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The Thomas Hardy Project

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

This three book series imagines a world where many of the characters created by Thomas Hardy meet in 1990s Minneapolis. Four friends in seminary training are challenged by their professor to read and review Victorian novels for extra credit in their theology class. As they read these dense, long, and imposing Victorian novels, they begin to date women who eerily embody four of Hardy's heroines: Bathsheba Everdene, Tess Derbyfield, Elfride Swancourt, and Anne Garland.

When the novels intersect with their personal lives, they find that Christ-figures appear all around them, and within. Relationships are made and tragically broken the night that all four Hardy Girls meet at a CD release party.

Book One: The Hardy Girl, A Disintegration Story. This book introduces the "quadrad" of 2nd year seminary students who are all coming apart in some way after reading Thomas Hardy. Thomas meets Terri, Mike meets Beth, Paul meets Freya, and Andrew meets Anne. The novel moves steadily toward a CD release party where all the Hardy Girls are gathered in the same place at the same time, releasing creative and destructive forces. (coming in June)

Book Two: The Hardy Boy, Integration. This book follows the story of Thomas' attempt to find Terri, who has disappeared into Missouri (Misery). The price he must pay to get her back reveals himself to be the Christ-figure of his own narrative. (coming in June)

Book Three: Tom, the Obscured. Thomas and Terri return to Minneapolis to lives that have been changed forever and in profound ways. (coming in August)

Selection from Book One: Chapter Two

Two weeks later, Mike finished his paper for Needleman. Ever the hardworking scholar, it was ten pages longer than it needed to be. As it was a Monday night again and the Grain Belt special was on at The Hatch, the four made their way along the avenue leading from the seminary. Circles of light from the streetlights stretched along in this Victorian section of Saint Paul’s western suburbs. The homes in the area around the seminary were large and adorned representing a bygone era where monied families constructed their “statement” in stone, wood, and glass. The young men traveled past the museum-like edifices, moving in and out of the circles of light, hunching their shoulders against the cold. Particles of snow hung in the air, too weightless to land, some traveling back upwards, caught in the white conical projections of their breaths. This being March, the cold had taken on a dampness, but this always meant the threat of new snow.

Along the western horizon sat the picturesque skyline of Minneapolis with its gold and silver hues. In the snowy air, downtown took on an expanded and hallowed glow that illuminated the low-hanging clouds. The city seemed ethereal, vision-like, as though nothing could be obscured in its ring of light. Thomas especially liked the Minneapolis skyline. Each year he had been careful to choose a dorm room that looked out over this second city on the upper Mississippi. Nights like this, the scene was inspiring, seeming almost as John the Apostle’s vision of the City of God. The tallest buildings were in the very center of the city, fifty stories or more, with lower classes of skyscrapers extending out in concentric rings. It made the city appear as two sides of a descending graph, mirrored on the Y-axis.

In the summer, the skyline provided the foreground for dramatic thunderstorms coming in from the west, the strongest that Thomas had ever witnessed. Having also grown up in the eastern section of North America, the extremes of the central continent were still new to him: both the dry and biting cold winters, as well as the relenting humidity of the summers with their frequent storms. He once calculated that, in Fahrenheit, the Twin Cities could see an annual temperature swing of nearly one-hundred-and-thirty degrees, which seemed impossible, and yet true. At the prodding of some friends in his first year in Minnesota, he had boiled a pot of water on a winter day of minus-thirty. Having taken that pot outside, he threw its contents into the air, only to watch the scalding water burst into thousands of ice crystals and float away in the wind. Having transformed instantly from one state to another, not a drop of water had touched the ground. Thomas thought of those tiny shards again as he watched crystals of similar size float by his face as they approached The Hatch.

Inside, the music was expectedly loud. Unexpected was the number of people. Strange for a Monday night, there were only a few tables open. The quadrad took one in the back, close to the dartboards, which were also occupied.

“So, are we celebrating Mike’s paper?” Thomas asked as they sat down.

Mike smiled and wagged his head back and forth. “Glad to have that thing done.”

“Well, was it worth it?” asked Paul with a laugh.

“You know, it was. Totally. Totally worth it. But actually, that is not why I’m celebrating.”

The eyes of the other three looked up from their menus.

“Okay, I’ll bite. So, what’s up, Mikey?” Andrew inquired.

“Well, I’m not saying it’s official. But I might be dating someone,” answered Mike. Again, he gestured with his hand, chopping it on the table in front of him as he said this, awkwardly definitive.

“‘Might be dating someone’,” Paul scoffed. “Okay, how do you do that? I’m interested.”

“Shut up, Paul,” said Andrew tersely. “If he’s dating someone, he’s dating someone….”

There was another awkward silence as everyone waited for Mike to fill in the blanks. He seemed to relish the moment, sitting with a satisfied smile.

“Her name is Beth — Elizabeth, actually. She’s the daughter of a couple my parents chummed around with back in Des Moines. She’s a little older than I am and sadly, she lost her husband last year.”

Again, the awkward silence. This was not how most “I’m almost dating someone” stories usually started.

“He died?” Paul interjected.

“Yes, Einstein. That’s exactly what ‘lost her husband’ means. He died in a car accident. She’s got two little kids, a boy and a girl. She’s inherited some land that belonged to her husband’s family, some sort of hobby farm.”

“So, have you met her? Beth, is it?” asked Andrew, very interested.

“Yeah, long ago. She got married in college and had kid one and kid two right away, they are separated by just a little over a year in age. I’m going to drive down next weekend and see her.”

“So, your parents are setting you up? What does it mean you might be dating her?” asked Tom.

“Just how it sounds, I might be dating her. Meaning after this weekend, maybe I’ll try to date her.”

“Ohhhh!” everyone seemed to say at once.

Laughing, Paul offered, “I took you to mean you guys had been hanging out and had, you know, gotten together somehow…” Andrew gave Paul a quick backhand to the shoulder.

“Nice,” said Mike. “Well, we’re gonna see.”

“So, she told your parents she wanted to meet you… again?” asked Thomas, still trying to understand the purpose of the celebration.

“I guess it’s all up in the air. I think she is open to meeting someone. That’s all I know.”

“What is she like?” asked Andrew, trying to rescue the moment. “Describe her.”

“It’s been ten years, but she’s pretty cute. I remember that much. Our families used to get together every couple of months. We played together when we were kids, but as we got older, not so much. The last couple of times I saw her I was intimidated. She got her bachelor’s in business from a community college in Iowa City. I guess she’s going to turn the hobby farm into some sort of long-term source of income. Horseback riding, local vegetables, that sort of thing.”

“She sounds like she knows what she’s doing!” said Thomas, impressed.

“She does. Like I said, the older we got as kids the more intimidated I was.”

"Say Mike. You know what’s going on here don’t you?

“What?” asked Mike, hesitantly.

“She’s Bathsheba!” Andrew cried. “That’s hilarious.”


“From the book, Bathsheba is the main character, right? One of Hardy’s heroines.”

“From the book I read for Needleman? Oh, man. Not really… What, you’ve read it?” asked Mike tentatively.

“Back in high school. I don’t remember much, but wasn’t that basically the situation with the heroine of Madding Crowd? I’m just joking really, but it fits, right?” asked Andrew.

“Um,” hesitated Mike. “Well, I hadn’t thought of that. I had no reason to think of it either. But I guess some details fit. Coincidence, I guess. And, there is way more to the story.”

“In my experience there are no coincidences,” observed Thomas serenely.

“I don’t know what y’all are talking about, I only know one Bathsheba. She’s the one King David watched having a shower,” chuckled Paul.

Mike laughed. “Well, there’s a lot more to that story too.”

“So Mike’s got a crush on a girl from his childhood. That is worth a toast,” said Andrew. “Let me start it off: To Mike, that he might do better than—”

“We expect?” interjected Paul.

“Shut up, lame-o!” countered Mike. “Forget the toast, let’s order, I’m starving. Next week I will let you know how it goes. Don’t ask me anything more about it till then.”

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