“You know too much of me to respect me, and too little to pity me. A half knowledge of another’s life mostly does injustice to the life half know.”
—Thomas Hardy, from The Hand of Ethelberta
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was very good at getting to the soul of the matter and reflecting the feelings of his characters. He adored the people and the land (South West England) in which he grew up and featured both in his writings. Often critical of Victorian life, his characters often lived under tragic circumstances and happy endings held no sway over Hardy.
Yet, and this is especially true for his early writings, he wrote in a semi-autobiographical way, incorporating true life stories from around his area of the country and shinning a light on some hypocritical morals of the Victorians, as well as showcasing the plight of the poor. In this novel, the main character has a humble past, but married well. Her husband dies soon after their marriage and she must walk a tightrope between her past, which at this point would degrade her in the eyes of others, and the society for which she was now a part of.
The novel was written early in Hardy’s writing career and is not one of his better known books. The rest of the quote changes the the reader’s thoughts on the character’s personality, so I kept it till last: “Then since I can hardly get to know you more, I must do my best to know you less, elevate my opinion of your nature by forgetting what it consists in.” But regardless of what it goes on to say, this is a gentle reminder not to judge a person solely on the part we see, but to consider what we don’t know about the person, their history and circumstances, before forming a strong opinion.