This was Thomas Hardy's first published novel. He wrote a previous novel called The Poor Man and the Lady, which was rejected by three publishing houses. Advised to write a pot boiler - or 'sensation novel' - he duly complied. Desperate Remedies is the result.
There is plenty of the key Hardy traits in the novel, or what I have picked up so far from reading his stories.
A lot of the mood is very rich and strange indeed. The first half of the novel he spends building up a lot of bizarre characters and situations. Miss Aldclyffe is a good example, whose haughty tone and behind the scenes wheeling and dealing reminded me of something out of the Marquis de Sade (she helps coax the young Cytherea into a questionable marriage).
The evil Aeneas Manston reminded me of the rake Lovelace out of Samuel Richardson's 18th century uber novel Clarissa (apparently the biggest novel in English). I wait to read a Hardy biography to see if Richardson had any major influence on Hardy. Described as extraordinarily beautiful, Manston's dark and brooding character made for fun reading!
Sometimes I wonder if Hardy had a very black sense of humour, like Christopher Marlowe, or Shakespeare in his spoof Titus Andronicus, which we are supposed to believe is a tragedy.
When we discover that Manston has a wife that he has been concealing, Hardy has her killed off, barely having set foot in the town where the action takes place. Nor are we made to feel any sympathy for her. She is described by Manston as a 'third rate actress', 'an American' and even on the last pages, as a rum drinker!
Eunice Manston, the first wife, spends a night at the Three Tranter Inn, which catches fire and kills her with it (although later plot developments change this very fact).
Yet as we read, we are happy to see her go, because she is a hindrance to Manston's desire to marry Cytherea. And the death is so ridiculous, and so promptly done, that it comes across (to me anyway) as funny. After they discover she is dead a villager describes her as now nothing but a 'cinder'. Whatever happened to respect for the dead?
When I was first reading the novel I thought, this is pretty good, maybe close to some of his later novels, but the over contrived, popular plot ruined it a bit. Populism may have worked for Charlotte Bronte (she was told to write a pot boiler, and came up with Jane Eyre), but I think Hardy is better to leave it alone.