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A GCSE English Literature Guide to Hardy’s Wessex Tales | Absent-mindedness in a Parish Choir

| Sunday March 18, 2012



Guide Navigation

1. Introduction
2. The Withered Arm
3. The Son’s Veto
4. Tony Kytes, The Arch-Deceiver
5. Absent-mindedness in a Parish Choir
6. The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion
7. The Distracted Preacher

This story is similar in style to Tony Kytes, The Arch-Deceiver: a first person narrative, amusing story, very short.

The opening paragraph introduces the choir in detail. It seems very personal – all the musicians are introduced by name and instrument. This shows that the narrator knows the choir well. We are also told that the choir were busy and popular for functions and events.

The second paragraph sets up the story – due to the cold weather and the time of year so they indulge in some brandy and beer. Due to the length of the service and the alcohol they fall asleep and are woken to begin playing. They forget where they are and begin to play a tune from the previous night’s party. The congregation are shocked and the choir are no longer welcome in the church. 

How does Hardy show the differences between the upper and lower classes in this story?

  • Members of the choir (lower class) known by name: Nicholas Puddingcome, then leader, with the first fiddle; Timothy Thomas, the bass-viol man’ p61; the upper classes are known by their title – ‘the squire … lots of lords and ladies … the pa’son’ p63.
  • Where they are in the church – the choir are ‘in the gallery’ p61; the squire is in ‘his pew lined wi’ green baize’. The level of comfort shows their status – the gallery was ‘so mortal cold’ that the choir have to drink alcohol to keep warm; ‘in the body of the church had a stove to keep off the frost’ – squire and congregation kept warm.
  • Type of music they enjoyed – the choir played at parties and played dancing music like ‘Dashing White Sergeant’ and ‘The Devil among the Tailors’ – the upper classes are scandalised when these tunes are played in church – ‘What...

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