In this essay I will explore the ways that Thomas Hardy portrays women in his book the Wessex Tales. Women’s reputations and their appearances were of paramount importance. A woman’s role during 1840 and after in society was to look very decorative towards men. In the tale “The Withered Arm” there is two main female characters Rhoda Brook and Gertrude Lodge and from the very beginning of this tale these two women are contrasted, mainly because of their appearances.
Gertrude Lodge is described as a “rosy cheeked, tisty-tosty little body” while Rhoda Brook is describes as solitary, “thin” and a “fading woman of thirty” While Gertrude is described as blooming and beautiful like a flower in full bloom.
Rhoda is described as a withered old flower which has been neglected. This description is true, because Farmer Lodge neglected Rhoda, because she was getting older and he only went for young, beautiful and attractive women. Farmer Lodge sonly after he had neglected Rhoda for the beautiful Gertrude as a good replacement.
This suggests that women need men just for survival and in order to blossom. Thomas Hardy portrays women in all different kinds of ways throughout his Wessex Tales. Rhoda Brook and Gertrude Lodge are heavily portrayed during the tale “The Withered Arm”. Hardy gives all women throughout his tales a fully descriptive description which helps the reader understand what women were like in the 19th century. Most of Hardy’s tales are about very young and beautiful women throwing themselves at men and marrying them at a young age.
Soonly after the man realises that the woman he married isn’t beautiful anymore he moves out and divorces her and finds another young lady to marry. In the Three Strangers, there is only one main female character, Mrs Fennel, the wife of a shepherd which it tells us at the beginning of the tale. At the beginning of the tale, Hardy portrays women at a party by telling the reader all about their appearances and what there personalities are like and what they are wearing at the current time.
The main character Mrs Fennel is portrayed in a negative kind of way and is called frugal woman when introduced to the reader. Hardy from the start of the tale doesn’t want the reader to like Mrs Fennel after his comment of calling her ‘frugal’. Mrs Fennel was the orchestrate of the party and she decided on what everyone else had to do and at what time they should do it. In one instance, Mrs Fennel try’s to distract the musicians that are playing music at the party, but when they just ignore her, Mrs Fennel sits down in a tired mind.
The reader maybe has sympathy for Mrs Fennel, but Hardy is trying to convince the reader that she isn’t a nice woman. In the tale ‘The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion’ there is only one main female character, Phyllis Grove who lives with her father. Phyllis is a single woman and thinks her future is merely bleak while she is living with her father on a farm. In reality, Phyllis wanted a man to love, marry and be with for the rest of her life. This is shown when Hardy says the daughter’s seclusion was great’ and she ‘became so shy that if she met a stranger… she felt ashamed at his gaze, walked awkwardly, and blushed to her shoulders.
Hardy makes the reader learn that every man or stranger walks past Phyllis she blushes and feels embarrassed to talk to him, even if she likes him. When the German army came to were Phyllis lives, one of the Hussar’s notices Phyllis, she immediately likes the Hussar soldier and Hardy writes a short sentence to make out Phyllis wasn’t blamed for liking him. In ‘Fellow-Townsmen’ there are two main female characters. Throughout the tale, Thomas Hardy contrasts the differences between one relationship and another.
Mrs Barnet is a wealthy young woman married to Mr Barnet and Mrs Downe maybe more badly off than Mrs Barnet and also is married to Mr Downe. The relationships of both of the couples are widely different to each other when Mrs Downe and Mrs Barnet are swept out to sea. When the news of Mrs Downe’s death had come through, Mr Downe was sobbing badly and was distraught to here the death of his wife. Mrs Barnet was saved and resuscitated by her husband, but soon left him to live with a close friend and showed no feelings for him after Mr Barnet had saved her life.
Mr Barnet wasn’t really bothered about his wife leaving him as it meant that he could try and get his neighbour Lucy Savile to marry him. In the tale “Interlopers at the Knap”, it begins with two men talking to each other about women. Farmer Darton comments on the girl he is about to be married to. Farmer Darton is going to marry a young girl called Sally Hall, who is living with her mother. Hardy describes Sally as strong minded, independent an that she is very emotional in her views. Hardy makes the reader to like Sally and portrays her in positive way and that she wants to marry well for her family.
Farmer Darton is happy to marry Sally, because he thinks that marrying someone who is less down the order in wealth than himself will mean that Sally will look up to him. During the tale, Farmer Darton describes Sally to a close friend as just being ‘simple’. This tells the reader that Darton doesn’t think Sally is really anything special just a woman he can begin to love for a couple of years and then divorce and move onto another young woman who is desperate to marry a wealthy man When Sally is waiting for Farmer Darton to turn up with her wedding dress, she says to her mother I don’t care if he comes or not.
This shows that Sally isn’t really that keen on marrying Farmer Darton in the first place and is showing that there relationship is on leaps and bounds and there is a weakness between them. Throughout all the tales of Thomas Hardy, portrays women differently in each individual story. Hardy describes some women in his tales as weak and vulnerable, whereas in other tales they can be strong minded and independent. Hardy does this to create a lot of tension for the reader to be engaged in the lives of woman during the 18th century.