Instructions to students in English 3412 (Victorian Fiction): As indicated in the course outline, since these questions are being assigned in advance to individual students, answers are due prior to the in-class discussion. Groups should be prepared to give their conclusions orally as well as in writing.
Part One: Structure
A. In "Hardy's Short Stories: A Reconsideration" (Studies in Short Fiction 11, 1: 75-84), Norman Page asserts that Hardy's fifty-three short stories may be categorized in the following manner:
(1) those revealing a humourous and affectionate observation of rustic life (e. g., "A Few Crusted Characters" (1891, LLI) and "The Distracted Preacher" (1879, WT);
(2) tales on romantic or supernatural themes, often reminiscent of balladry and folk-tales (e. g., "The Withered Arm" (1888, WT) and "The Fiddler of the Reels" (1893, LLI);
(3) realistic and often ironic or tragic stories of modern life, usually later in date of composition than most of those in the previous two categories (e. g., "On the Western Circuit" (1891, LLI) and "An Imaginative Woman" (1894, LLI));
(4)historical tales, set in the Napoleonic period ("A Tradition of 1804" (1882, WT), "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion" (1890, LLI)) or earlier (A Group of Noble Dames).
Though there is inevitably some overlapping between these groups, each of them may be related to a distinctive element in Hardy's work as a whole. (77)
Explain how, despite its falling under Page's fourth category, "The Melancholy Hussar" might be placed in one or more of the other three categories.
B. How do several coincidences lead to the final catastrophe? Explain whether you find this conjunction of events plausible or implausible.
Part Two: The Narrator and Narrative Point-of-View
C. Although the story's narrator is not identified by name, Hardy nevertheless establishes him as a personality and a presence in the story: what does the author communicate about his narrator?
D. The narrator in the opening refers to "those eventful days," but not specify a time period in which the action occurs until the closing of the first and the beginning of the second paragraph. In fact, the narrator seems to be deliberately vague: why? What associations are created by the Latin term "impedimenta" that lend a certain timelessness to the opening?
E. How is the narrator's mentioning that "invention has followed invention" (page 1) connected to his implying that (as of the fin de sicle) war is generally regarded no longer as "a glorious thing"? Given the period of composition, to what "inventions" may the narrator be obliquely alluding?
F. How does the narrator initially create the impression that Humphrey Gould is untrustworthy? Why is this character failing important to the story's outcome?
G. >Verisimilitude is a work of art's having the semblance of actuality or the appearance of truth: how does Hardy use the narrative voice in the opening paragraphs to create this impression that what we are about to read is history rather than fiction?
H. Explain how in this story Hardy takes advantage of the sense of reality and immediacy of the first-person narrative point-of-view and the knowledge implicit in the limited omniscient point-of-view.
Part Three: Plot
I. Explain what event in the story you feel constitutes the climax.
J. Why is Dr. Grove's reclusive nature important to the plot of the story?
K. What motivates Phyllis to abandon her projected elopement with Matthus? How might the story have turned out differently if the deserters had had Phyllis with them?
L. The "nettles" mentioned at the conclusion of the story indicate that the graves of the deserters and perhaps even the grave of Phyllis lie untended at present: why is this detail important?
M. "The trumpets and tatoo sounded, and still he did not go." What sort of penalty does Matthus suffer for this infraction of military protocol? How does this incident foreshadow the final catastrophe? What attitude towards Phyllis does Matthus's behaviour imply?
Part Four: Genre
A short story is a relatively brief fictional NARRATIVE in PROSE. It may range in length from the SHORT-SHORT STORY of 500 words up to the "long-short story" of 12,000 to 15,000 words. It may be distinguished from the SKETCH and the TALE in that it has a definite formal development, a firmness in construction. It finds its unity in many things other than plot . . .--in effect, theme, character, tone, mood, and style. . . . . Furthermore, however slight the short story may appear, it consists of more than a mere record of an incident or an ANECDOTE. (William Harmon and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature [Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999], pages 480-481)
N. To what extent is "The Melancholy Hussar" a short story rather than a tale or anecdote?
O. The trajectory of the plot together with Shakespearean allusions to Desdemona in Othello and Cleopatra in Anthony and Cleopatra suggests that Hardy is fashioning a tragedy in "The Melancholy Hussar." According to Harmon and Holman, the following are features of a tragedy:
1. A causally related series of events in the life of a person of significance, culminating in an unhappy CATASTROPHE, the whole treated with dignity and seriousness.
2. The purpose of tragedy is to arouse pity and fear and thus produce in the audience a CATHARSIS of these emotions, which may be stimulated by SPECTACLE.
3. The plot of a tragedy involves a protagonist who is better than ordinary people, and this person must be brought from happiness to misery.
4. The hero or heroine must be a person of high character and must face his or her destiny with courage and nobility of spirit.
5. There is a flaw (HAMARTIA) in the tragic hero that causes his or her downfall, an inconsistency or contradiction that opens the way for undeserved tragic consequences. The HAMARTIA may also be an error, frailty, mistaken judgment, or misstep through which the fortunes of the hero are reversed.
Given the above points, determine whether Hardy has successfully melded the form of the short story with the characteristics of tragedy.
Part Five: Critical Thought
Feminist criticism has pursued since the Second World War the analysis of works of male authors, especially in the depiction of women and their relation to women readers); it has become a wide-ranging exploration of the construction of gender and identity, the role of women in culture and society, and the possibilities of women's creative expression. (See Harmon and Holman 211)
P. In terms of the above definition, apply a feminist perspective to "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion" in terms of the limitations that class, gender, nationality, and region place upon her.
Q. From a Deconstructive perspective, may be analyzed in terms of its inherent hierarchies: male--female, English--foreign, upper-middle class--working class, nature--culture, personal inclination--societal expectation, parent--child, duty--love (with the first in each pair having privilege or power). Briefly explicate the story in these terms.
R. According to Julia Kristeva, "every text is absorption and transformation of another text" (trans. Jeanine Parisier Plottel). The key intertextual elements are "repetition and annotation . . . , quotation, allusion, echo, parody, and revision" (Harmon and Holman 274). For example, Hardy's allusions to Shakespeare's Desdemona and Cleopatra may have intertexual effects, and certain patterns within the story suggest Romeo and Juliet. Show how intertextuality affects our reading of "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion."
Part Six: Characterization
S. Why does Dr. Grove deride as "foreign fellows" and "barbarians" the York Hussars, who have been stationed in his area to guard against French attack? When he describes their "attentions" as "unmeaning," what is he implying? How might an historical perspective of England's relations with the "foreigners" across the Channel, the French, during the eighteenth century be applied to his apparent xenophobia?
T. Why is Phyllis's father still determined to have Gould as a son-in-law after rumours regarding his having cancelled the engagement begin circulating in the village? Since Phyllis is not, properly speaking, "a village girl," why is her relationship with Gould of interest to the villagers?
U. How does Phyllis, engaged to Humphrey Gould, initially justify her relationship with the young hussar? How does this relationship develop from friendship to romance?
V. Hardy in the title announces that the young hussar is "melancholy." Why is this term preferable to such adjectives as sad, despondent, and depressed to describe Matthsus? Why is Phyllis surprised at his being "melancholy"?
W. What contrasting perspectives do Phyllis and her father have of the York Hussars? Explain which perspective you are more inclined to accept, and why.
X. Why would Dr. Grove be unlikely to consider permitting his daughter to marry Matthsus, even if the well-bred young foreigner should be promoted in rank?
Y. Why did Phyllis as an old lady of 75 enjoin the narrator to "silence as to her share in the incident, till she should be 'dead, buried, and forgotten'"?
Z. To what extent does the Colonel embody those forces arrayed against Matthsus and Phyllis? The Colonel's order to turn the bodies out of the coffins seems excessive. What considerations motivate him to give this order?
- The Textual History of Thomas Hardy's "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion" (1888)
- Necessary Vocabulary
- The Scarlet Tunic: A Television Adaptation of Hardy's "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion" — A Sensationalist's Transformation of a Minor Classic
Entered the Victorian Web 19 August 2003; last modified 9 June 2014