In the following passage Phyllis finally decides not to flee to the Continent with Matthäus Tina, Hardy's "Melancholy Hussar:"
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]
Phyllis devotes herself to fulfilling her father's wishes to marry Humphrey Gould, son of an old friend. Phyllis was forbidden to marry outside her social level, especially not a foreigner like Matthäus. It is ironic that Phyllis would suffer for the sake of her father in an arranged marriage when Humphrey has already secretly married another. She does not know about Humphrey's duplicity until after she decides not to accompany the deserters.
Dr. Grove may have limited Phyllis's marital choices for selfish reasons. He is an "irritable man" and has seen even his old friends "less and less frequently." We may connect him as a figure of set boundaries and limits with the garden wall that separates Phyllis from the young hussar at the beginning of the story. At the end of the story, the graves of the deserters "are overgrown with nettles" since these thorny flowers also reinforce the margin of "safe" (patriarchal) and "dangerous" (public) territory at the bottom of her garden earlier. After Phyllis as keeper of the graves passes away in advanced age, the nettles take over the graves entirely. Since Phyllis in youth was keeper not only of the garden but of her widower-father's house, the nettles are a double symbol as they are an extension of her her father's social "thorniness" and also of the control that he exerts over Phyllis. The nettles by the garden wall represent the social construction of nineteenth- century English women — they must be attended when in public, protected and controlled. The nettles are also thematically connected to Matthäus's losing his corporal's stripes as a sting to his social standing. Phyllis fear of loving creates nettles around her heart. The narrator becomes a nettle as the story is a warning that those from outside rural Wessex will cause its inhabitants only despair and chaos.
The intertextuality at work in Hardy's short story "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion" includes Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, and the Bible, since allusions to those works function to explain Phyllis's character and circumstances. The film The scarlet Tunic lacks these intertextual influences, relying instead on the talismanic influence of a volume of Wordsworth's poetry that Phyllis gives to "Sergeant" Matthäus "Singer." The film challenges the barriers of class, gender, and ethnicity in revealing both Phyllis's gruff father and the emotionally-disturbed English colonel of the regiment as xenophobic snobs. The film also challenges our conventional notions of closure since the passage in question is never dramatized, and we are left to speculate about what will happen to Phyllis's relationship with the handsome, Romantic foreigner.
Last modified 29 April 2004