A Pair of Blue Eyes
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"A Pair of Blue Eyes" Summary

By Thomas Hardy

classics | 374 pages | Published in NaN

Elfride Swancourt is the daughter of the Rector of Endelstow, a remote sea-swept parish in Corwall based on St Juliot, where Hardy began A Pair of Blue Eyes during the beginning of his courtship of his first wife, Emma. Blue-eyed and high-spirited, Elfride has little experience of the world beyond, and becomes entangled with two men: the boyish architect, Stephen Smith, and the older literary man, Henry Knight. The former friends become rivals, and Elfride faces an agonizing choice. Written at a crucial time in Hardy's life, A Pair of Blue Eyes expresses more directly than any of his novels the events and social forces that made him the writer he was. Elfride's dilemma mirrors the difficult decision Hardy himself had to make with this novel: to pursue the profession of architecture, where he was established, or literature, where he had yet to make his name. This updated edition contains a new introduction, bibliography, and chronology.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A young woman navigates love, desire, and societal expectations in Victorian England.


"A Pair of Blue Eyes" is a novel written by Thomas Hardy, first published in 1873. It is a story that explores themes of love, fate, and social conventions in Victorian England. The protagonist, Elfride Swancourt, finds herself torn between two men and must navigate the complexities of her relationships while grappling with the expectations of society.

Brief Synopsis

The novel is set in the fictional county of Wessex, which is inspired by the real-life Dorset in southwest England. Elfride Swancourt, the young and beautiful daughter of a country vicar, resides in the picturesque village of Endelstow. Elfride is engaged to Stephen Smith, a young architect who she met during a trip to London. However, her heart is divided when she meets Henry Knight, an older and more sophisticated man who has recently moved to the area.

As Elfride's relationship with Henry grows, she finds herself increasingly drawn to him. However, she is torn between her feelings for Henry and her commitment to Stephen. The novel explores the complexities of love and the challenges faced by Elfride as she tries to navigate her emotions and make a choice that aligns with societal expectations.

Main Characters

Character NameDescription
Elfride SwancourtThe young and beautiful protagonist of the story, torn between her love for Stephen and Henry.
Stephen SmithA young architect engaged to Elfride, who finds himself competing with Henry for her affections.
Henry KnightAn older and more experienced man who recently moved to the village and captures Elfride's attention.

Summary of Different Story Points Over Chapters

Chapter 1: Elfride's Innocence and Introduction to Stephen Smith

The novel begins with an introduction to Elfride Swancourt, a young and innocent girl living with her father, the vicar of Endelstow. Elfride meets Stephen Smith, a young architect, during a visit to London. They form a connection and become engaged.

Chapter 2: Meeting Henry Knight

Elfride encounters Henry Knight, a sophisticated and older man who has recently moved to the area. She is intrigued by him and begins to develop feelings for him, despite her engagement to Stephen.

Chapter 3: Conflicting Emotions

Elfride finds herself torn between her feelings for Stephen and her growing attraction to Henry. She struggles to reconcile her emotions and make a decision.

Chapter 4: A Twist of Fate

A series of events lead to Elfride and Henry being stranded together overnight on a cliffside. This experience deepens their connection and intensifies Elfride's feelings for Henry.

Chapter 5: Stephen's Discovery

Stephen learns about Elfride's growing affection for Henry and confronts her about it. This revelation leads to a rift between them.

Chapter 6: The Climax

Elfride and Henry's relationship reaches a critical point, and they must confront the consequences of their actions. The climax of the story involves a shocking event that changes the course of their lives.

Main Events

  1. Elfride meets Stephen Smith and becomes engaged to him.
  2. Elfride meets Henry Knight and becomes increasingly attracted to him.
  3. Elfride is torn between her feelings for Stephen and Henry.
  4. Elfride and Henry are stranded together overnight, deepening their connection.
  5. Stephen discovers Elfride's feelings for Henry, leading to a rift between them.
  6. A shocking event occurs, changing the course of Elfride and Henry's lives.

Themes and Insights

Love and Fate

The novel explores the complexities of love and the role of fate in shaping relationships. Elfride's feelings for both Stephen and Henry demonstrate the unpredictable and often uncontrollable nature of love. The story raises questions about whether love is a choice or something predetermined by fate.

Social Conventions

The expectations and conventions of Victorian society play a significant role in the decisions and actions of the characters. Elfride's struggle to navigate her relationships while conforming to societal norms highlights the constraints placed on individuals during this time period.

Self-Discovery and Identity

Throughout the story, Elfride undergoes a journey of self-discovery and grapples with her own identity. Her conflicting emotions and the choices she must make force her to confront her true desires and confront the expectations of others.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Pair of Blue Eyes" is a captivating novel that delves into the complexities of love, fate, and societal expectations. Thomas Hardy's beautiful prose and vivid descriptions transport readers to the Wessex countryside, allowing them to immerse themselves in the emotional journey of the characters. The story serves as a reminder that love is often unpredictable and that societal norms can sometimes hinder personal happiness.


"A Pair of Blue Eyes" is a timeless novel that explores universal themes and presents readers with a compelling and emotionally charged story. Thomas Hardy's skillful storytelling and nuanced characters make this a must-read for fans of Victorian literature. As Elfride navigates her relationships and confronts societal expectations, readers are left contemplating the nature of love, fate, and the complexities of human emotions.

A Pair of Blue Eyes FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'A Pair of Blue Eyes'?

    'A Pair of Blue Eyes' is a novel that falls under the genre of Victorian romance.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Pair of Blue Eyes'?

    The author of 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' is Thomas Hardy.

  3. When was 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' first published?

    'A Pair of Blue Eyes' was first published in 1873.

  4. What is the main theme of 'A Pair of Blue Eyes'?

    The main theme of 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' revolves around love, fate, and the consequences of choices.

  5. Who are the main characters in 'A Pair of Blue Eyes'?

    The main characters in 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' are Elfride Swancourt, Stephen Smith, and Henry Knight.

  6. Where is 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' set?

    'A Pair of Blue Eyes' is primarily set in the fictional county of Wessex, which is based on the real county of Dorset in England.

  7. Is 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' part of a series?

    No, 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' is a standalone novel and not part of any series.

  8. Is 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' suitable for young readers?

    'A Pair of Blue Eyes' is generally suitable for young adult and adult readers, but parental discretion is advised due to some mature themes.

  9. Has 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' been adapted into a film or TV series?

    Yes, 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' has been adapted into a film titled 'The End of the Affair' in 1999.

  10. What is the writing style of 'A Pair of Blue Eyes'?

    The writing style of 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' is descriptive and reflective, characteristic of Thomas Hardy's literary works.