THOMAS HARDY By Claire Tomalin (Penguin Press, 486 pp., $35) Thomas Hardy's life could have made a novel: a poor provincial boy rises to unthinkable eminence by dint of talent and sheer hardwork, overcoming every obstacle placed in his way. But people havestopped writing novels like that, and one of the reasons is Thomas Hardy. Hardy changed his life by changing the way novels werewritten, discarding their familiar patterns and their reflexive optimism.
So many elements in film-making have become so dependably fine—cinematography, editing, production design—that by now only the exceptions are surprising. Screenwriting is a great deal more variable: the good work of the designers and others is often wasted on trash. Acting, however, is less variable, because most film scripts don't demand much more than verisimilitude from the cast, and many film actors, especially those with salable personalities, are skilled in what might be called behaving—without much distinction between what is on camera and what is off.
Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books by H.J. Jackson (Yale University Press, 324 pp., $27.95) A certain Cambridge classics teacher named Walter Whiter suddenly became fairly famous when a peculiar book of his, A Specimen of a Commentary on Shakespeare, originally published and scorned in 1794, was rediscovered and for a while admired in the twentieth century. The brief vogue of the Specimen prompted some research into its author, so we know that Whiter was for some years the close friend of Richard Porson, the great Greek scholar.