aldcyffe’s estate asks her to marry him with the promise to pay for Owen’s medical care. But is Aeneas Manston whom he says he is? What is his past, really? Will Cytherea discover the truth before it is too late?

27 Victorian melodrama ideas | melodrama, victorian, drama theatre
Alas, I must take leave of you!

And does this sound like a melodrama? Well, it is! However, it is not as superficial as it may seem due to Hardy’s way with storytelling and his ability to make every character, even the most minor, full of personality and life. A related technique is the dividing up of the story into time: The Twenty Second of August; The Fifth of January, Before Dawn; September the Twentieth, Three to Four p.m. This effectively brings the reader into the story.

Desperate Remedies is also a mystery. Why is Miss Aldclyffe so enamored of Cytherea, hiring her knowing she has no experience as a lady’s maid and then the next minute trying to force her into a marriage with a man she doesn’t love? Why do several characters have the same name? Does a certain man have two or three wives? Did a fire at an inn kill or not kill someone? This twisty-turny narrative works so well because many of the characters are interconnected. The book also has a Gothic romance feel combined with qualities of Victorian detective fiction.

I found this book highly entertaining and quite a page-turner. I am in the middle of February’s book, A Pair of Blue Eyes and I have to say, I am looking forward to what the rest of the year will show me about Hardy. At the moment, I feel I am being set up for a very good “Thomas Hardy Year.”

It was about four o’clock in the morning when Cytherea, though most probably dreaming, seemed to awake–and instantly was transfixed by a sort of spell, that had in it more of awe than of affright. At the foot of her bed, looking her in the face with an expression of entreaty beyond the power of words to portray, was the form of Miss Aldclyffe—wan and distinct. No motion was perceptible in her; but longing—earnest longing—was written in every feature.

They pondered on numerous schemes by which a young lady might be supposed to earn a decent livelihood—more or less convenient and feasible in imagination, but relinquished them all until advertising had been once more tried, this time taking lower ground. Cytherea was vexed at her temerity in having represented to the world that so inexperienced a being as herself was a qualified governess; and had a fancy that this presumption of hers might be one reason why no ladies applied.


Title: Desperate Remedies
Author: Thomas Hardy
Publisher: Wordsworth Classics
Date: 1871
Device: Trade paperback
Pages: 331

Challenges: Classics Club, Mount TBR, Thomas Hardy Readalong