27 thoughts on “Collected Short Stories – Thomas Hardy

  1. THE THREE STRANGERS

    “THERE IS NO FUN
    UNTILL i CUM”

    .
    A dark rainy atmospheric Higher Crowstairs house where a shepherd lives, high and low lands thereabouts having different microclimates, and tonight there’s a Christening party with 19 guests, a dancing party vying with a ‘sit-still party’. The respective interactivity of three male strangers (one dressed in cinder-gray) who arrive separately out of the dark rainy blue, as it were, is a hoot and a half, involving a hanging for sheep stealing or writing prose that trips you up at every turn. In a good way. But what is a “hedge-carpenter”? And there are also today’s “‘wuzzes and flames’ (hoarses and phlegms)” and ‘grogblossoms’ up the nose.

  2. A TRADITION OF EIGHTEEN HUNDRED AND FOUR

    “…an invasion of England through a Channel tunnel…”

    F1679AAD-6E01-453D-A548-7CD09CB4CB0AOr through the mucus ducts of the body? I’ll leave you to decide which of these it is? If either! A tale – 1804 may not have been the exact year – Boney plans to land his troops but where? A retrospective narrative by a boy when older, a boy taken a fancy to by his Uncle Job who accompanies him on the shepherding and climming near the coast … they see Boney himself on English land. To plan the way for the troops’ flat-bottomed boats to land. Boney once crowned himself and named himself after some brandy, too. But that’s not really in this story. But I imagined it was! Patience is needed sometimes by you when I freewheel a review!

  3. THE MELANCHOLY HUSSAR OF THE GERMAN LEGION

    “, the walls in this district being built of rubble, without mortar, so that there were plenty of crevices for small toes.”

    Why King George in those days had German soldiers on our south coast as part of his troops is beyond my knowledge! Anyway, this is the story of Phyllis, starved of “pretty mirrors”, romantically ping-ponging, under the stare of her father, between some gormless chap called Gould and a German hussar who is, against her father’s wishes, her true love across the borders of walls that dare not be breached by love. Misunderstandings and mis-trysts, desertions by sea, and due deserts by firing squad. Why have I read this melodrama? I have no idea – but the semi-coloned and tentacular clauses are in themselves satisfying to read.

    “The wall is white, and somebody in the field may see your shape against it!”

  4. THE WITHERED ARM

    “A white bonnet and a silver-coloured gownd. It whewed and whistled so loud when it rubbed against the pews…”

    You must already know this Egdon Heath and Casterbridge story. So, no need to re-rehearse the plot for you. And I have simply read it again and laid myself open to its meaning as evolved subconsciously in my mind throughout the last 12 years of self-training in the art and freewheeling rigour of gestalt real-time reviewing. A story of milking and milkmaids, and of two women, both betrayed by the same man, and of the boy-child that he gave one of them. There emerge “freaks of coincidence”, and a mutually synergistic curse as balanced by alternating dream-streams between the two women, a curse inadvertently aimed by each of them at the other — one woman as an “incubus” upon the other’s body, the latter who then stigmatises or squeezes the former’s arm with a recognisable four-fingered grip… and an identity later revealed by a singularly conjured floating egg-yolk face just as, at the end, we see that boy-child now grown into a man subjected to an undeserved hanging, duly stigmatised or squeezed, this time by a rope — and, eventually, I feel, there evolves a new mutual synergy of the other egg-yolk face precariously balanced or suspended “to the rhythm of alternating milk-streams.”

  5. FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

    “‘It is a very common folly of human nature, you know, to think the course you did not adopt must have been the best,’…”

    It is a shame that this story has such a boringly inappropriate title, because it is such a great story. It is the story of George Barnet in a fully thought-out genius loci of a community, featuring the audit trail of his life, its unrequited love, abrupt deaths of others, an inappropriate marriage, stoical decisions that are counter-productive but seemingly correct, unexpected but finally appropriate turnings, and an ending that is perfect and intensely appropriate, but not necessarily a happy ending. And should I take you through the audit trail of George Barnet in detail it would completely spoil it for you. Suffice for me to mention things (in random order) that caught my fancy, some appropriate, some not — shepherds calling from hill to hill, flanking this genius loci; the house George built called ‘Chateau Ringdale’; the wallpaper he tore up before it could be used to decorate the Chateau’s walls; Charlson the medic (“he was needy; he was not a coddle; he gossiped with men instead of with women;”); the crocus in Raffaelesque Lucy’s garden; the bulging green hills and the quiet harbour; the unopened umbrella of forgetting; the caged canary; the extraordinarily delayed death by drowning; the faded complexions within Joshua Reynolds frames; the lack of health and safety of children encouraged to play in empty, half-built houses; the pregnant emptiness between two separate letters just received together; and finally that stoicism again and a righteous perversity.

  6. INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

    “O no. I had only this infernal cough.”

    “Either the moss and mildew have eat away the words, or we have arrived in a land where the natyves have lost the art o’ writing,…”

    Orienteering by means of empty fingerposts where roads fork is one thing. But triangulating this book’s earlier “freaks of coincidence” by means of this story’s “momentary freak of fancy” is quite another! A puckish story about many human manoeuvres that try to defy “the sport of fate”, while demonstrating the morbid Hardyesque ‘dying fall’ that ever prevails by dint of chance births and inevitable deaths in and around the realms of love and marriage, all as riven by politics-over-romance and mankind’s sheer bloody-minded stoicism. The “dilatoriness of watched pots”, stubborn pride and the sarcastic mention of “nice long speeches on mangold-wurzel”, as part of the literary gestalt and the “conjuncture” of manners and manoeuvres that have blighted humanity since time immemorial!

    “It was the universal custom thereabout to wake the bees by tapping their hives whenever a death occurred in the household,…”

    “…another attack of the cough, which seemed to shake him to pieces.”

  7. Pingback: Interlopers at the Knap | THE DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS: Wood, Metal, Stone

  8. THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

    I. How His Cold Was Cured

    “He advanced to the parlour, as the front room was called, though its stone floor was scarcely disguised by the carpet, which only overlaid the trodden areas, leaving sandy deserts under the furniture.”

    Stockdale, young temporary replacement preacher, travels to this position in Nether-Moynton, where he has to ad-lib his own accommodation, and finds rooms with an attractive widow called Lizzy Newberry, whose ‘first’ husband had widowed her, she says. He has a cold and sneezing and there is some dubious tapping, she arranges with him, of smuggled barrels (“floated over in the dark from France”) as a ‘medicinal’ aid! A very engaging narrative…

    • II. How He Saw Two Other Men

      Some theatrical business, or sort of Figaro operatic, a man hiding in the laurel bushes spying on the miller wooing the widow at her door. watched, too, by the jealous preacher from inside, also worried about her getting involved in rum barrel smuggling things….

    • III. The Mysterious Greatcoat

      “; and he concluded, as he always had done, that she [Mrs Newberry] had a cold, headache, or other ailment, unless she had kept herself invisible to avoid meeting and talking to him,… […] … Susan Wallis was there, and that she had come to ask if Mrs Newberry could give her some mustard to make a plaster with, as her father was taken very ill on the chest.”

      As well as these shenanigans, our preacher called Stockdale grapples with himself to grasp the nettle with regard to the widow Lizzy Newberry’s affiancement to himself. And not only he, but also us, wonder why Lizzy is so variable in her sleeping and waking times, to the extent of sometimes getting up during the afternoon! And the appearance in the house of what she told him were her dead husband’s clothes — but with fresh mud spattered on them, he noticed!

    • IV. At The Time of the New Moon

      “O, they’ll go out in a boat and drag a creeper — that’s a grapnel— along the bottom till it catch hold of the stray-line.”

      Between moon and moon, they call it a dark, and this seems emblematic of our preacher and his agonising over catching Lizzy, to clinch or snag her from going astray…even if her otherwise hardy creator is now dead, and so unable to help reclaim her by his yet forthcoming text?

      “But the spirit of the text is in force just the same.”

    • V. How They Went to Lulwind Cove

      “I hope we shall be able to do it this dark, for when we have to sink ‘em for long it makes the stuff taste bleachy, and folks don’t like it so well.”

      The tubs between Owlett and “owl’s light”, Lizzy’s contraband partner Owlett and Preacher Stockdale in cheek by jowl rivalry over love of Lizzy, but in cahoots because of this love, a fact outweighing Stockdale’s sense of guilt in accompanying them on this owl’s light mission … Stockdale now in self-conscious and unacknowledged cheek by jowl with Lizzie at the window seeing the king’s contra-forces nosing around her house on noisy hooves. But why the tear in the eye, Lizzy? Cove and Covid, be feared, I say. Beware the ‘chine hoops.’ Thinking outside the box, nay, outside the bound cask.

    • VI. The Great Search at Nether-Moynton (first three pages)

      Stockdale’s excitement at events of the evening and his dilemma between conscience and love, he wakes up after a sleepless night to find the custom-men sniffing for tubs, and sniffing, sniffing, on hands and knees….
      Sniffed in various places…

      “Among the places tested and examined were:—
      Hollow trees Cupboards Culverts
      Potato-graves Clock-cases Hedgerows
      Fuel-houses Chimney-flues Faggot-ricks
      Bedrooms Rainwater-butts Haystacks
      Apple-lofts Pigsties Coppers and ovens.

      […]
      They now sniffed at –
      Smock-frocks Smiths’ and shoemakers’ aprons
      Old shirts and waistcoats Knee-naps and hedging-gloves
      Coats and hats Tarpaulins
      Breeches and leggings Market-cloaks
      Women’s shawls and gowns Scarecrows

      And as soon as the mid-day meal was over, they pushed their search into places where the spirits might have been thrown away in alarm:-
      Horse-ponds Mixens Sinks in yards
      Stable-drains Wet ditches Road-scrapings, and
      Cinder-heaps Cesspools Back-door gutters.”

      • “The men, who had been hired for the day, looked at their hands and knees, muddy with creeping on all fours so frequently, and rubbed their noses, as if they had almost had enough of it; for the quantity of bad air which had passed into each one’s nostril had rendered it nearly as insensible as a flue. However, after a moment’s hesitation, they prepared to start anew, except three, whose power of smell had quite succumbed under the excessive wear and tear of the day.”

        Note the nostrils and the ‘flue’!
        Stockdale, Lizzy, Owlett and others hide in the bell tower of the church while the Preventmen search Owlett’s orchard – and they upend an apple tree!
        The illegality of the tubs seems more of a game to me than anything else. Hardy has got the absurdist bit in his teeth, and very little of his custom’s angst or morbidity. So far.

    • VII. The Walk to Warm’ell Cross and Afterwards

      ‘O, there’s such a stoor, Mrs. Newberry and Mr. Stockdale! The king’s excisemen can’t get the carts ready nohow at all! They pulled Thomas Ballam’s, and William Rogers’s, and Stephen Sprake’s carts into the road, and off came the wheels, and down fell the carts; and they found there was no linch-pins in the arms; and then they tried Samuel Shane’s waggon, and found that the screws were gone from he, and at last they looked at the dairyman’s cart, and he’s got none neither! They have gone now to the blacksmith’s to get some made, but he’s nowhere to be found!’

      A bit of a rum do, as the smugglers seem to get the better of the Government’s Preventative-Men! As if rebelling against a lockdown today!? But the Government eventually wins — as does love…eventually. Sorry about the spoiler. But between whom is this love? And I am sure Hardy would have preferred a different ending! That forking of roads again with blank fingerposts.
      A wonderful off-beat work I am pleased to have discovered here.

  9. A GROUP OF NOBLE DAMES

    PART FIRST: BEFORE DINNER

    Dame the First: The First Countess of Wessex
    By the Local Historian

    Pages 209 – 221

    “— some of them rollicking blades whose presence his wife would not have countenanced had she been at home. ‘When the cat’s away—!’ said the Squire.”

    The sometimes Quixotic Squire has a stroke when he hears his wife has pulled the wool over his eyes and surreptitiously affianced their thirteen year old daughter Betty (the apple of his eyes), affianced her to the man as future husband of his wife’s choice, not his own! Betty is not due to get married for another five years, so life trundles on. I am more interested in Betty’s character developing from a no-care teenager to an older teenager who wonders if her Dad had not been right after all. The actual rivalry between her parents is fierce, or is it? We are only hearing one side of the story, I guess. I somehow feel that the wife has good intentions. You can’t believe everything you read… Or anything?!

    • Pages 220 – 231

      “You are a woman now,” added her mother severely, “and these postponements must come to an end.”

      Betty now approaches 18 when she had been originally promised to her husband for him to be possessed of her following the earlier marriage arrangement. And I have mixed feelings and sympathies with all five parties, bearing in mind the nature of the times — Betty herself, her mother, the father now with severe gout, the promised husband and the young man that both the father and Betty preferred. I reeled back, too, when viewing Betty’s “enormity” of behaviour in visiting and kissing a friend in greeting, a young girl of Betty’s age suffering from “a disease whose prevalence at that period was a terror of which we at present can hardly form a conception.”

    • Pages 231 – 246

      “‘Is this your love?’ said Betty reproachfully. ‘O, if you was sickening for the plague itself, and going to be as ugly as the Ooser in the church vestry, I wouldn’t—‘“

      This is so great a story, especially as I could not scry, in the real-time of reading it, its potential turnings. Can you? All endings are happy, simply if it be a tractable portrait of natural life and death, and its mixed motives, its sadnesses and satisfactions. I am astonished that gout is such a dangerous illness, but he did not rest and laboured under stress and the combination can kill. And the eventual reactions of the two younger men in love with Betty proved that one did and one didn’t. Like truth kissing a Covid patient today with no mask upon its sincere face. And the ‘dying fall’ of the fate of this story (and the next one below) is so charming, I could imagine it being read aloud amid “deformed butterflies, fossil ox-horns, prehistoric dung-mixens” and “the dead eyes of the stuffed birds —“

  10. DAME THE SECOND –
    BARBARA OF THE HOUSE OF GREBE
    By the Old Surgeon

    A story that is genuinely chilling, and disturbing, and Gothic, but not supernatural in any way, a glance at the past when churches were “lukewarm” in their accoutrements, via the eyes of the old surgeon, this time, the eyes for more modern Hardy. A statue making love to another statue. And then one statue’s head lopped and disfigured to reflect reality as dream, or dream as reality, or, rather, a method of brutally paradoxical attraction for the woman’s living sculpture to return from an ex-lover to now love her cruel husband. You must read the tale of Barbara, Lord Uplandtowers and Edmond Willowes. And the mœurs of the time that makes missteps of best intentions, the écorché of reactionary cruelty as an instinctively acceptable way to act, and how can we blame such bare machinations? They still reside hidden with us today, beyond even Hardy’s times. The abuse incubated by viral isolation, whatever new communication devices we have available, an isolation that history itself once impelled by dint of huge untraversed social distances. Physical distances, too.

  11. DAME THE THIRD
    THE MARCHIONESS OF STONEHENGE
    By the Rural Dean

    “I feel as if I had become a corpse’s bride!”

    A counterintuitive perverseness threads this whole story of a rich beautiful lady (later marrying the Marquis of Stonehenge), a lady who once secretly married an ordinary poor man and when he died of heart failure when secretly in her room upon her telling him that she regretted marrying him, and she palms off the widowhood on a woman of the husband’s own station in life who once loved him and had lost him to the then future Marchioness. Don’t go there! There are many other perverse and counterintuitive twists and turns until the Marchioness gets her final come-uppance. And, oh yes, the Marchioness had been left pregnant by the man before he died of heart failure and before she dragged his body to a place where she mocked up his death in a place other than where he had died…. a manhandling more difficult than transporting huge stones to Salisbury Plain, I guess. And I could go on! But I won’t. You wouldn’t believe me either! I blame the Rural Dean, not Hardy.

  12. DAME THE FOURTH, LADY MOTTISFONT
    By the Sentimental Member

    “It need hardly be said that our innocent young lady, loving him so deeply and joyfully as she did, replied that she would do all she could for the nameless child; and, shortly afterwards, the pair were married in the same cathedral that had echoed the whispers of his declaration, the officiating minister being the Bishop himself; a venerable and experienced man, so well accomplished in uniting people who had a mind for that sort of experiment, that the couple, with some sense of surprise, found themselves one while they were still vaguely gazing at each other as two independent beings.”

    After meeting in such a solemn place as this cathedral, the description of which, as environmental assets bodily and psychological, this ironically UNsentimental story makes much play of, the eponymous lady marries the prestigious man she met there, but the ceremony as described in the above quote seems to be a premonition of how this story pans out and ends, with glib and fickle parental feelings for a foundling girl called Dorothy and a Countess (far more beautiful than our Dame), a Countess who is Dorothy’s suspected real mother as earlier born illegitimately to her and to our Dame’s husband, but the affections of all three slide all over Dorothy and don’t stick, as even our Dame’s once steadfast affections for this waif-like foundling failed to stick. And with this story’s bathetic ending I now look forward more to the next Dame’s story due to be told by a churchwarden “with a sly chink to one eyelid—“

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