However, we also tackled - but in less depth - Tess Of The D'Urbervilles and Hardy's best book, The Mayor of Casterbridge.
Michael Henchard, to be blunt, has it all. He has his wife, Susan, his daughter (really, not his actual daughter, but Susan's daughter from a later marriage whom he believes is his - read the book as I don't want to give away spoilers - Elizabeth-Jane, and he is Mayor of, well, I'll leave you to work that one out for yourself.
Henchard is the most fascinating character, as he is so self-destructive. It alwsys seemed to me that he was not content with what he had, and when Donald Farfrae arrives on the scene, then his jealousy and hatred of Farfrae - which to be honest, confuses Farfrae who has no desire to be Henchard's enemy - brings about his downfall, a humiliating one.
In the Old Testament, the book of Proverbs hammers something home by mentioning it twice:
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (14:12)
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (16:25)
Then there is that interesting end to the book of Judges:
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (21:25).
That, it seems, is society hitting rock-bottom, the moment when God intervenes and raises up Samuel and take the steps that lead to David becoming king.
What are laws for? They are not to prevent people from doing what they believe is wrong - rather they are there to prevent people from doing what they believe is right.
What we think might be right might actually be the wrong thing, and will lead to destruction. If you ask me who scares me the most, then my answer will be "me, without God".
Anyone who follows my blog knows I'm a big fan of Doctor Who and in my mind, one of the best is The Waters of Mars, one of the specials set between the 30th and 31st seasons. What moves it from beyond good to an instant classic is towards the end when the Doctor has completely lost his moral compass, acting in ways he believes is right. And he is really out of control, and has to be made aware by Adelaide Brooke (via her suicide), and a projection of Ood Sigma, that he has gone too far.
The Doctor as the bad guy, not by any convenient being-possessed-by-hostile-aliens cop-out, but by doing what he thinks is right. That, Torchwood, is what makes sci-fi grown up, not sex and swearing.
American Beauty is one of my favourite films, because it is one where you can see Lester Burnham's life spin, predictably, out of control by his own actions, leading inevitably to his murder.
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. (v.10)
If we are not obedient in the little choices, then we are not going to be obedient in the big choices. There is no point saying that you do little sins, but that you get the big things correct - you don't steal, you don't sleep around etc..
There are decisions that seem right to us, little decisions, things which are "no big deal" and set us on the wrong path.
The Bible says a lot about contentment. Paul tells the Philippians that:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (4:11f.)
And towards the end of his life, Paul writes to Timothy and tells him:
But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (6:6-10)
But does this mean we should not be seeking to move onwards and upwards? Probably not - the emphasis is on being godly and on not having a desire to rich, and thence rushing into ruin and destruction. It is all about motivstion.
On the other hand, we also need to accept we are where God placed us.
With the last job, the interview was odd, as the emphasis was on me starting on the calculations team. And I turned up for training, and thought after a few hours that it seemed odd that it was all about reviewing cases and coming to decisions on them. Ho hum, I assumed this was just preliminary stuff and then the calcs training would begin.
Checking I learned that no, I would be on a review team. And I kicked up a fuss and made clear I want to be moved to a calculations team.
Now, at the time I was feeling a bit distant from God, and my spiritual life wasn't what it should be. And that led me to bad decision - rather than accepting what I was given as being from God and choosing to be content with it, I took the other approach. And it wasn't forgotten.
One of my favourite bands are Fleetwood Mac, and Stevie Nicks does a lot of good solo stuff as well, such as Somtimes It's A Bitch - a song which only hit number 40 in the hit parade, in August 1991, in the week that Bryan Adams' (Everything I Do) I Do It For You was only on its 8th week at number 1 (a song which, by that stage, I was sick of hearing on the wireless).
There is one thing that Nicks sings towards the end:
Sometimes the picture just ain't what it seems. You get what you want...but it's not what you need
And that sums it up. I hadn't chosen to be content. And I got what I wanted - and it damaged.
When a new calculations team was chosen, I was remembered. And I exchanged a job I was good at for the one I thought I wanted.
It was during that time that my health got worse.
If only I had learned to be content, if only.....