Pick of the Day: Thomas Hardy - The Withered Arm & Andrey Satchel and the Parson and Clerk.
Lately I have been mostly reading Thomas Hardy. We are in Dorset, he is our master storyteller and and he cannot (and should not) be ignored.
First The Withered Arm - a very long short story, and one of his better know tales. Then Andrey Satchel and the Parson and Clerk - a more traditional length for the genre.
Many feel that Hardy is not at his best with short stories, happier with broad landscapes than with works in miniature. Based on reading The Withered Arm, this seems true, but I enjoyed reading John Wain’s take on the great master’s style in his introduction to Thomas Hardy Selected Stories.
Wain contends that Hardy’s tales are entirely in place in when viewed from a rural context. They are just like the tales country folk of the day might tell each other, and he has caught the style and tone exactly.
Wain further argues that people in the country can see everything that is happening around them in their day-to-day lives: see their adults working in the fields and so on. Meanwhile those in urban landscapes, have little idea what others do in their everyday lives. This gives rural folk more of an appetite for the magical and mysterious, superstitions and the supernatural. Meanwhile, those in the cities, are more interested in seeing what is happening behind the walls that surround them and seek stories more grounded reality.
Taken in this context, the tale of The Withered Arm (almost a novella) can be better appreciated. Just one of those strange tales that might be told down the pub about the young and beautiful bride of a local farmer who seems to fall victim to a strange curse laid upon her by a love rival.
Andrey Satchel and the Parson and Clerk certainly falls into the category of a comic pub tale well told. It begins with us joining a conversation:
"It all arose, you must know, from Andrey being fond of a drop of drink at that time - though he's a sober enough man now by all account, so much the better for him."
And we are regaled with a merry piece of gossip, sounding very real and better enjoyed with a drink to hand, about how a parson and his clerk threatens a woman’s ambition to marry the father of her soon-to-be-born child.
It is shorter and more keenly written than The Withered Arm, and all the more enjoyable for it, in my opinion.
Thomas Hardy had a keen eye for detail and a keen ear for language - reflecting an age and a place and a people that would be hard to find today.
Hopefully many of the stories we receive for the competition will reflect that same eye for detail, and a style of writing, that same bedding in reality for today.