In the following passage Phyllis Grove resists the temptation to run off with the handsome, foreign Tina:
She always attributed her success in carrying out her resolve to her lover's honour, for as soon as she declared to him in feeble words that she had changed her mind, and felt that she could not, dared not, fly with him, he forbore to urge her, grieved as he was at her decision. Unscrupulous pressure on his part, seeing how romantically she had become attached to him, would no doubt have turned the balance in his favour. But he did nothing to tempt her unduly or unfairly.
On her side, fearing for his safety, she begged him to remain. This, he declared, could not be. [Wessex Tales]
Significantly, this passage marks the moment that Phyllis's character exemplifies Hardy's tendency to portray less than angelic heroines. Phyllis represents the unruly woman who attempts to escape the physical, emotional, and spiritual constraints upon her life; in this respect, she resembles the Tartarean beauty of The return of the Native, Eustacia Vye. Several times in the narrative, Hardy alludes to Phyllis's impropriety--Phyllis is a "failed Cleopatra" or at least a compassionate "Desdemona." Her impropriety at disobeying her father's orders to refrain from seeing the Hussar and her actual initiation of the relationship would call her character into question. Despite the restraint she demonstrates in this passage, her reputation remains tainted even years afterward, when all the community remebers and "[keeps] alive" the parts of the story that are both most sensational and "most unfavourable to her character." The passage also demonstrates Hardy's tendency to exalt the lowly, minor, or rustic male characters. Significantly, it is Tina's honour and decency that prompt him not to plead a case that he ironically would have won: he "forbore to urge her" to accompany him, despite how the loss of Phyllis grieved him. He could have used "unscrupulous pressure" which would effectively have "turned the balance in his favour," but Tina refrains from doing so. Hardy economically, subtly, and effectively exalts the integrity of the "foreign barbarian," Matthäus Tina, in signature Hardyesque style.
Last modified 29 April 2004