Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"The Melancholy Hussar of The German Legion" by Thomas Hardy

"The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion" by Thomas Hardy (1889, 10 pages)

"There soon the sage admiring mark´d the dawn 
Of solemn musing in your pensive thought; 
For when a smiling babe, you loved to lie 
Oft deeply listening to the rapid roar 
Of wood-hung Menai, stream of druids old."-Thomas Warton

Not to long ago I read and posted on one of Thomas Hardy's short stories, "The Withered Arm".      Of course it is a masterwork of the story teller's art.    I recently finished  reading my way through The March of Literature by Ford Madox Ford,  almost an encyclopedia of literature that only an awesome force of intellect like Ford could produce.    In The March of Literature Ford describes the work of Hardy (1840 to 1928-UK) as being like the root of a 400 year old tree.     

I would say do not read "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion"   on a day which finds you in a sad or depressive mood.     I think I am beginning to understand what Ford may have meant when he compared Hardy's work to the trunk of a 400 year old tree.      If the Old Testament had been written in the 19th century in England to be read for the next 4000 years "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion" would be a fitting parable.    

As the story opens we meet Phyllis and her father.   Her father, once a fairly successful country doctor has become since his wife died totally withdrawn.    He  retreats into his reading, caring for the needs of himself and his daughter with a bit of rental income.   I really hate to tell any of the plot of this very economical tale as I want others to be have the pleasure of discovering it for themselves.   

In some ways the story can be seen as an stunning critique of British social and military policy of the 19th century.   It is almost like a miniature novel.    The ending of the story is pure sadness.   

Hardy is not a self consciously innovative writer.    When you know as much about the human condition as he does you do not have to be.    

This story and a lot more of Thomas Hardy's work (including many short stories) can be read at the web page of the University of Adelaide Library.

Mel u


Fred said...

Mel u,

It is, as you say, a melancholic work. Like so many of his works, long and short, it is a story in which happiness seems to be within reach, but the fates decree otherwise.

I think his poem "Hap" comes closest to expressing the theme in so many of his prose works.

Hannah said...

Right now I'm reading Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree (in anticipation of seeing a Revels performance next week). What a lovely Christmas scene! It is one of Hardy's "happy" books.