Written in the late 19th century and published in the collection Life’s little ironies, this story focuses on Hardy’s usual areas – rural England and its demise; the position of women in society; the class system and the role of the church in sustaining it and the ironic nature of much of life.
The demise of rural England is best shown in the comparison between Gaymead (the name itself being telling) and London as shown at the end of the first chapter and in the second chapter in particular. After the false rurality of the London park, the reader is transported back to the wide spaces and peace of rural life before the contrast with the dirt and enclosed nature of London (49.7) in a sequence of direct contrasts. It is worth noting here Hardy’s use of the short sentence to drive home a point: “It was all on her account”. Here the narrator seems both accusatory as well as explanatory. Indeed these short sentences might also suggest that the omniscient narrator is teling us precisely what Sophy is thinking. Later the country comes to town in a sequence of brightly coloured carts in the small hours of the morning, each is however described as impregnable – “bastions… walls… howdahs” as if those living on the city can never enter the world of the country.
Women in society is a driving motif in much of Hardy’s writing –prose and poetry. Here the focus is on Sophy for whom Hardy has great sympathy which shines through the whole piece form the opening. Students should consider the ways in which Hardy generates sympathy in the opening (46-47.5). Hardy repeatedly uses language to great effect – simple asides (“poor thing”) and specific adjective choice (“soft, brown, affectionate orbs…”) are mixed with a story that quickly puts the woman into the role of an object – “To the eyes of a man viewing it from behind...”- and a narrative that reproduces on a human scale the reality of the class system of the Victorian age:...