• The Chosen

  • who pays the price of a writer's fame?
  • By: Elizabeth Lowry
  • Narrated by: Philip Bird
  • Length: 9 hrs and 29 mins
  • 3.5 out of 5 stars (2 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

One Wednesday morning in November 1912, Thomas Hardy, an old man in ragged trousers, entombed by paper and increasingly estranged from his wife, Emma, finds her dying in her bedroom. Between his speaking to her and taking her in his arms, she has gone.

The day before, he and Emma had exchanged bitter words, leading Hardy to wonder whether all husbands and wives ended up as enemies to each other. He, his family and Florence Dugdale, the much younger woman with whom he had been in a relationship, all assumed that he would be happy and relieved to be set free. But he is left shattered by the loss.

Hardy finds a set of secret diaries Emma kept about their life together and discovers what Emma had truly felt—that he had been cold, remote and incapable of ordinary human affection and had kept her childless, a virtual prisoner for 40 years. Why had they ever married?

He is consumed by something worse than grief, an absence without form or meaning, a chaos in which certainties have been obliterated. He must re-evaluate himself and reimagine his unhappy wife as she was when they first met.

Hardy's pained reflections on the choices he has made—and must now make—form a unique combination of love story and ghost story, by turns tender, surprising, comic and true. Based on meticulous research, The Chosen—the extraordinary new novel by Elizabeth Lowry—hauntingly searches the unknowable spaces between man and wife, memory and grief, life and art.

©2022 Elizabeth Lowry (P)2022 Quercus Editions Limited

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Profile Image for Rachel Redford
  • Rachel Redford
  • 04-22-22

The Return of the First Wife



This is astonishingly well read. A male reader speaking in a a woman’s voice is a fraught undertaking, but Philip Bird creates the voices of Thomas Hardy’s two wives, Emma Gifford and Florence Dugdale, with subtlety and absolute realism: an impressive achievement.

This is an admirable work inspired by the author’s intimacy with Thomas Hardy’s work and life allowing her to create the palpable reality of Hardy’s emotional turmoil immediately following the death of his first wife Emma in her attic retreat ignored and hurt in the cold prison of Max Gate. The relationships, the servants, wife-to-be Florence and Hardy’s family members are all skilfully created .
But a factual / fictional work is problematic – how much is factual and how much created by the author? I recognise lines from Hardy’s poems woven into the narrative and there’s a clever section where Hardy and Emma discuss Tess and Angel Clare with obvious reference to themselves, but Hardy’s subtly presented impotency being the reason for Emma being ‘denied’ a child is clearly the author’s own very reasonable creation. What else is and does it matter? Are the letters and journals left behind by Emma which form a considerable section of the book and which Hardy reads and finds himself skewered with all his cruel neglect fact or fiction? Perhaps there is a preface in the printed book which makes this clear. I think it does matter but it may not bother others.

It’s a very brave book and a very vivid one. So vivid and real is it that I found it both distressing (such a tragic marriage made up of all too real mutual disappointments!) and infinitely gloomy as Hardy drowned in guilt and sorrow recalling the images of what Emma had once been , as Hardy’s ‘friend’ young Florence Dugdale waited impatiently and unhappily in the Max Gate spare room for the old man to marry her. There is really nothing to brighten the heavy pall of gloom and regret.

Brilliantly done but not for you if you want cheering in any way!

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