Compare Hardys presentation of women in An Imaginative Women and On the Western Circuit

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Compare Hardy’s presentation of women in two short stories


Thomas Hardy’s presentation of women is quite highlights the typical Victorian attitude towards women . In particular, ‘An Imaginative Women’ and ‘On the Western Circuit’ produce some interesting comparisons. The two leading characters are women, Ella Marchmill (‘An Imaginative Woman’) and Edith Harnham (‘On the Western Circuit’).

   The first and probably the most obvious similarity between the two women is the way Hardy has presented their marriage. This was at a time when men still exerted their power over women, and a woman divorcing a man was unheard of. In both of these stories, Hardy has portrayed both of them as passionate, yet unhappy wives. William Marchmill, Ella’s husband, is mention quite frequently in the story and plays an integral part, so we get a more accurate picture of him. However, Edith Harnham’s husband only appears near the start, yet in that one glance, we get a good idea of the relationship between the two.


            “Oh? Horrid nuisance every year! I wish it could be put a stop to.”

            “I like it.”

            “H’m. There’s no accounting for taste.”


Their relationship with each other has been portrayed powerfully in these three lines. Immediately, a lack of respect and common interest, perhaps even a sense of hostility between the two has become apparent. Compare this short, snappy encounter with some of the more lengthy scenes between Ella and William Marchmill, and it is evident that although both women share an unfulfilled marriage, their relationship with their husbands are very different. Despite William Marchmill often seeming ignorant of Ella’s existence, he does show some courtesy and respect, though he doesn’t share much common ground with her either. Mr. Harnham on the other hand, from the small bit that is seen of him, appears to be quite upfront with Edith Harnham, and gives the impression to that he is a bit scorning in his approach to her interests. Another similarity that their marriage possesses is that both husbands have a prosperous trade. Mr Harnham is a ‘rich wine merchant’, whilst William Marchmill has a ‘thriving trade’. Both women, therefore, lived an upper-middle class lifestyle; so clearly, what they wanted was beyond material possession, as they would already have them. Instead, it becomes more noticeable as the stories progress, that both women are passionate, but unfulfilled sexually. Thomas Hardy starts of with subtle hints, expanding upon them as the story progresses. For example, in ‘On the Western Circuit’, a few pages in, the first glimpse of Mrs Harnham’s sexual life is shown;

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            ‘He playfully slipped his two of his fingers inside her glove, against her palm.’


Yet despite this encroachment, Mrs Harnham does not withdraw her hand, in spite of the fact that it is meant for her maidservant, Anna, who Charles Raye had been tenderly wooing since first meeting her in the country fair. Furthermore, Mrs Harnham allows Raye to ‘gently stroke’ the palm of her hand under the glove. At the time of writing this would have been considered a very erotic and tense moment in the story, and this is perhaps a sign of deception that ...

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