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on 25 December 2008
The Trumpet Major is generally considered to be second-rate or light weight Hardy, but it needs to be said that "second-rate" Hardy is as good as the best of most other writers. The story is indeed almost insubstantial- a variant on the "eternal triangle" only in this case more like a "quadrangle". Three suitors, one a none-starter, are after one attractive and rather elusive girl. All the main characters are, as is customary with Hardy, strongly and lovingly drawn, and the historical background of the Napoleonic period with its gathering of armies and fear of invasion is lightly sketched and does not overwhelm the main theme of human relations in a small rural community. As a self-confessed Hardy addict I have to strongly recommend this book. It would make a good introduction to his work for one who has not previously encountered it.
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on 18 August 2001
While this is not a great novel, it is an interesting and well written one. I found myself not caring too much about the love triangle that is the main part of the novel. This is quite a serious flaw, especially when you compare it to Far From The Madding Crowd, with which The Trumpet-Major has something in common. If the main plot is weak, the characters are not. They are as interesting and as fully realised as any character in Hardy. But the real strength lies in his description of England as it awaited Napoleon's invasion: The local colour, the patriotism mingled with fear of war, and the empathy with rural people as they live out their lives. If it is not one of Hardy's great tragic masterpieces, it is still a fine book, beautifully written, and one that I would recommend to anyone who wanted a good read.
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on 15 January 2010
Warning: this review contains spoilers.

If a Thomas Hardy novel can be characterised by descriptions of landscape and the depiction of its characters within that landscape, then 'The Trumpet-Major' is not a typical Hardy novel.

Hardy adopts a light narrative style with the emphasis on the story of the heroine Anne Garland and her interactions with three suitors, the Loveday brothers (including the eponymous trumpet-major) and Festus Derriman. I found that this story got rather tedious - there were occasions when I felt like telling Anne Garland to "get on with it and make up your mind". The lack of other storylines would have brought some relief from all her dithering, but, unfortunately, there are none.

There is a nice sting in the tail at the end of the novel where Hardy confounds the reader's expectations by not providing a conventional happy ending. Anne Garland's (final) choice of suitor is determined more by sexual attraction than mutual compatibility (though Hardy, of course, cannot explicitly state this).

The novel is populated with 'stock' characters: there is the miller, the soldier, the sailor, the bounder, the actress. Indeed, play-acting is an important theme; characters dissemble, disguise their true feelings, put on an act.

The Napoleonic wars and the threat of invasion are the background against which the story plays out, though, in keeping with the overall tenor of the novel, it is not a serious threat. The episode where the local men drill could come straight from an episode of the television series `Dad's Army'.

'The Trumpet-Major' is a minor Hardy novel, but minor Hardy is better than many other writers' major novels.
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on 19 March 2014
Starting a Hardy novel often takes a little time to tune in, as the cadences of the speech and some archaic words, as well the regional accents spelled phonetically, can confuse the modern reader who is more used to plain English. In this respect, the book's opening reminded me of a slightly less shambolic start to that which greets us in Under the Greenwood Tree.

Our two main characters which come into sight are the Trumpet-Major himself and Anne, who is quite fond of the arrival of an army regiment in Overcombe in the Wessex downs. Unlike most of Hardy's novels, set in the latter part of the 19th century, this is set in the early years of that century, particularly against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. Indeed, the reason the regiment take up their post on the south coast is because there is a belief (or is it fear?) that Buonaparte, as he is referred to, may be about to launch an invasion.

There is something of a friendship developed between the man of the army and woman of the village, but their social status is not the primary driver between them. Other suitors are nearby, not least the character of Festus Derriman. To him is afforded the very worst of characteristics. He thinks of himself as a gentleman, but is a misogynist of the ugliest character, with lines such as "Haw, haw; why, I thought your "go away" meant "come on" as it does with so many of the women I meet." Charming.

The other contender for Anne’s affection is a character called Bob. Here, Hardy's storytelling skills fall down a little, as it is not until second half of the book that we work out (though it is not a startling revelation, as though it were a plot point) that Bob is in fact the brother of trumpet major, who is sometimes referred to as John, sometimes as Jack. This creates some confusion when a character is then referred to simply by their surname, as the reader cannot immediately tell if it is Bob or John who is being referenced.

As with some of Hardy's best work, somebody dies and somebody falls in love, though I shan't disclose here the final outcome. The level of drama ramps up, making the second half of the book much better than the first, not least because some of the background characters drop out of the picture, leaving us with fewer characters to focus on, though I wasn't overly impressed with the depth of characterisation. The climax of the book was marvelously entertaining and I still wasn't sure what the final outcome would be right up until the final few pages.

It's a wonderfully entertaining book that kept me distracted for little over a week, but I can see why it's not considered part of Hardy's "core" canon.
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on 9 November 2010
This is an historical, romantic novel with a comedy element. It is beautifully written with fantastic descriptions of English country life around the time of the Battle of Trafalgar 1805 and the fear of an invasion by Napoleon and his troops. You can hear the horses drinking water by the Mill, you can see the brightly coloured soldiers' uniforms, you can taste the country food and ale and you can become completely frustrated by the courtship of Anne, the heroine by two soldies and a sailor. A good read.
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VINE VOICEon 24 November 2013
This is social history first and novel second. In his notes Hardy points out that he was relying on the oral history of his own older generations to recapture rural life at the very start of the 19th Century. Many passages feel like they have been directly recounted to Hardy, for example, the provincial tour by the Royal Family. It reminded me of 'Under The Greenwood Tree' which has a similar purpose and, to my mind, should not be judged against the major novels.

There is a striking comparison to be made with Britain in 1940. Napoleon, like Hitler, is rampaging across Europe and Britain stands alone protected by the Channel. There are warning beacons manned by a Dads Army who parade around in the village square, 'armed with hurdle sticks and cabbage stumps'. Everyone is in uniform or enlisting. There is a sense of a slightly relaxed moral tone in the time of crisis. This explains Anne Garland's ability to flirt with three suitors, apparently without opprobrium.

The main characters are average. I have no idea what goes on in Anne's mind ('that slippery object') and even less interest in the Loveday brothers. Festus and his uncle (old man Steptoe!),gave some much-needed colour.

A homage to the earlier generations of our Island Race who stood alone against 'Old Boney'.
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on 12 September 2012
This is an excellent read and typical of Thomas Hardy's work with suspense and a twist in keeping you focused right until the final page. Well recommend for any Hardy fan
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on 28 July 2014
Lovely Hardy story full of twists and turns. It had a rather slow beginning but having set the scene it took off and was a
terrific story. My husband is a french historian and was very interested in the bits about the fear felt should Napoleon arrive on our shores.
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on 9 December 2015
Studied Hardy's Tess and Return in high school and read most of his other stuff since then, i'm only halfway through this but so far it's one of my favourites of his, it's so well written in his way and this one is so easy to follow and be immersed in
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on 12 January 2015
What a shame! This kindle edition needs some serious editing, particularly where "th" is regularly replaced with the letter "m". The Garlands have a very interesting-sounding morn hedge in their garden. Time to dig out the paperback!
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