I used this as a GCSE text with a group of varying ability. The stories went down extremely well with this age group, who didn't find the language too difficult. We loved the typical Hardy-esque country settings and the twists and turns of individual plots. A recommended read for those curious to dip into Hardy or those who enjoy reading a good old yarn!
it is only in recent years that I have discovered Thomas Hardy A total contrast to Charles Dickens writings which seem to follow a trend and generally conclude, in the main with a happy ending. Hardys novels and short stories are normally set TV series. For those who have not read Hardy The Withered Arm is an excellent introduction to his works which I feel deserve more recognition
In this apparently not very homogeneous collection of short stories Thomas Hardy unveils without any scruple the real nature and the ultimate motives behind the gables of respectability, religious fervor or a soldier's glory: pure hypocrisy and struggle for individual, social or gene survival.
Religion In `The Distracted Preacher', a minister discovers that a `respectable' widow is not a Methodist of pure blood: `what is money compared with a clean conscience?' he asks. The answer is upright: `My conscience is clear. I know my mother, but the king I have never seen. His dues are nothing to me. But it is a great deal to me that my mother and I should live.' In `Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir', brandy and beer turn parish players into heathen.
Social, individual and gene survival `Tony Kytes, the Arch-Deceiver' has three sweethearts. In `The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion', the rosy vision that `soldiers were monumental objects then. A divinity still hedged kings here and there; and war was considered a glorious thing', is shattered by a tentative of desertion. Moreover, in the same story, `unequal marriages were regarded rather as a violation of the laws of nature than as a mere infringement of convention.' In `The Son's Veto', even a son rejects his `lower class' mother: `I am ashamed of you! It will degrade me in the eyes of all the gentlemen of England.' It is a social suicide to marry your maid. In `The Withered Arm' (a story about a charm), `the two parents had wished to avoid exposure.'
These masterfully written stories are a perfect introduction to Thomas Hardy's main novels. Highly recommended.