Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
As with most romances and much Victorian fiction, I felt a considerable burden lifted from me after I finished Two on a Tower. Yet I can't help but feel regret that it's over so quickly. Although not my favourite genre, Thomas Hardy is skilled enough to draw me into the lives of these two people and make me sympathize with their plight.
Even as I struggled with my distaste for the idiosyncrasies of Victorian English (such as double negatives and a fascination with the passive voice), I enjoyed Hardy's perverse determination to foil every attempt by the main characters to finally marry and live happily ever after. You just know it will end badly, but you still hope that somehow they will succeed.
Swithin St. Cleeve is a young (and thus naive) would-be astronomer. He becomes enamoured with Lady Viviette Constantine. After she becomes a widow, they secretly marry, only to later find out that her husband died much later than was originally reported, thus their marriage is void. Rather than marrying again, Viviette banishes Swithin to an expedition to the southern hemisphere, urging him to improve himself as an astronomer. Instead, she marries the Bishop of Melchester. When they reunite several years later, the shock of seeing him and listening to a marriage proposal causes a fatal heart attack.
The ending was somewhat disappointing, not due to its tragic nature, but the rather whimsical way in which it occurs. Indeed, after a slow and lingering two-thirds, the book picks up the pace and glosses over matters, the revealing of which, Hardy's narrator proclaims, "would avail nothing." While this may be so, it means the conclusion of the book is less substantial than its preceding sections.
While it was enjoyable in its own right and another fascinating look at Thomas Hardy, I can see why this is not considered one of his better works.