"An Imaginative Woman" (1893, 28 pages)
"Barbara of the House of Grebe" (1896, 37 pages)
Prior to today I have posted on six short stories by Hardy and The Return of the Native. I really enjoy reading his short stories a lot but I will say if you are in a downcast mood and looking for something to raise your spirits, you might look elsewhere!
In the three Hardy short stories I read yesterday a beloved mother dies, smugglers are shot, a poet kills himself, an innocent child is falsely thought to be the product of a late wife's infidelity and will have his life ruined over this, a man is in a horrible accident and is badly disfigured, a woman is driven nearly mad by the cruelty of her husband, ten out of eleven of the children in one family die before they are twenty and those were the cheerful parts of the stories. Most of Hardy's short stories seem to have a bitter surprise at the ending.
Like all of the stories by Hardy I have read, they are set in rural England. Even as Hardy was writing about the people from this area, their way of life was rapidly disappearing.
"The Distracted Preacher" somehow reminded me a lot of Daphne de Muarier's novel about smugglers, Jamaica Inn. Of the two, "The Distracted Preacher" is the most exciting and suspenceful. As the story opens a new to the town minister (one of the true stock characters of Victorian fiction) is renting a room in the house of an attractive widow about his age. The man falls in love with her but she seems to have mysterious nocturnal activities that he at first does not understand. He also is confused when he sees her leave the house wearing the clothes of her late husband. I do not want to tell more of the plot of this wonderful story. It really is exciting and kept my interest high right until the end. It also helped me understand the importance of smuggling to coastal people in rural England.
"An Imaginative Woman" is about two poets (Hardy saw himself primarily as a poet who wrote fiction for a living.) As the story opens a family, husband, wife and children are renting a place for a holiday stay. The wife agrees to accept the place on the condition the current tenant move out for the short time they are there as they need the whole space. The woman has always fancied herself a poet and has published a few items. It turns out the man who they displaced is a male poet she has always very much admired. I do not want to at all spoil the plot of this very sad but beautifully done story.
"Barbara of the House of Grebe" is a very sad story. It is a small master work. The characterizations are simply brilliant.
If you have read a short story this week, please post about it on Breadcrumb Reads by Risa in support of her Short Stories on Wednesday event.
I plan to read Hardy's collection of related short stories, Wessex Tales soon.
All of these short stories can be found online.