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A GCSE English Literature Guide to Hardy’s Wessex Tales | The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion

| Sunday March 18, 2012

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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

First published in 1890. Hardy was always interested in the events of the Napoleonic Wars – his grandfather had been a volunteer in the local militia in 1804/5 when it was feared that if Napoleon invaded England he might come via the Dorset coast. Hardy wrote The Trumpet Major and several short stories about the Napoleonic Wars. He did extensive research about the topic in the British Museum and it is likely that he researched the execution of deserters which feature in The Melancholy Hussar. The story itself is told by a narrator as if told to him by Phyllis. The story is divided into 5 sections.

Section 1

Opens with a description of the setting, the downs, and the narrator wonders how they might have looked ninety years before. The story was told to him by a Phyllis Grove who was 15-years-old when the events took place and an old woman when she tells the story.

The context is the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Phyllis lives with her father, a former doctor, in a small, isolated village. She is engaged to a Humphrey Gould who has left to visit Bath. During Humphrey’s absence the ‘York Hussars’ set up camp near to the village.

How does Hardy create a believable and useful sense of place at the start of the story?

  • Looking at what is unchanged – ‘A plough has never disturbed the turf’ p65. This shows that the landscape is the same now as it was when the events of the story took place.
  • Recollections of where the camp stood – ‘here are the distinct traces of the banks thrown up for the horses of the coming cavalry’ p65. This shows that there are still signs on the land of where the camp was, physical signs that anyone could see and possibly recognise.
  • Recollections of what it was like when the camp...

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