Thomas Hardy was one of the great writers of his time, producing novels such as ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’. He is also renown for his short stories and poetry, which seem to all focus on women. In this essay I intend to analyse certain aspects of Hardy’s life, and see how they are reflected in his writing. Thomas Hardy was born on the 2nd June, 1840 in Higher Bockhampton, and although this was only 160 years ago, the period in which he lived in was very different to the one we live in today.
The social classes were extremely important; those from the upper classes did not socialise with those of lower classes. If they were to talk to them, they would use a different tone and manner. Hardy was from a lower class, but his grandmother was not and it was she, and Hardy’s mother, who taught him to read and write. This enabled Hardy to write and become a respected author. He was able to used terms that impressed and captivated his reader, but he also had the insight of a working-class life.
His stories seemed to involve much of this class difference, one of his characters either moved up a social status, or downward, and there would be social reaction to this change. The attitudes of people towards those of a different social class were clearly illustrated in his stories, and it is clear to see that Hardy’s own personal experiences of this influenced the subject matter and characters in his stories. Firstly, I am going to look at one of Hardy’s favourite short stories, ‘The Son’s Veto’.
This story was set in the same period that Hardy was alive, enabling him to refer to issues that his readers could relate to, such as the different class structure. The main character in this story is Sophy, a parlour maid working in the countryside for a vicar. After Sophy has an accident and is unable to work again, the vicar marries her and they move to London, where she spends the rest of her life. This story sympathises with the character of Sophy, but also shows how the class structure and prejudice were very important issues at that time.
The following quotation shows how Sophy’s son, Randolph, disproves of his mother’s ‘bad’ upbringing: “A mother whose mistakes and origin it was his painful lot as a gentleman to blush for. ” This shows how Randolph is embarrassed of his mother because she comes from a working-class background, and was not brought up in such a high class as himself. The character of Sophy could represent Hardy’s own mother, as she was not from the upper-classes and had been a servant to the Vicar of Dorset. The character of Randolph could also be Hardy’s representation of himself.
In real life his family embarrassed him as he was a respected writer. Thomas Hardy did not invite any of his family to his wedding, probably because he was embarrassed of them; his wife came from an upper-class background. The vicar in ‘The Son’s Veto’ could also have been the vicar that Hardy’s mother used to work for, although Hardy’s mother did not marry the vicar like Sophy she probably looked up to him in the same way because he was her employer: “Sophy didn’t exactly love him, but she had a respect for him which almost amounted to veneration. ”
This quotation not only shows how Sophy ‘looked up to’ the vicar because she worked for him but also that she feels slightly trapped; she could not have refused his proposal easily, because she was of a lower class and now crippled. Finally, there is the character of Sam Hobson, a gardener and Sophy’s real love. I am not to sure who this character is trying to represent, but I can guess that it is Hardy’s father, as Hardy may have seen his father and mother as ‘soul mates’, and although in ‘The Son’s Veto’ they do not get together, they were always meant to: “Why mayn’t I say to Sam that I’ll marry him?
Why mayn’t I? ‘ she would murmur plaintively to herself when nobody was near. ” With an ending like this, the readers would feel a lot of sympathy towards Sophy, even though most of them would be from the upper classes, and would never have had to deal with the problems she faced. Thomas Hardy may have been able to relate to Sophy’s condition as his wife was from a higher class than himself and so he would have had to pretend to be more educated just like Sophy. Thomas Hardy was brought up in the countryside, surrounded by farmers and labourers, and so he would have known much about the lives that they lived.
The Son’s Veto’ was set in the countryside in North Wessex, an area that Hardy made up, but would have been expected to be near Dorset where he grew up. Hardy enjoyed the countryside life, and the people around him, which is the same as Sophy. She was happy at the beginning of the book when she was in the countryside with Sam. When Sophy moved to the city things started to go bad for her; she was lonely and isolated from people, and her condition became worse the longer she remained.
When Sam visited her, she became a bit better: “Sam’s presence had revived her: her cheeks were quite pink- almost beautiful. This shows that the city made Sophy very ill, but as soon as something from the countryside (Sam) comes into her life she feels a bit better. Thomas Hardy disliked the cities and he too suffered when he visited one for any length of time; when he spent time in London he became very ill. Hardy expressed his dislike of cities clearly and bluntly in this story, everything seems to go wrong when they are there, and Sophy is continually wishing that she could return to North Wessex where everything would be all right again: “I long for home- our home!
I should like to be there, and never leave it and die there. ” Here Sophy expresses her feelings of loneliness and her desire to return to the countryside and try and start again. Emma Grifford, Hardy’s wife, would also have had to spend a lot of time at home, looking out of the window, just as Sophy did, while Hardy was working in London. These experiences and feelings may have been something that Hardy picked up from his wife. Although Sophy was in the city, she soon met Sam again: “Soon, however, he gave way to the temptation of going with him again”
These secret meetings between Sophy and Sam were similar to Hardy’s with a woman named Florence, who Hardy got to know really well in London. Hardy and Sophy were both unhappy with the situations they found themselves in when they were in the city, and so these secret meetings improved matters for them. Randolph and Hardy were both very motivated students. Hardy excelled in many of his subjects, and learnt to read and write from his mother and Grandmother.
In ‘The Son’s Veto’ Randolph appeared to be following his father’s footsteps as he was very religious: Taking her before a little cross and altar he had erected in his bedroom” Randolph was also training to become a priest, and at the end of the book we discover that he has qualified as one. Hardy was also fascinated by religion and he too wanted to train to become a priest. Later on in his life he grew less and less interested in religion, but he continued to be interested in religious buildings and architecture. I believe that this story was based on Hardy’s life, but the actual events that took place did not happen to Hardy or his family.
The way the story opens seems similar to Hardy’s mother’s situation, she too worked for a vicar, but instead of continuing the path of Hardy’s mother’s life he chose to twist it and, using his own personal experiences, he created a story of what his life could have been like if his mother had married the vicar instead of his father. The second short story I am going to look at is ‘The Withered Arm’, which can also be closely linked to Hardy’s own experiences. There are four main characters in this story: Rhoda, Gertrude, Farmer Lodge and Conjuror Trundle.
Although these characters are not as closely related to Hardy’s life as those in ‘The Son’s Veto’ they still carry an impression of Hardy’s life. The character of Rhoda is very complex. Twelve years previously she had had a relationship with Farmer Lodge, which resulted in a son. Now the farmer has arrived back in the village with a new wife who is younger and prettier than Rhoda: Her face too was fresh with colour, but it was of a totally different quality- soft and evanescent, like the light under a heap of rose-petals. ” Farmer Lodge returned home with a new wife, which was similar to what Hardy himself did.
He was married to Emma, but when she died Hardy married his lover Florence. She was much younger and prettier than Emma, and so this may have influenced Hardy’s writing of this story. Rhoda lives in a dilapidated cottage away from the rest of the villagers and is regarded as a witch; as people of that time were very superstitious they stayed away from her. While Rhoda sleeps she dreams that Gertrude visits her and she accidentally puts a spell on Gertrude, the new bride, which disfigures her arm. When Rhoda realises what she has done she is filled with guilt and tries to help Gertrude.
The idea of a witch is probably from Hardy’s childhood, as there was a woman who was thought of as a witch in his village, who helped the football team win by cursing the other side. As Gertrude and Rhoda became friends, Gertrude showed Rhoda the disfigurement on her left arm: “There was nothing of the nature of a wound, but the arm at that point had a shrivelled look, and the outline of the four fingers” When Rhoda sees the wound she feels responsible, and tells Gertrude to go and see Conjuror Trundle, who was a conjuror who may be able to help her.
The cure that the conjuror gives Gertrude is to turn her blood, the very same remedy that a woman, living in Hardy’s village when he was growing up, had to do to get rid of a disease. The conjuror in ‘The Withered Arm’ was probably based on a conjuror called ‘Planet-ruler’ who Hardy’s mother knew, and was said to have healed many patients. One piece of advice that has been passed on to writers for centuries is to ‘write about something you know’ and this is exactly what Thomas Hardy has done.
He not only reflected situations and people he had encountered in his life, but he used them and twisted their lives to fit his stories. The realism and sense of true emotion, which is captured in Hardy’s work, confirms that he did use people from his past, and successfully wove them into his plots to form fictional stories. In conclusion, it is clear to see how Thomas Hardy used people he knew and situations that actually happened to help him write short stories with realistic characters, but there is no way of telling how much of his stories are factual and how much an invention of his own imagination.