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The Withered Arm, The Son’s Veto and The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion

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Thomas Hardy was a British novelist and a poet who was born in 1840 during Queen Victoria’s reign and died at the age of 88 in 1928. Most of Hardy’s works are set in the countryside of Wessex. The three stories I will be looking, ‘The Withered Arm’, ‘The Son’s Veto’ and ‘The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion’; are all taken from the collection of stories called ‘The Withered Arm and other Wessex Tales’. Hardy’s characters were often portrayed as victims of a predestined fate and his stories usually end in awful tragedy.

The Withered Arm” is a tragedy of fate and is a story of two women linked to one man. The Man being Farmer Lodge in this story and the two women being Rhoda Brook, the lower in social class working as a milkmaid and Gertrude the higher in social class who is the clear choice for Farmer Lodge to marry. It is clear from the story that Farmer Lodge has had previous relations with Rhoda Brook and they have even had a child together but society has denied them to have public relationships because of there social status.

Therefore only one is liable to be able to marry the Farmer in the eyes of society and that is Gertrude. This causes a subconscious jealousy from Rhoda towards Gertrude that is presented as a form of witchcraft that Rhoda unknowingly possesses. This witchcraft causes Gertrude to visit Rhoda in a dream and Rhoda to grasp Gertrude, ‘Rhoda, in a last desperate effort, swung out her right hand, seized the confronting spectre by its obtrusive left arm, and whirled it backward to the floor,’. This meeting in the dream caused an affliction on Gertrude’s arm making her less appealing to the Farmer.

The narrative focus of the story switches from Rhoda to Gertrude at this point in the story giving us an insight into what Gertrude is thinking. This ailment leads Gertrude to seek concoction after concoction to treat the injury finally leading her to use a method that involves a corpse that has been hung. This is where Hardy introduces his cruel because just as Gertrude thinks she is going to rid herself of this ailment Farmer Lodge and Rhoda burst in and the corpse being the illegitimate son of Rhoda and the Farmer this shock kills Gertrude.

This is similar in all the stories as Hardy introduces a solution to the problem but then takes it away again by introducing a cruel unexpected twist to the plot that changes things such as Humphrey Gould in ‘The Melancholy Hussar’, coming home at the precise moment Phyllis was planning to escape with Matheus. In all these three stories there are problems with social status and especially marriage between those social ranks with Rhoda and the Farmer not being able to get married in ‘The Withered Arm’, Sophy and Sam in ‘The Son’s Veto’ and Matheus and Phyllis in ‘The Melancholy Hussar’.

In ‘The Melancholy Hussar’ Hardy enhances the verisimilitude by showing detailed historical knowledge into the Hussar’s uniform and also the way he states that Phyllis has passed this story on by word of mouth, ‘Phyllis told me the story with her own lips. ‘ He also states at the end of the story the location where the two dead German soldiers were buried again giving it a sense of realism, ‘There graves were dug at the back of the little church, near the wall. The ‘Son’s Veto’ is the story of Sophy, a middle class, widowed, handicapped woman who lived alone, with a son who went away to boarding school.

She was originally from the working class but her marriage to Mr Twycott led her into the middle class world and out of her home village into London. This move again illustrates the part social status plays in the lives of those people in that time as the reason they moved was because they could not be seen to be getting married as they were of such differing social status and therefore had to move away to somewhere where people didn’t know them and there social background.

After her husband’s death she meets Sam, an old friend from her working class days. He proposes to her and describes a happy life they could lead together. Sophy explains the importance of her son, Randolph, in her life and suggests that she get his permission before marrying Sam. When she approaches her son he refuses to let her marry him. The ‘Son’s Veto’ ends with Sophys death, never feeling worthy enough to have been her son’s mother and never being courageous enough to marry her love.

This is again another example of Hardy’s cruel twists of fate and tragedy with Sophy dieing unhappy because her son objects to her marrying someone of that social rank. Lastly Hardy introduces his grim pessimistic view on life into each of these three stories and this plays the most significant part in making these stories such a work of art. This causes the reader to be thrown all over the place on the clever twists and them all ending in such fatal consequences of thwarted love.

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