Life In Hardys England From His Short Stories Essay, Research Paper
Hardy was born in 1840 in the southwest of Britain, Dorset. It is isolated and cut off from the rest of the more urban areas of England and it is very rural and agricultural. It is this isolated rural Britain where most of his stories are set.
The Rural Society in Hardy s time was split into two clear divisions, the higher class and the poor class. The high classes were rich landowners that never did any physical work and they employed the poor. The poorer class would work hard in the fields doing agricultural work. Rhoda Brook was a milkmaid like all the other women on the farm. The poorer people would rarely ever travel to the neighbouring village or the closest town, we know this because Mrs Crudale clearly states,
There s only two places I ever go to from years and to years end: thats once a week to Anglebury to do my bit o marketing; and once a week to the parish church.
The rich and the poor led two separate lives, the poor were completely ignored by the rich and they cared little about the lifestyle the poor led. We know this because Father Lodge in the Withered Arm saw his son walking down the street didn t take any notice of him, then when the boy reported back to his mother, Rhoda, she asked,
What did he say or do?
Just same as usual,
Took no notice of you?
Because of this we can see that Father Lodge wanted nothing to do with Rhoda and her son and had no feelings towards his son because he was poor and born from a poor woman.
When the rich did see the poor they did not treat them like equal adults, at times even like school children, Hardy shows us this when the Curate finds out Mrs Chundle lied to him and he was affronted by this so he went to tell her off,
I think it was a very culpable-unkind thing of you to tell me you came to church every Sunday when I find you haven t been there for years.
People have always loved to gossip the people in Hardy s time were no exception because at the very beginning of the story the other Milkmaids were gossiping about Rhoda Brook and she cold shouldered by them working, apart from the ladies in the milk shed.
Hardy shows that gossip can be very harmful because gossip about Rhoda being a witch drove her away even though she d already gone through years of gossip about her and Farmer Lodge and possibly her son. This also shows the agricultural workers were very unforgiving and hard on people they believed broke the rules, this can be seen because Rhoda was drove away with intent by gossip about her being a witch.
Because Hardy grew up in Wessex he learnt what is known as Broad Dorset , because a lot of Hardy s stories are set in the Dorset, he uses a lot of examples of this in his Old Mrs Chundle she says,
Tis tatters and cabbage boiled with a scantling o bacon.
Would ye like it?
Higher classed people not from Dorset spoke Standard English, this is used a lot in The Withered Arm by a character named Gertrude,
a pain suddenly shot into my arm, and was so keen as to awaken me.
Hardy uses those two styles of spoken English to show the difference from the people of the two classes. It adds realism to their characters as well as how ordinary people spoke at that time.
In The Withered Arm Magic, Superstition and local beliefs play a vital part, people in the 19th Century strongly believed in things like Witches, curses and blights, we know this because in The Withered Arm a spell was supposed to have been cast be Rhoda on Gertrude. All of the villagers in the area believed Rhoda was a Witch and had cursed Gertrude with the Evil Eye
Mrs Lodge s gradual loss of her left arm was owing to being overlooked by Rhoda Brook
In that time there were hundreds of cures and quack remedies, Hardy shows this because Gertrude purchases many herbs, charms and books of necromancy.
her closet was lined with bottles, packets and oriental pots of every description.
In many villages there was often considered to be a mystical figure, (in the village which was the setting for The Withered Arm there was a Conjuror Trendle,) who lived alone in a valley, he lived in the valley to add a sense of mystery and was said to have magical powers to cure ills or curse. Hardy shows this with the character of Conjuror Trendle.
Even the higher class that had been educated believed in these things, we know this because Hardy tells us that, although Farmer Lodge doesn t admit it, in the back of his mind he wants to believe in a cure.
these smouldering village beliefs made him furious if mentioned, partly because he half entertained them himself.
Hardy s short stories tell us a lot about the rural West Country of England, about how people lived and what they thought and believed as I have shown in my essay.