‘On the Western Circuit’ and ‘The Withered Arm’
‘On the Western Circuit’ and ‘The Withered Arm’

‘On the Western Circuit’ and ‘The Withered Arm’

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  • Pages: 4 (1839 words)
  • Published: October 20, 2017
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What we need to understand is that all is not perfect, however perfect it may seem in appearance. There is always a larger picture to what a person perceives, however well hidden the secrets lie; and the fact that in a married relationship, appearance means nothing at all.

In a Victorian society, a lady betrothed to a wealthy land owner is to be indeed just that: a lady, perfect by appearance and with the correct qualities that a lady must possess.She would respect and obey her husband to a point of prosiness, she would bring him many children to inherit his money and land, and despite the fact that she is well educated, would be bound to care for her children as a women in that society would. In other words, a wealthy land owners wife would be regarded as a lady, and a lady is all. Two of Hardy’s short stories ‘On the Western Circuit’ and ‘A Withered Arm’ show in great detail the role and character of a married woman in the Victorian era.

However, both stories also possess, as Hardy would have put it, detail within detail.The point of my essay is to get across Hardy’s message on a woman’s role in marriage, as Hardy would have done to his reading audience. Throughout the essay it will become plain why Hardy felt so strongly about a woman’s role in marriage, and why he chose to write with women as the main characters. Channeling his opinion through the narrative voice is Hardy’s main technique used to investigate the thorny issue of marriage. Also, both stories show how love occurs between a couple, but so

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ciety’s expectations prevent the couple from marrying.In my conclusion, I will give a personal opinion on Victorian marriage, with an understanding of Hardy’s.

In Hardy’s era, if you were married there would be a strong presence of high social status, class and wealth of the man and woman. In many ways, a woman’s last name would act as a title, it seems ridiculous that in our society people aspire for love, and a marriage represents love. However, controversially, in the Victorian era, marriage would represent a person’s status. In most cases marriage would have nothing to do with love. In both ‘The Withered Arm’ and ‘On the Western Circuit” we can see clear evidence of this.

When we are first introduced to Rhoda Brook in ‘the Withered Arm’ she is summarized to us as “a thin fading woman of thirty”, immediately the Victorian readers would have presumed that Rhoda is of a very low class and very poor. Her given age would also indicate that she is not a young woman of sixteen already married to a wealthy man, and that her chance of doing so has passed. Throughout the passage about the “milkmaid” Rhoda, the narrative voice also describes her as “thin, worn milkmaid”, “the Lorne milkmaid” and “the thin woman”; not exactly the majestically beautiful woman we would expect to have once been married to Farmer Lodge…

Who we (Hardy’s Victorian audience) would expect to marry this wealthy Farmer Lodge however quickly comes onto th

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scene. To the milkmaids of Egdon Heath, Farmer Lodge’s new wife arriving in the afternoon was the perfect opportunity for gossip. However none of these milkmaids had seen nor heard of Lodges new wife so gossiped about how they assumed she would be. In their thick southern accents the milkmaids predicted the new Mrs. Lodge to be “a rosy cheeked, titsy totsy, little body enough”, “Years younger than he they say” and “His young wife”.

Once the new Mrs Lodge did arrive, it turned out that these women had predicted correctly, Gertrude Lodge was indeed a young, beautiful woman, well educated and, supposedly, a virgin; the direct opposite of Rhoda. However, after spending a while as Mrs Gertrude Lodge, Gertrude discovers that her arm is withered (supposedly inflicted by Rhoda after a supernatural dream), distorting her physical beauty. However, has it really? Or is it just that their perception of beauty is distorted by the bindings of a proper Victorian marriage.Gertrude then is no longer Lodge’s perfect wife and their marriage is lost for love, if there ever was any to begin with, and has, as poor Gertrude puts it, “sank into prosiness”.

A similar situation occurs in ‘ On the Western Circuit’ where a young lawyer, Charles, described as being “not a great man”, falls in love with a young maidservant called Anna. Howevr the course of true love never runs smooth and Anna’s illiteracy is figuratively a large pot hole along the path of their relationship. The narrative voice hints that the relationship between the two progresses too rapidly as Anna is soon pregnant.In order for both characters to avoid social embarrassment and rejection they must marry. However Charles’ love for Anna was to do with the beauty of her letter writing which in fact was not hers, it was Edith’s. Edith: the woman already bound unhappily in marriage that with Charles is experiencing love for the first time.

So from this we gather that both marriages occurred due to the influence of the Victorian society. Like Lodge, Charles is attracted by a young, pretty woman, both woman are of an inferior social class so see an opportunity to “marry up”. In the end happily married couples?No. However if both couples had married because they loved each other, instead of what society insisted, would the outcomes have been different? Hardy’s tales of these unfortunate couples indicate to the Victorian audience that all is not perfect when considering marriage. Hardy is telling us that behind these storylines, there is a larger picture.

It is in fact quite a sad as this larger picture represents a large majority of Victorian couples, all who believed they were making the right choice by marrying for money and status instead of following their heart and marrying for love.It was due to this decision that most couples ended up unhappily married, and deeply regretting their decision to carry out marriage in the first place. It is this that spurred Hardy to write from the perception of four women, as opposed to the men. Up until now I have not mentioned the other side to the

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