Anyone stepping into a classic 19th century novel such as this needs to leave 21st century ideas of literary style behind and immerse oneself in an entirely different world. Having once made that shift, a feast awaits. Hardy's craft and inventiveness in presenting the personality, appearance, demeanor and habits of of his characters is unmatched in English literature. He often employs what in a lesser writer might be considered a trick, that of introducing a seemingly trivial event or action that sets in motion an often cataclysmic sequence of events (in this case the ill-advised sending of a somewhat juvenile valentine). His stories begin slowly and gain momentum, often with tragic consequences. Most of his main characters are flawed or are prone to make unwise decisions; in this, they are intensely human. Hardy's turn of phrase is often exquisite, emerging clear and shining despite the archaic and (to our ears) overly complex Victorian era syntax. e.g. "That night Gabriel Oak, beneath the screen of closed eyelids, was busy with fancies and full of movement, like a river flowing rapidly under its ice."
A thoroughly satisfying novel.