Thomas Hardy Short Stories, abridged by Isobel Creed
(2013). Prod. Gill Waters. Perf.
Richard Mitchley. BBC Radio 4 Extra, 26-30 January 2015. BBCiPlayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rb1t7
to 2 March 2015
in rural Wessex in the late nineteenth century, this
sequence of five stories recreated a world of traditional moralities, where
women were expected to get married, and men spent their time sowing their wild
oats before “settling down” to the realities of married life. Patriarchal
authority was accepted without
question: any young girl had to follow her father’s bidding, even if that meant
condemning herself to a life of unhappiness.
By comparison with Hardy’s better-known (and more
mature) novels, these short stories were quite surprisingly comic in tone. I
especially enjoyed “Tony Kytes, the
Arch-Deceiver,” a complicated tale of a rural worker who finds himself
incapable of saying no to female partners, and ends up promising marriage to
three of them simultaneously. He is
faced with the unenviable task of concealing one, or perhaps two partners, from
the others, with only his cart as a means to do so.
“The History of the Hardcomes” is a comic
morality-tale about two men who decide to marry one another’s partners, even
though the alliances are manifestly unsuitable.
In their forthcoming lives, they experience continual unhappiness until
one couple goes off and manages to lose themselves, finding satisfaction in the
process. The about-to-be-married couple
in “Andrey Satchel and the Parson and Clerk” are even more unfortunate, as they
are locked up for an entire night, just before their wedding ceremony, while
the parson goes off and enjoys himself.
In the final tale, “An Incident in the Life of Georgy Crookhill,” the
eponymous central character exchanges clothes with a n’er-do-well, and finds
himself mistaken for a deserter.
Despite the lightness of tone, the tales raise some of
the themes that form the cornerstone of Hardy’s later novels. The world
the characters inhabit is an
indifferent one, where all human beings are subject to chance. Although claiming
to control their lives,
they are in fact powerless to resist Fate; the only course of action they can
pursue is to try and make the best of bad situations. This is especially significant
in a rural
world where bad weather can ruin people’s livelihoods.
More significantly, Hardy’s stories suggest the
impossibility of individuals truly knowing the people around them. Even though
they might live together in a
community for many years, they cannot truly explain the motives behind someone’s
behavior. The only way to survive is for
everyone to learn to co-exist together, while accepting the fact that sometimes
people will act unpredictably.
Richard Mitchley thoroughly enjoyed reading these
tales, employing a variety of voices to try and communicate the teeming world
of rural Wessex. Definitely worth listening
to more than once.