Thomas Hardy's Novella The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid -- Short Story, Novel, or Novella?

Philip V. Allingham, Contributing Editor, Victorian Web; Faculty of Education, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario

Hardy liked the shape of a short story; it was sufficiently baggy to accommodate almost any kind of complication; it could be as brief as the fifteen pages of "The Duke's Reappearance," or as long as the hundred pages [in volume form -- in The Graphic, twenty-one, including for illustrations] of "The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid." [Orel, 97]

Clearly, The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid fails to conform to one of the most common expectations of a short story, namely that it is of such a length that it may be read at a single sitting. In its initial American publication, in Harper's, it is obviously a short novel or novella, running in seven instalments from June 23rd to August 4th. Although its full text was published under a single cover in England, in the The Graphic Summer Number, it was advertised in the regular edition of that weekly on Saturday, June 23rd, as "A COMPLETE NOVEL Running through the Number" (p. 619). One may be sure that Arthur Locker, The Graphic's editor from 1870 to 1891, had chosen this designation partly to capture reader interest in a new Hardy novel, which Harper's, in mentioning A Laodicean, Far from the Madding Crowd, and The Return of the Native in the running title of The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid, implies is comparable in quality to Hardy's recent volume works. However, there is more than astute advertising in Locker's designating as a "novel" what Hardy in a February 13, 1883, letter to Locker terms a "story" (Collected Letters I: 115). Most modern readers would concur with Michael Benazon that it is a "tale of novella length" (56).

Despite the modest influences of Hawthorne and Poe upon the attitudes of Victorian readers, the short story was generally regarded in nineteenth-century Britain as a slight, unmeritable form, often mere magazine filler. Prior to the artistic advances of James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and Katherine Mansfield, short-story writers were not striving for what Wendell V. Harris terms "that unity of effect which the [twentieth-century] short story writer gains by an economy that subordinates everything to a central thrust" -- which Edgar Allen Poe in his June, 1836, review of "'Watkins Tottle' and Other Sketches" in the Southern Literary Messenger calls "Unity of effect, a quality not easily appreciated or indeed easily comprehended by an ordinary mind . . . ." As A. F. Cassis points out, as recently as 1971 even among Hardy scholars there was a generally dismissive attitude towards Hardy's productions as a writer of short fiction, much of which falls into that indeterminate position between genuine short story and novella. Hardy attains a length of 56,000 words -- well above Wendell V. Harris's arbitrary boundary of 30,000 words (Guide, p. 11) between the two genres‹ by constructing a frame to unify a series of short stories in A Group of Noble Dames (1889-91). The same strategy in A Few Crusted Characters (1891) produces a work of only 17,000 words. However, in The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid (1883) Hardy has created a foreshortened novel comparable in its unity of setting, conflict, and character to Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), a work whose length and compression qualify it as a novella rather than either a novel or short story. Kristin Brady has speculated that Hardy did nothing about revising and republishing The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid for thirty years because its 27,000-words rendered it inadequate for packaging as a work of volume length:

What may have prevented his publishing it either in Life's Little Ironies [1893-4] or in a volume by itself is the story's unusual length, and its resulting failure to fit neatly into either of the conventional Victorian categories for fiction, the short story and the novel (James's defence of the nouvelle in his preface to 'The Lesson of the Master' did not appear until 1909). (169)

If the qualification for a novella is that it defies completion within a single sitting, then the American readers of Harper's experienced Hardy's story as a serialised novella, while it may be argued that British readers of The Graphic experienced much the same text in a very different manner, and may have regarded it (despite the journal's advertisement) as a long short story. Having to mediate between printed text and illustrations over a number of weeks, American readers participated in a process of initial reading, anticipation, confirmation, speculation, and re-reading. In contrast, British readers experienced Hardy's text whole, being able to study all four illustrations at any time and to finish the story at their own pace, not in the teaspoonfuls of part-publication. Although each part in Harper's tends to close conveniently after roughly two-and-a-half columns, the curtains are neither awkward nor illogical; in fact, often in the Harper's version a curtain implicitly poses questions that next week's instalment will answer.

Related Materials

Selected List of References

Allingham, Philip V. "The Initial Publications of Thomas Hardy's Novella "The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid" in the Graphic and Harper's (Summer, 1883)." The Thomas Hardy Journal 16, 3 (October, 2000): 45-62.

Benazon, Michael. "'The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid': Hardy's Modern Romance." English Studies in Canada, 5:1 (1979), 56-65.

Brady, Kristin. The Short Stories of Thomas Hardy. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1982.

Cassis, A. F. "A Note on the Structure of Thomas Hardy's Short Stories."Colby Library Quarterly 10 (1974): 287-296.

Champlin, John Denison, Jr. Cyclopedia of Painters and Paintings. New York: Empire State, 1927. Vol. IV.

Graves, Algernon. A Dictionary of Artists Who Have Exhibited Works in the Principal London Exhibitions from 1760 to 1893. London: Henry Graves, 1895.

Greer, Russ. "To Philip Allingham." Unpublished e-mail correspondence, 25 August, 26 August, 2 September, and 17 September, 1999.

Hardy, Thomas. The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid. The Graphic , Summer Number (pub. 25 June) 1883, pp. 4-25; Harper's Weekly, 23 June-4 August, 1883; Collected Short Stories, ed. F. B. Pinion. London: Macmillan, 1988. pp. 788-868.

---. "Serial Rights in Stories." Athenĉum 16 May 1903: 626.

Harris, Wendell V. British Short Fiction in the Nineteenth Century: A Literary and Bibliographic Guide. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1979.

---. "English Short Fiction in the Nineteenth Century. III. The rise of the Short Story in England. . . ." Studies in Short Fiction 6, 1(Fall, 1968): 45-57.

Houfe, Simon.The Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors' Club, 1978, rev. 1996.

Lewis, Paul. "To Philip Allingham." Unpublished e-mail correspondence, 28 August and 29 August, 1999.

McManus, Diane. "Dance and Ballet." Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia, ed. Sally Mitchell. New York: Garland, 1988. 207.

Orel, Harold. Ch. 5 "Thomas Hardy: An Older Tradition of Narrative." The Victorian Short Story. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Pp. 96-114.

Ormond, Leonée. George Du Maurier. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969.

Page, Norman. "Hardy Short Stories: A Reconsideration." Studies in Short Fiction 11, 1 (Winter, 1974): 75-84.

Pennell, Joseph. The Adventures of An Illustrator Mostly in Following His Authors in America and Europe. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1925.

Purdy, Richard Little, and Millgate, Michael, eds. The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy. Oxford: Clarendon, 1978-88. Volume One (1840-1892), 1978.

Quinn, Marie A. "Thomas Hardy and the Short Story." Budmouth Essays on Thomas Hardy: Papers Presented at the 1975 Summer School (Dorchester: Thomas Hardy Society, 1976), pp. 74-85.

Ray, Martin. Thomas Hardy: A Textual Study of the Short Stories. London: Ashgate, 1997.

Reid, Forrest. Illustrators of the Eighteen-Sixties. 1928. New York: Dover, 1975 rpt.

Reinhart, Charles Stanley. "At the Sow-and-Acorn." Illustration 3 for Thomas Hardy's "The First Countess of Wessex." Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 80 (December, 1889), 27. http://www.abdn.ac.uk/english/thsna/illustr/wessex3.htm

---. "'The Attitude Bespoke Anguish'." Graphic, Summer Number (pub. 25 June) 1883, p. 19; "With One Hand He Was Tightly Grasping His Forehead, with His Other His Knee." Harper's Weekly, 23 June 1883, p. 389. 8.5" x 11.5"(tilted vertically). http://www.abdn.ac.uk/english/thsna/illustr/romant3.ht

---. "Betty Lay upon the Floor." Illustration 8 for Thomas Hardy's "The First Countess of Wessex." Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 80 (December, 1889), 41. http://www.abdn.ac.uk/english/thsna/illustr/wessex3.htm

---. "I Can't Get out of This Dreadful Tree!" Graphic, Summer Number (pub. 25 June) 1883, p. 22; Harper's Weekly, 30 June 1883, p. 405. 8.63" x 11.5" (tilted vertically). Signed "C. S. Reinhart" in lower-left corner. http://www.abdn.ac.uk/english/thsna/illustr/romant3.ht

---."Jim Stopped at the Kiln, While Mrs. Peach Held the Horse." Graphic, Summer Number (pub. 25 June) 1883, p. 26. 8.5" x 11.5" (tilted vertically).

---. "She Beheld the Object of Her Search Sitting on the Horizontal Bough of a Cedar."Illustration 4 for Thomas Hardy's "The First Countess of Wessex." Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 80 (December, 1889), 29. http://www.abdn.ac.uk/english/thsna/illustr/wessex3.htm

---. "So He Stormed on till Tupcombe Entered Suddenly." Illustration 6 for Thomas Hardy's "The First Countess of Wessex." Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 80 (December, 1889), 35. http://www.abdn.ac.uk/english/thsna/illustr/wessex3.htm

---. "What Be You Here For?" Graphic, Summer Number (pub. 25 June) 1883, p. 23; "'What! Ye Have Dared To Come Back Alive, Hussy!'" Harper's Weekly, 14 July 1883, p. 437. 8.63" x 11.5" (tilted vertically). Signed "C. S. Reinhart 83" in lower-left corner. http://www.abdn.ac.uk/english/thsna/illustr/romant3.ht

---, and Du Maurier, George. Illustrations for Wilkie Collins' The New Magdalen. London: Chatto & Windus, 1889.

Temperley, Nicholas. "Dance Music." Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia, ed. Sally Mitchell. New York: Garland, 1988. 208.

Webber, Carl J. "An Editorial Epilogue." Thomas Hardy's An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress (1878). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1935. Pp. 145-6.


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Last modified 23 January 2001