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10. Thomas Hardy: Wessex Tales

David Grylls

Subject Literature

Place Europe » United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Northern Europe » Éire (Republic of Ireland)

People Hardy, Thomas

Key-Topics fiction

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405145374.2008.00012.x


Compared with his novels, Thomas Hardy's short stories have received little critical attention. Most critics have regarded them as obviously inferior: among the hundreds of books on Hardy, only two have been devoted to them ( Brady 1982 ; Ray 1997 ). Yet Hardy was always a versatile author, and his short stories frequently exhibit qualities – symbolic intensity, narrative reversal, vivid evocation of atmosphere – that typify the strengths of the genre. Wessex Tales (1888) was the earliest of Hardy's four collections of short fiction. Originally it contained only five stories (“The Three Strangers,” “The Withered Arm,” “Fellow-Townsmen,” “Interlopers at the Knap,” and “The Distracted Preacher”), all published first in periodicals. For the 1896 reprinting, Hardy added “An Imaginative Woman,” but in 1912 moved this to another collection, Life's Little Ironies , while simultaneously transferring two stories – “A Tradition of Eighteen Hundred and Four” and “The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion” – from Life's Little Ironies to Wessex Tales . Why this tinkering around with the groupings? The most plausible answer highlights the periods that characterize the collections. Most of the stories in Wessex Tales are set in the early nineteenth century: they therefore differ from Hardy's novels, most of which have settings from the 1840s onwards. They differ, too, from those in ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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