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Choose Three of Thomas Hardy's short stories - Write about what you learn about C19th life in Wessex - Explain how this helps us to appreciate the stories.

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Introduction

Choose Three of Thomas Hardy's short stories. Write about what you learn about C19th life in Wessex. Explain how this helps us to appreciate the stories. Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 in the tiny village of Higher Bockhampton near Dorchester which is the county town of Dorset. There were only about fifty people in total living in the village, which consisted merely of eight workers' cottages, on the side of an isolated stretch of heathland. Hardy's father was a stonemason and builder, carrying on the trade of his own father. However, his mother, who could read but could not write, was determined that her eldest son would have a better education than herself. Compulsory education did not exist during this time and many children in the countryside grew up illiterate. Therefore, at the age of nine he was sent to a school funded by the church in Dorchester. His mother also pushed him into reading a wide range of "good" books at home. Leaving school at sixteen, Hardy began a career as an architect, training with a Dorchester firm for five years before moving to London in 1862, where he began to learn the art of church restoration. He also continued to educate himself during this time by studying painting and teaching himself Greek and Latin. ...read more.

Middle

People were obviously used to getting about under their own steam as there was no railway or any reliable system of public transport: Tony Kytes therefore goes to market with his wagon and horse and stops to give his sweethearts a lift along the way; Hubert, the yeoman's son, goes on errands for his father on horseback and even old Mrs Chundle thinks nothing of walking the five miles to market every fortnight! Hardy even uses rural knowledge and imagery to show the passing of time, for example, the opening sentence of The Thieves who Couldn't Stop Sneezing tells us that the story took place "when oak trees now past their prime were about as large as elderly gentlemen's walking sticks". Although we might find this timespan difficult to imagine, it would seem perfectly logical to the village folk to have it explained to them in this way. Hardy provides us with a very clear contrast between the different social classes that existed in the nineteenth century in the way that his characters talk. Old Mrs Chundle and Tony Kytes are lower class and therefore they speak using the dialect and "local slang" of the region: "Unity"...says he, "I shall catch it mightily if she sees 'ee riding with me." (Tony Kytes) "What's the good o' my lumpering all the way to church and back again when I'm as deaf as a plock?" ...read more.

Conclusion

a wife to be whipped by her husband, most women would still prefer a loveless marriage to the hardship of life on their own. Hardy helps us to understand this in the way that, although Tony Kytes is obviously a liar and a cheat, he still has three women who are almost throwing themselves at him! Even Hannah, who in front of her father declares that she "would sooner marry no-nobody at all," secretly knows that " she would not have refused Tony if he had asked her quietly, and her father had not been there." In conclusion, the picture that Hardy paints for us of the Wessex countryside gives us an impression of a way of life that was much slower, simpler and somehow gentler than the way we live today. There is evidence of crime being committed, such as the waylaying of Hubert and attempt at housebreaking by the thieves in The Thieves Who Couldn't Stop Sneezing, but overall, Hardy's gentle humour allows us to get the impression that it was a much safer and happier way of life, where Mrs Chundle would be able to leave her door unlocked without the worry of being burgled. The obvious advance of technology is shown, for example, with the curate's purchase of the "special machinery" of the ear trumpet, but its impact is made to seem hardly noticeable as the people of Wessex go about their daily lives. ...read more.

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