Pre 1914 prose: Nineteenth Century Short Stories

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Read a selection of short stories by Thomas Hardy. By a careful comparative analysis of the ways in which women are presented in three of his stories, examine their roles in the societies in which they exist. In doing so, analyse the ways in which the attitudes and values inherent in the societies depicted in the stories contribute to their situation. The selection of prose that I have read, written by Hardy, shows several values and concepts that are expressed concerning social class and the position of the genders in society.

The nature of these values and the way in which they are expressed shall be explored. One key way in which the position of women is expressed is through the nature of marriage. The three stories, ‘On the western circuit’, ‘Tony Kytes the arch-deceiver’ and ‘The son’s veto’ all revolve around this concept. In ‘the son’s veto’, the main character Sophy becomes involved in a relationship with Mr Twcott soon after the beginning of the story. Prior to this, however, she is asked to marry by Sam. Her response initially is one of shock and she says, “Why Sam, how can you be so fast? This shows that although she does not intend to marry Sam, it is not because she does not simply like him.

She informs Mr Twcott, who is at the time a widower and not in a relationship with Sophy, following his need to dismiss some of his servants. In this way Sophy is presented as self-less and generous, which is important because the reader’s reaction is then to view Sophy with a high moral status. Her response to being asked whether she wants to marry is “not much. But it would be a home for me”. This shows that her attitude towards marriage is not for love, but for stability and future insurance.

This infers the purpose marriage is for material gain rather than mutual love. However, Sophy subsequently becomes engaged to Mr Twycott. This is again for the same reason, which is stated explicitly in the line “Sophy did not love him, but she had a respect for him”. Hardy describes Mr Twycott as knowing “perfectly well he had committed social suicide”, which shows that the issue of social class is of importance to Mr Twcott, and paramount to the development of the story. Later on, Sophy is described as “wasting hours in the city until her once apple cheeks had waned to pink of the very faintest”.

This natural image shows that marriage has had a debilitating effect on her. Mr Twycott and Sophy’s relationship eventually finishes because of his death, but she is left with a public school boy son, Randolph. His opinions on social class are frequently and explicitly stated, such as when he tells Sophy a marriage to Sam would “degrade me in the eyes of all the gentlemen in England”. This shows that firstly his opinions were of paramount importance to him, and secondly that he felt social class was of importance and that different classes should not mix.

By the end of the story, Hardy proves Randolph to be correct in one area of his beliefs. This is that cross-class marriage does not appear to be successful. This is shown by the failure of Sophy and Mr Twcott’s marriage that was based on a desire for stability and by the promised success of a marriage with Sam due to mutual love and respect. The same negative outlook of marriage is expressed in ‘Tony Kytes the arch-deceiver’ and ‘On the western circuit’, however, it is in a less desperate manner, and is shown in different ways between the two. In ‘Tony Kytes the arch-deceiver’, the style is a farcical comedy.

In this way, Hardy still expresses important views, but through the use of humour and exaggeration. Once again the final marriage is not necessarily a happy one. This is because he only receives a positive reply from the final person he asks. However, unlike in ‘the son’s veto’, this shows signs of a positive outcome, or at least not as anguishing as in ‘the son’s veto’, because there is less of a loss of potential fulfilment. This is shown by the final line which says, “it was a rare party by all accounts”, which shows that their wedding was an enjoyable one.

Tony appears to the reader as indiscriminate between the girls. This is shown by his willingness to marry all of them and his lack of despair at either refusal. This contrasts to ‘the son’s veto’ because the only partner Sophy truly wants is Sam. Furthermore, she is unable to achieve this, whereas Tony does marry one of his potential wives. In ‘on the western circuit’, the ending is similar to ‘Tony Kytes the arch-deceiver’, because he resolves to marry the women who he originally proposed to. However, there is more resent in him doing so.

In ‘Tony Kytes the arch-deceiver’, he is happy with the final result, whereas in ‘ion the western circuit’, Raye marries out of nobility rather than desire. This is shown by the fact he allows the marriage to take place, but he views it “as it were a galley, in which he, the fastidious urban, was chained to work for the rest of his life”. This shows his almost misery at the outcome, but also that he would endeavour to make the marriage a success, despite the knowledge that it could have been better. His willingness to move forwards is also shown by the image at the end of him and Anna travelling away on the train.

This suggests that they are moving onwards in life together. In addition, ‘on the western circuit’ is similar to ‘the son’s veto’, in that the inferior marriage is with someone of a different class. Raye marries Anna who is uneducated and illiterate. This is shown to be a disappointment in the line “he replied with dreary resignation”, which suggests his frustration. Sophy also uneducated, shown by the line “he have been so comfortable”, which shows her inability to make grammatical distinctions. Her marriage is to Mr Twcott, and again, whilst not completely despairing, their marriage is not passionate either.

In both situations, the characters are suggested to achieve fulfilment in the potential, but lost chance of marriage with the character of their own class. The issue of relationships across classes is also explored in ‘Barbara of the house of grebe’. However, in this story it is not shown as a definite failure. As in ‘on the western circuit’ the initial attraction is great, and largely physically based. This is shown by her rejection of Willowes following his scaring and the payment for a statue to remember him in his state of beauty. However, it is not until the end that she realises the nobility and sensibility.

This is shown in the final section, which explicitly demonstrates Hardy’s message. In the sermon for the funeral of Barbara it is said, “he dwelt on the folly of indulgence in sensuous love for a handsome form merely”, which suggests that a relationship should not be based on material commodities, but on a passion for the depths of a personality. This issue is similar to that expressed in ‘on the western circuit’ because the attraction between Anna and Raye is based on physical appearance. In ‘on the western circuit’ the lack of truth is presented as understandable, but not creditable.

This is shown by the fact she “began doing it in kindness to her”, which suggests generosity. This idea is also shown in ‘an imaginative women’ because of the failure of Ella to tell her husband of her idolism for the poet. This results in a total misconception based on jealousy and a lack of knowledge of the truth, which provides a tragic climax at the end. Because of the initial love in their marriage she becomes dissatisfied and this fuels her desire towards Trewe. The significance of this is that Hardy is again expressing the view that marriage without passion id pointless and doomed to fail.

In conclusion, Hardy investigates the nature of the role of females in a way so as to contracts with the traditions of society. The female character is often portrayed as decisive and independent, and often morally secure. This is shown through the concept of marriage as unlikely to succeed without passion based on the values and depths of a person. Hardy does not make moral distinctions between the classes in this selection of stories, but instead he explores the issue of their pointlessness, but the fact that they do exist and affect decisions. In this way it is portrayed that success is only likely to occur within one class.

Tagged In :

Get help with your homework

Haven't found the Essay You Want? Get your custom essay sample For Only $13.90/page

Sarah from CollectifbdpHi there, would you like to get such a paper? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out