"The Grave by the Handpost" (1897, 13 pages)
"The Fiddler of the Reels" (1893, 19 pages)
Since I began my blog in July 2009 I have read and posted on three short stories by Thomas Hardy and his very highly regarded novel, The Return of the Native. I really liked the short stories a lot so yesterday when I was looking around for something on my shelves to read I was happy to find Thomas Hardy: Selected Stories selected and edited by John Wain.
All of the stories I read recently by Hardy are set among country people in rural England. The stories are about the lives of these people and they do involve some rural dialect that requires one slow down a bit but I think Hardy is best read slow anyway.
In my brief sample, Hardy short stories center on death, betrayal and isolation and read like they were very old stories told for years.
I will try to post just enough on each story to convey the flavor of the work but not to spoil the plot. All of the stories are told in a very traditional fashion and none are hard to follow. I would say don't read these stories when you are looking for a light pick me up kind of read.
"Three Strangers" is set during an annual party at the house of a farmer and his wife. There is a bounty of the honey based drink mead being served. I think we have to see the idea of three strangers calling at the farm house as an echo of the three wise men. The strangers arrive one at a time and it is the custom of the region to offer them hospitality even though the wife is not keen on having strangers drink the mead. Strangers are also a bit sinister seeming in the countryside where most rural people never go twenty miles from where they were born. The question everyone wants to ask is who is the stranger. There is a deep connection between the strangers. "Three Strangers" also lets us see how people felt about some of the terribly harsh laws of the time such as hanging a man for stealing a sheep.
"The Grave by the Handpost" is a very grim story of a dual suicide by a father and then his son. It also shows how England's wars affected the people of the countryside that provided the soldiers for these wars. Anyone can write an anti-war story but only a master like Hardy can make us see the real human cost of war on the rural people of England. I really do not want to relay any of the plot of this very deep perfectly plotted story.
"The Fiddler of the Reels" is another very powerful story. It is about a very good man, the woman who rejected his marriage proposal four years ago, the handsome fiddler she preferred over him and her three year old illegitimate daughter by the fiddler. This is a very sad story with a hauntingly sad ending.
One interesting thing in the stories of Hardy is the things that happen in the background. The several references to people basically disappearing forever through immigration to America were very powerful. To those left behind, it was almost like a form of death.
Please share with us your experience with Hardy