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A GCSE English Literature Guide to Hardy’s Wessex Tales | The Withered Arm

| Sunday March 18, 2012

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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 famous and popular story was first published in 1888. It is divided into 9 sections, each dealing with a separate part of the story. These are:

  • A Lorn Milkmaid
  • The Young Wife
  • A Vision
  • A Suggestion
  • Conjuror Trendle
  • A Second Attempt
  • A Ride
  • A Water-side Hermit
  • A Rencounter

Each section tells a self-contained part of the story e.g. A Lorn Milkmaid introduces the main characters and hints at a previous relationship between two of them; it also sets the scene as a rural one. Each section is reasonably short and it is possible to cover more than one in a single lesson.

1. A Lorn Milkmaid

The first section sets the scene for the story – a dairy farm in the Wessex countryside. The milkmaids are chatting about the farmer returning with his new wife. There is a hint that one of the milkmaids had a relationship with the farmer in the past. E.g. on p2 one of the milkmaids comments ’Tis hard for she’ and another replies ‘He ha’n’t spoke to Rhoda Brook for years’; this hints at more of a relationship than the normal one between employer and employee and the use of italics for ‘she’ singles Rhoda Brook out from the other milkmaids.

The setting for the story is shown in the first paragraph – ‘an eighty-cow dairy’, ‘as yet but early April’, ‘the hour about six in the evening’ – and the reader is introduced to a group of milkmaids who are having a gossip at the end of the day. They talk about someone bringing home a new, young wife and what she might be like.

We are given a little insight into the rural life and work of the farm on p2 – ‘When the milking was done they washed their pails and hung them on a many-forked stand made as usual of the peeled limb of an oak-tree, set upright in...


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