Wessex Tales Strange Lively and Commonplace Kindle ç

INTRODUCTION THOMAS HARDYThomas Hardy and George Meredith have often been coupled as the last of the Victorians In both cases the term—as journalistic terms are too apt to be— is peculiarly inappropriate Neither Meredith nor Hardy is Victorian except in the sense that they began their careers before the end of that period Rightly or wrongly a certain smug righteousness professional optimism a determined brightness of outlook are generally associated with the art which the Victorian era has bequeathed to us Even Browning and Arnold in some respects the finest minds of the time did not altogether escape this It was left to Meredith and Hardy to break the traditionPerhaps it would be precise to say that the Victorians found it always necessary to lean upon something Darwin had for the acuter minds of his generation shaken religion to its foundations and there was in consequence a somewhat frantic hurry to find among those foundations fragments solid enough to lean upon and abstract enough to remain untouched by the doctrine of evolution Can the earth philosophy which Meredith turned towards be called one of these fragments? He found some such emotional and ethical substitute necessary at any rate It was Hardy who first walked forth without light into the wildernessHardy is a novelist in consequence who supremely demands that his reader shall have courage He offers no bright panaceas no subtle consolations He is a merciless determinist a passionate ironist He sees the life of man as a harsh glare of prearranged tragedy and he takes pleasure in standing helpless but resolute in the full dreadfulness of this glare It has been said that Hardy is cruel to his characters that he persecutes them that he delights in whipping them from disaster to disaster This is both true and false true in the sense that as an artist Hardy takes the keenest of all pleasures in getting at the essentials of man's nature in showing him to be forever the victim of his own divergent instincts drawn this way and that setting up for himself lofty ideals only to fail of attainment alternately wise and foolish ugly and beautiful false in the sense that it assumes Hardy to be a sort of monster of indifference—whereas in fact he is the profoundest of humanists For it is not man he indicts in the end but the fates the chances the mechanical shuffle of forces which have made man the blind and blundering creature that he is Is it possible that a God would do so cruel a thing? Hardy asks Is there a God at all? If so then in point of intelligence and generosity man is a long way in advance of himIn method Hardy might be called a poetic realist a term which suggests clearly as in this case it should the epic The best of his novels are indeed epics in prose Jude the Obscure for example This has an architectural quality is at the same time as colossal and as beautifully designed as a great cathedral The prose style used is simple and inconspicuous a transparent and easy medium It does not exist for itself as might be said for example of the style of George Moore Only rarely does it take on a glow or speed all of its own But it is supremely adequate to its purpose an instrument tried and perfectedThe two stories in the present volume are early work but none the less very typical If one has a criticism of them it is that the determinism is as yet a little raw has almost the semblance of melodrama coincidence is a trifle overstrained Hardy had not yet acquired the artistic mastery necessary to the concealment of his purpose He shows us the skeleton a little too clearly The bones of it protrude too frequently And in consequence one does not surrender to the thesis as willingly as one does in the later work—in which indeed one does not surrender one is rather simply mastered Nevertheless these two stories contain in germ all that we have come to associate with Hardy The determinism is present the preoccupation with rural rather than with urban men and scenes the vigorous and unswerving march of the narrative—CONRAD AIKEN


10 thoughts on “Wessex Tales Strange Lively and Commonplace

  1. says:

    By now I think I must have made it fairly obvious that I love Thomas Hardy and so I was looking forward to my re reading of this superb collection of Hardy shorter fiction for my on going Hardy reading challenge Wessex Tales contains seven stories the first two of them really very short – the others considerably longer In this collection Hardy explored familiar themes of marriage and rural life that we see in his novels but he also experiments rather in a supernatural tale ‘The Withered Arm’ which I think I have read at least three times as it crops up in various other short story collections The Three Strangers is wonderfully atmospheric with a delightful little twist although short it is a perfectly crafted little story a small isolated cottage packed with local folk for a celebration inclement weather and the unexpected arrival of three strangers ‘The Withered Arm’ – for me at least – is right up there with the best of the gothic type ghost and supernatural stories There’s a wronged woman an illegitimate child a pretty young wife a curse and a wonderful twist – deliciousHardy doesn’t allow himself to be in anyway curtailed by the genre of the short story – he gives full reign to his imagination and his characters are fully explored Hardy presents us with men making foolish and rash decisions in the pursuit of marriage the women they reject so obviously superior Using irony coincidence comedy and tragedy devices that are so familiar to readers of his novels Hardy could quite easily have spun out several of these brilliantly constructed stories into novels In ‘Fellow Townsmen’ and ‘Interlopers at the Knap’ the stories span many years – characters are made to regret the decisions of the past While in ‘The Distracted Preacher’ a good man puts his principles to one side in order to help the woman he loves – in a wonderfully atmospheric and slightly comic tale of smugglers Hardy was very aware of the changing world in which he lived – and in the Wessex Tales it is a world that is presented to us with the great understanding and affection that he had for it Born and brought up in a humble home Hardy understood the rural world that he wrote about he understood the work of the furze cutter and the shepherd he had an ear for the dialect of the region which he reproduces in many minor characters characters who no matter how minor they are manage to be completely real “Is it necessary to add that the echoes of many characteristic tales dating from that picturesque time still linger about here in or less fragmentary form to be caught by the attentive ear? Some of them I have repeated most of them I have forgotten one I have never repeated and assuredly can never forget” Hardy even manages to lend some of his stories an air of traditional folklore – the story being re told by a nameless narrator after a passage of time I wonder if it these were the kind of stories that Hardy would have grown up hearing Although I do love Hardy’s pastoral novels best I think his shorter fiction to be very well worth reading and wonder if it doesn’t sometimes get overlooked a little I actually think that The Wessex Tales wouldn’t be a bad place to start for those who have never read any Thomas Hardy


  2. says:

    A ready enjoyable read a lot of great stories and some quite different to other Hardy works influenced by the gothic etc I especially loved the story 'An Imaginative Woman'


  3. says:

    It took me a long time to read Hardy I guess there is a fear of approaching a great novelist These short stories are an ideal introduction after reading these I was inspired to read Tess of the D'Ubervilles and I am currently reading The Return of the Native Hardy is like the rural equivalent of Dickens exposing the inequalities of the Victorian Countryside just as Dickens was exposing the inequalities in Victorian London Hardy's tales are set in Wessex which loosely corresponds with Dorset Industrialisation is slowly coming to the countryside there is a sense keenly felt by Hardy that many of the ways will be gone for ever In Wessex Tales Hardy shows sympathy with the work of shepherds dairymaids and smugglers The stories are never rushed they have a gentle pace befitting their 19th century rural setting Hardy is meticulous with details of the land and agricultural practices he is a reliable companion to take you on a journey back to 19th century England


  4. says:

    Many years ago we visited Thomas Hardy country in Dorset England and I bought Wessex Tales seven short stories that Hardy wrote about his native county The book holds special memories for me of the summer day that we visited the cottage where Hardy was born in 1840 in Higher Bockhampton Dorset and where he wrote Under the Greenwood Tree and Far From the Madding Crowd For me it was a literary pilgrimage to the shrine of one of my favorite authorsHardy fictionalized Dorset County as Wessex in this group of seven short stories Wessex also became the setting for most of his novels These tales are based on stories and folklore of his native Dorset in the early 1800s to about 1830 a generation before Hardy was born Hardy was afraid that the folklore history and tales that had been passed down for generations were disappearing and set about preserving them in several volumes of short stories Alternately macabre The Withered Arm humorous The Three Strangers sadly fatalistic Fellow Townsmen and tragic The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion these tales are all strongly connected to Hardy's love of his native Dorset I loved the humorous tale of the rum smugglers in The Distracted Preacher and could feel the excitement of Lizzy as she encouraged the preacher to accompany her on a smuggling expedition I'm sure you will enjoy it Everybody does who tries it said Lizzy and indeed smuggling was not only the excitement but the lifeblood of the town My father did it and so did my grandfather and almost everybody in Nether Moynton lives by it and life would be so dull if it wasn't for that that I should not care to live at all she elaborates By the time Hardy was born there was no rum smuggling it having been taken over by a criminal element and strongly quashed by the government Hardy ever faithful to his beloved Dorset knew and wrote about his county fervently forever preserving its folklore and history in the characters who lived in Wessex however much he constrained them with circumstance and timing I was excited to come upon this book once again and not only enjoy Hardy's engaging tales but also relive the time we visited Dorset and the cottage where he was born Following is a picture and information about Thomas Hardy's cottage


  5. says:

    Not all editions of Wessex Tales are created equal It was first published in 1888 with 5 stories A new edition was published in 1896 which included a new story An Imaginative Woman There was one edition in 1912 which included the core five stories but seemingly played musical chairs with others I have been reading Hardy on my Kindle Complete Works of Thomas Hardy which included the 1896 edition I'm so glad for that else I would have missed that added story which was one of my favorites of the collection A married woman thinks she has fallen in love with a popular poet though she has never met him other than through his poetry and some very minor correspondence The second story The Three Strangers has led me to see that Hardy often uses lighter perhaps simpleinnocent people to contrast even sharply the darker side of his work Those two stories together with the last story The Distracted Preacher were my favorites of the six This story uses as its vehicle a smuggling operation and showed that Hardy is quite capable of foregoing his darker side and has a sense of humor though the humor is definitely not the broader humor of Trollope Yes I had my favorites in this collection but all were enjoyable


  6. says:

    In the first place I love Thomas Hardy so the fact I would like his Wessex Tales is a given Hardy also shows his versatility in depicting the lives of every day people the poor and the rich a supernatural tale a story about smuggling and smugglers and a potential love affair gone awry Hardy was also recording legends and customs of his native Dorset For me at least it was just fun to go home and listen to the music of the language