How Hardy Presents Women in His Short Stories
Thomas Hardy wrote about society in the mid 1800's and his tales have rural settings in the fictional name he gave to the South-West of England, Wessex. The short stories reflect this time and the author also demonstrates the class division in rural society - rich and poor - and the closeness of the communities. Almost everyone belonged to the 'labouring classes' and worked on the land.
People of around 150 years ago were very superstitious and marriage was important. If a woman did not marry by a certain age she was thought of as a witch, or 'spinster'. Her only roles were to be faithful to her husband and to bear a son to become heir. The role of women was very different from today's society - it was world dominated and run by men.
In the first of the three short stories, ?The Withered Arm?, Hardy writes of two women of different classes who are joined by one man.
The first of the women is Rhoda Brook. She is a milking maid who is not within the milking circle. She is physically and metaphorically outside because she had an illegitimate son. Rhoda ?milked somewhat apart from the rest?. Having a child out of ?wedlock? was frowned upon, some people were publicly condemned in the 1800?s. She is the occasional subject of gossip and with being a single mum back then she would have been in a very difficult position. Hardy presents this well in his tales, as he shows Rhoda?s predicament. The father of Rhoda?s son, Farmer Lodge, was of a much higher status than herself. He would never have married a milk maid and does not face the same condemnation as Rhoda does.
Rhoda?s previous lover, Farmer Lodge, is to marry a young woman as during a conversation between the milkmaids, ?he do bring home hid bride to-morrow?. The marriage is arranged and we learn that she is ?years younger than he?. The farmer would have wanted a younger wife, as he would anticipate an heir, to take over his business and name. She would also be more ?tractable?. Their marriages were arranged and we can assume that it probably wasn?t a love match. The young girl may have been eager to gain status and he was a farmer with land so she could then live comfortably.
Gertrude is the second of the two women and the new wife to Farmer Lodge. She is described as ?a rosy-cheeked, tisty-tosty little body enough?. She is also portrayed as shy. We know this as when she appeared in Church she walked up the aisle ?with the shyness natural to a modest woman.?
Rhoda is naturally curious to see her former lover?s new wife. She sends her son to ?spy? on the woman and to inform her of Gertrude?s appearance. Rhoda wants to know if ?she ever worked for a living? and to see if she ?shows marks of the lady on her?. Her son is told to also study her hands - ?if they look as she had ever done housework?. When her son does report back home, he describes her face as ?comely as a live doll?s?, and ?soft and evanescent, like the...