02 February 2012

Victorian Controversies, 1879-90: Modernization

Mass market paperback, 250 pages
Published 1979 (contents: 1879-90)
Acquired December 2007
Read September 2011
Wessex Tales: That Is to Say, The Three Strangers, A Tradition of Eighteen Hundred and Four, The Melancholy Hussar, The Withered Arm, Fellow-townsmen, Interlopers at the Knap, The Distracted Preacher
by Thomas Hardy

"The Three Strangers"
Dang, this story is good.  I've read it three times, now, I think, and every time is just as good as the last.  A late-night celebration in a rural village is perfectly evoked, and then it's upset by a succession of visiting strangers.  It could be a ghost story, so perfect is the atmosphere... but it's not.  I'm loathe to say anything else about it, because that would dampen the impact I think.  (Well, maybe not if I can love it three times through.  Go and read it anyway; I'm sure it's free somewhere on-line.)

"A Tradition of Eighteen Hundred and Four"
This is a little folktale that Hardy recounts about Napoleon, except that apparently he invented it.  Nice enough, but it didn't leave much of an impact. 

"The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion"
A Wessex woman falls in love with a York Hussar stationed in her village.  It's Thomas Hardy, so everything goes horribly wrong.  Again, this didn't impact me much.

"The Withered Arm"
Ah, this is more like it.  A touch of fantasy drives this story of a jilted lover, a witch, and a new wife.  Haunting, you know, and all the good things a bit of the supernatural should do.  Did Hardy write more supernatural stuff?  I don't really know, but I think he'd be good at it; he's morbid enough in the real world.

This story is like being punched in the face repeatedly by tragedy and miscommunication.  As always, Hardy makes you like it.  The ending just twists the knife more.

"Interlopers at the Knap"
One of the weaker stories in the volume, though I can't put my finger on why.

"The Distracted Preacher"
I liked this one a lot.  If it wasn't for "The Three Strangers," this would be the standout in the book; thankfully, it ends on a high note anyway.  It's probably the funniest story here (the poor preacher does not know how to deal with his rum-running lover), though of course nothing can stay good for long in Wessex.  Hardy's deft hand with characterization makes the tragedy work.  I am always depressed for having read Thomas Hardy, but happy for having been depressed.

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