Thomas Hardy born in 1840 in the county town of Dorset is a world famous author. His short stories were written in the 19th century inspired by family tales and personal experiences. From his characterisation of women in his short stories we sense that Hardy disapproved of how women were treated by society. ‘The Withered Arm. ‘ Hardy was inspired to write ‘The Withered Arm’ by the circumstances of an old woman who had a wasting disease like Gertrude in this story. Hardy portrays two women in this story in different paths of life from different classes.
Rhoda Brook, the abandoned mistress of Farmer Lodge and an isolated mother of an illegitimate child is a milkmaid who lives as an outcast, ‘Their course lay apart from the others’ shows us that she lives on the outskirts of the town and as we progress through the story we find out why, She is treated like an outcast as she is from a lower class than the others. We also see that she is only as she keeps to herself and away from the community. ‘A thin fading woman of thirty milked somewhat apart from the rest. ‘
We know that Rhoda had an illegitimate relationship with Farmer Lodge, a prosperous farmer of the town. The relationship between Rhoda and Farmer Lodge had been ostracised by society as they both were from different social classes. The society in the 19th century was a rigid uncompromising class system which disapproved of relationships or even marriages between the different classes. The relationship between Farmer Lodge and Rhoda led to a birth to a child, a boy, an illegitimate boy. ‘The thin woman who had not spoken was joined by a boy of twelve or there-about’
The child is also known as ‘boy’ throughout the story, this is because Farmer Lodge did not accept him and did not want to give the boy his name as it was evidence of his relationship with Rhoda. The boy also knows about his father as Rhoda does not hide the truth, the boy also knows of his father’s ignorance. ‘Took no notice of you? ‘ ‘None’Regardless, of the fact that the boy is illegitimate Rhoda is very close to him and makes him stay with her, she also shows deep love and affection towards him.
The boy assisting her, for he hated going afield on the farms, and she indulged his reluctance’ from this we see that she gave in to her son’s wishes. Rhoda is treated differently to society than the other woman, this may be due to the fact she did not conform to the rules of society, and due to this she was accused of having magical powers. We see when the new bride arrives Rhoda has some sort of obsession of what she is like, we this when she tells her son, ‘you can give her a look, and tell me what she’s like, if you do see her. From this we see Rhoda thinks she has competition with the new bride, Gertrude, as Rhoda was once the mistress of Farmer Lodge. She continues by saying, ‘If she’s dark or fair, and if she’s tall – tall as I.
And if she seems like a woman who has ever worked for a living, or one that has been always well off, and has never done anything, and shows marks of the lady on her, as I expect she do. ‘ We see that Rhoda expects Gertrude to be a lady even before seeing Gertrude for herself; some have interpreted her questioning by saying that she may still have feelings for Farmer Lodge.
We also see that some people empathise for Rhoda as the new bride arrives into the town. ‘The dairyman who rented the cows of Lodge, and knew perfectly the tall milkmaid’s history, with manly kindliness always kept the gossip in the cow-barton from annoying Rhoda. ‘ From this obsession we see that Hardy tries to create rivalry between the two women. As Rhoda was accused of having special powers, some think she may have special powers she does not know of and has no control, and we see this from the vision she has. Rhoda visualises herself causing disfigurement to Gertrude’s left arm.
Gasping for breath, Rhoda in a last desperate effort, swung out her right hand, seized the confronting spectre by its obtrusive left arm, and whirled it backward to the floor,’ After the vision, Rhoda tries to help Gertrude by taking her to Conjuror Trendle to help cure her arm. In the 19th Century, women had to conform and obey the strict laws of society. You had to be strong if you were to break these rules like Rhoda, whereas like Gertrude she conformed to society’s laws but also she broke under the demands of society.
Rhoda was seen to be an unconventional woman but she was also strong willed and knew how to face society. The actions that took place in her life were frowned upon by society, however; she takes the blame for whatever crime was committed even though Farmer Lodge was involved. At Some places in the story she disappears especially after the hanging of her son but she reappears and refuses any provisions that were made for her which shows her being independent. Gertrude Lodge, a young innocent lady married to Farmer Lodge, a prosperous farmer of the town.
Gertrude is seen to be a ‘benevolent’ trophy wife and a conventional woman of her time. When the women at the dairy gossip of the new bride we see what they think of her, ‘Rosy-cheeked, tisty-tosty little body enough. ‘ From this we see that she is shy and that she is a ‘lady’ unlike Rhoda some say. We also see that Gertrude’s beauty is her most prized possession as the first sign of problems in her beauty cause her to break down like her disfigurement did. We also see that she is an upper class lady and is very modest. Walked up the aisle with the shyness natural to a modest woman who had appeared thus for the first time. ‘
‘A white bonnet and a silver-coloured gownd. It whewed and whistled so loud when it rubbed against the pews that the lady coloured up more than ever for every shame at the noise,’ From this two quotes we see that she is very self conscious and that she has the most desirable life any woman in that time would want. After Rhoda’s vision, we realise that the relationship between Gertrude and Farmer Lodge is deteriorating due to her disfigurement.
Also due to her withered arm she is not able to bear a child which in society at that time was frowned upon as women were supposed to give birth to an heir to continue the family name which is exactly what Farmer Lodge wants. We see Gertrude herself is slowly breaking down as she begins to lack confidence in many things and is beginning to obsess about her arm just how Rhoda was obsessed with Gertrude’s looks at the beginning of the story. ‘No; it is not quite well. Indeed it is no better at all; it is rather worse.
It pains me dreadfully sometimes’ This quote shows what pain the disfigurement is causing Gertrude as well as indirectly showing that she is becoming weak. Gertrude also realises that her marriage with Farmer Lodge was based on her beauty. ‘If- if I hadn’t a notion that it makes my husband – dislike me – no, love me less. Men think so much of personal appearance. ‘ ‘Yes; and he was very proud of mine, at first. ‘ From this quote Gertrude shows that Farmer Lodge was proud of her beauty before the withered arm but it is as if now he is ashamed of her.
Gertrude feels very sceptical of visiting Conjuror Trendle at first but is then tempted into doing anything to cure her arm and we see what this desperation leads to as we progress through the story. ‘I have again been thinking of what they said about Conjuror Trendle. I don’t really believe in such men, but I should not mind just visiting him, from curiosity- though on no account must my husband know’ We see from the quote that she is now willing to meet Conjuror Trendle as her arm begins to get work and causes her excruciating pain. We see that she accepts what she has to do to cure the disfigurement.
Gertrude has become more selfish as her arm gets worse; we see she is able to do anything just for her own selfish needs. ‘O- a reprieve- I hope not! ‘ We see that she indirectly wants this person to die so that she can have her arm cured. Once she wipes her arm on the limb of the person who had just been hanged, she realises it is the Son of Farmer Lodge and Rhoda and notices that they are behind her. We see that Gertrude’s case after the death of the boy was so serious that she never made it home alive. We also see now that her arm caused her death and that she became frail and fragile.
Her delicate vitality sapped perhaps by the paralysed arm, collapsed under the double sock that followed the severe strain, physical and mental. ‘ We see that Gertrude became insecure towards the end of the story which caused her to break down. The laws that society had enforced on Gertrude also caused her to break as she could not obey them. Gertrude is weak compared to Rhoda who is a survivor. Hardy shows that Rhoda, who did not conform to the rules, survived the brutality of society in the 19th century; however, it was Gertrude who could not tolerate the brutality of society which resulted in her death.
Farmer Lodge, a prosperous farmer of the town. An ignorant arrogant coward for many reasons. Firstly, his illicit relationship with Rhoda Brook was frowned upon by society due to the difference between social class. He is known to be arrogant as he does not give the boy his name, this may be due to the pressure by society. When Farmer Lodge brings home his new bride, he was so proud and impressed that he got a young beautiful wife, and the first thing he done was show her off to the town. For Farmer Lodge, She was the ideal ‘trophy’ wife as she elevated his status and image.
O yes, you must expect to be stared at just at first, my pretty Gertrude. ‘ From this we see that Farmer Lodge is in a way certain that Gertrude would get stared at by the town. We see after Farmer Lodge finds out about Gertrude’s withered arm, their relationship begins to fall apart especially as Gertrude cannot bear a child and Farmer Lodge is desperate for an heir and brings forth the subject of adopting his son. We see that Farmer Lodge is selfish as when he needs his son he is willing to accept him whereas usually he takes no notice of the boy. I once thought of adopting a boy; but he is too old now.
And he is gone away I don’t know where. ‘ From this we also see that he is naive to think that Rhoda would give up her son for Farmer Lodge. We see that towards the end there is a change in character for Farmer Lodge, he becomes a better person. He sells his property and goes away, he withdraws from the society that once pressurised him into ending his relationship with Rhoda, and he then dies two years later. We see throughout the story that he is scared and weak compared to Rhoda who was stronger despite the fact that she was a woman.
The Son’s Veto’ is what Thomas Hardy tells us of a woman who allows her life to be ruled by the middle-class people her marriage has put her among, and, in the end to be fatally frustrated by the snobbery of her own son. Hardy also shows us the class differences just as he did for ‘The Withered Arm. ‘ Sophy Twycott is a young lady who we see is victimised by society for many reasons yet to be mentioned. We see that her disability makes her dependent on others and may be the reason for her harsh treatment from those around her like her son, Randolph.
He have been so comfortable these last few hours that I am sure he cannot have missed us,’ She replied. ‘Has, dear mother – not have! ‘ exclaimed the public schoolboy, with an impatient fastidiousness that was almost harsh. ‘Surely you know that by this time! ‘ From this quote we see that Sophy is in some way shouted at her by son due to her speech. We also see that her regional dialect shows her class and from the quote we know she does not belong to a high social class. When the boy exclaims, ‘Surely you know that by this time! ‘ it shows that she finds it difficult to adapt to a higher class.
Before Sophy became Mrs Twycott, she was a parlour maid for Mr Twycott, a preacher. As we progress through the story we see that Sophy regrets the decisions she made throughout her life. ‘It might have been assumed that she was wondering if she had done wisely in shaping her life as she shaped it, to bring out such a result as this. ‘ We see that her decisions have caused her to be controlled by everyone in her life; we also see that her life is boring after she got married to Mr Twycott and now spends most of her time on her hair as she has nothing else to do. To the eyes of a man viewing it from behind, the nut-brown hair was a wonder and a mystery. Under the black beaver hat surmounted by its tuft of black feathers, the long locks composed a rare, if somewhat barbaric, example of ingenious art.
One could understand such weavings and coilings being wrought to last intact for a year, or even a calendar month; but that they should be all demolished regularly at bedtime, after a single day of permanence, seemed a reckless waste of successful fabrication. From this we see how intricately her hair is done, but it seems as a waste as it is removed every night and done again the following morning, it shows us of Sophy’s purposeless life. We also see that her reason of marrying Mr Twycott was mainly out of respect and financial security as it was seen as an honour in society if a lower class woman was to marry a higher class man. We see how once she marries, Mr Twycott and her run away from society due to the uncompromising class system set by society.
This uncompromising class system compares to ‘The Withered Arm’ but Rhoda and Farmer Lodge do not run away, they result in ending their relationship. ‘They were, however, away from everyone who had known her former position; and also under less observation. ‘ From this we see that where they moved to they are not noticed as much by society how they were previously. Many years into Sophy’s marriage she still does not understand the etiquettes of belonging to a higher class even though Mr Twycott attempted to elevate her to his level by educating her.
She had now been married more than fourteen years, and her husband had taken much trouble with her education; but she still held confused ideas on the use of ‘was’ and ‘were’. ‘ We see that Sophy yearns for her roots even after her husband’s death. She seems to have no happiness. ‘O how gladly- even to work in the fields. ‘ She is willing to do anything just to go back to her old life and she now seems to pity herself due to her self inflicted decisions that she is made to regret. We also see that her son seems to be drifting apart from her.
Society at that time knew women to be irrational and treated them like children as their emotions often overtook them. We see this in the story when Mr Twycott leaves his possessions with his trustees. ‘Throughout these changes Sophy had been treated like the child she was in nature though not in years. She was left with no control over anything that had been her husband’s beyond her modest personal income. ‘ Towards the end of the story Hardy shifts the narrative as Sophy was not considered very important; the men were seen to be more important.
Sophy’s death was tragic as well as sad as she was denied the one happiness she wanted which was to marry Sam. We now see that Sophy’s death may be resulted by the brutality of society and those around her, we also see that she became weak like Gertrude which caused her to break down. Randolph Twycott, son of Mr ; Mrs Twycott is seen to be a stubborn and selfish boy. We see many times throughout the story he is ashamed of his mother due to her status and her dialect. ‘Has, dear mother – not have! ‘ exclaimed the public schoolboy, with an impatient fastidiousness that was almost harsh. Surely you know that by this time! ‘
This quote shows us he scolds his mother for her speech. ‘I am ashamed of you! It will ruin me! ‘ Some say he may be ashamed of her due to her being lower class, he continuously reminds her of how inadequate she is and patronises her. We see he follows his father’s footsteps as he does not trust his mother as well as him being stubborn due to not trusting his mother when she asks to marry Sam. We also see that he is still a child as he begins to cry, ‘burst into passionate tears. ‘ Towards the end we see he exploits religion for his own selfish needs. And swear that she must not wed Samuel Hobson without his consent. ‘
We see even though he has become an adult he still controls his mother and tells her what she can and cannot do. Mr Twycott is a preacher as well as a typical Victorian man. We know that he is upper class and a rich wealthy man. He marries his parlour maid where some say he may have married out of guilt. ‘Mr Twycott knew perfectly well that he had committed social suicide by this step’ From this we see that he knows of the outcome of his decision however some say he is fit to be a preacher as he married a lower class despite knowing what it would result in.
However, some say he ran away from society as he was ashamed of Sophy. We see that he made many sacrifices for Sophy, firstly by running away from society but he was in some way scared of what society had to say. Once he married he tried to elevate Sophy to his level as he knew it was good for the both of them, ‘and her husband had taken much trouble with her education. ‘ He is caring as he wanted her to fit in and he arranges everything before he dies as he thinks it is good for her.
Mr Twycott had never rallied, and now lay in a well-packed cemetery to the south of the great city, where, if all the dead it contained had stood erect and alive, not one would have known him or recognised his name. ‘ From this we see he is isolated as he is buried amongst people who he did not know and who took no notice of him. This shows love as well as sacrifice for Sophy. He is a typical Victorian man as he knew women were irrational and when he died he left his possessions with his trustees. Society was a rigid uncompromising class system that broke up relationships.
In both The Withered Arm and The Son’s Veto relationships were either ended of forced to be pushed out of town. Rhoda and Farmer Lodge’s relationship ended as they knew it would be ostracised by society. However, Sophy and Mr Twycott ran away from society as they knew what the consequences will be as they married. From this we see the extent of control that society had over people and this control could never be overcome. The reason these stories were written was because Hardy was concerned of the way women were treated and some say his disapproval was shown in The Withered Arm and The Son’s Veto.