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Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) | 1483 comments Mod
While we sort out the process and logistics for identifying and selecting novels for our future group reads and discussions, I thought it might be fun to start of with a reading and group discussion of a short story. To kick it off, I have selected a short story by Thomas Hardy entitled, The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid. Romantic Adventures was first published in 1883 in a special 'summer edition' of the Graphic literary journal. It was simultaneously published in seven installments, from June 23rd through August 4th, in Harper's Weekly.

The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid is probably more properly classified as a 'novelette' or 'novella,' as it is approximately 75 pages in length (both in the bound collection, or if printed individually). The version I am attaching, via an on-line link, is Hardy's final manuscript edition for a 1913 collection of his short stories that was published under the title A Changed Man, The Waiting Supper, and Other Tales, Concluding with The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid.

Here's the link to the story The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid.

Probably the easiest way to make yourself a copy, is to open the story on-line, 'select all,' 'copy,' and then 'paste' the selection into your word processing program. Make sure your printer has enough paper, and hit 'print.'

Feel free to post your thoughts and comments as you are reading, or after you've finished. Your choice. If you wish to avoid 'spoilers,' you may wish to avoid this discussion thread until you've completed reading the story.

Points to Ponder

Think about parallels and themes from other literary works and genres (Hint: think 'fairytales');

For those of you that have read some or all of Hardy's major, more well known, novels; I encourage you to keep your eye peeled for links and connections to themes and characters from these other works;

Do you believe Hardy imparts a moral message in the story; or, that he is portraying a particular and specific theme? and

Finally, what is your overall assessment of the technical merits of Hardy's story? Does it work for you? Why, or why not? Was it well written? Did you enjoy the story, and would you like to read more of Thomas Hardy's short fiction?

Have fun, and I look forward to discussing this with you! Cheers! Chris


message 2: by Kester (last edited Sep 04, 2010 06:26PM) (new)

Kester Andrews | 36 comments I am trying to read Milkman in my downtime of Adam Bede but it's so hard to put down Eliot. The Milkman has captivated me as well; I love the way Hardy bathes the entire first two chapters in white and the crucial role that the Postman plays in the story thus far. I am very intrigued and I thank you for introducing me to the works of these two giants of English literature.

P.S. I recommend The Teaching Company's Lecture series "The Art of Reading" to anyone that wants to get a great grasp on what to look for when taking on great literary works. It is not a necessity but it has heightened my awareness and appreciation for such elements of literature as style, plot and characters. A great investment for any avid reader!


message 3: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 05, 2010 03:48AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Nice insightful post Kester - perhaps white symbolises innocence here?

The third paragraph about the noises of the countryside, is so Hardy! From out of the 'dense white fog' which deadened all sound 'as a hand might be placed over a nest of chirping birds', we are introduced to 'perturbed lowings, mingled with human voices in sharps and flats and the bark of a dog'. At milking time milk 'buzzed' into the pails and afterwards the 'barton-gate slammed'.

A barton-gate is the gate to a wheat or barley field, barton being from the Saxon 'Bertone', meaning grain field or rickyard. It is a word often attached to English villages and its first recorded usage is for a village in the Trent valley named in the 1086 Domesday book. (I happen to know this because I spent my teenage years by the River Trent and often canoed up to Barton:).)

Later Hardy describes Margery's face as being of the 'hereditary type among families down in these parts' which could possibly be a reference to Darwin's Origin of the Species, which Hardy had read, or to village inbreeding which was then being researched by social historians, or to the new 'science' of eugenics which was popular amongst intellectuals of Hardy's time and had been pioneered by Darwin's half-cousin, Francis Galton:-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_...

We now associate Eugenics with the Nazis but it was a popular and respectable pseudo-science in the West from Darwin's time right up until WWII, when it was thoroughly discredited. Francis Galton also influenced the American Eugenics Movement:

http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/eugeni...


message 4: by Everyman (last edited Sep 05, 2010 11:14AM) (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Kester wrote: "I am trying to read Milkman in my downtime of Adam Bede but it's so hard to put down Eliot. "

Ditto.

So many books, so little time.

I have the A Changed Man collection on my shelves, but in a Collins edition that was easy to read when my eyes were still good, but a challenge now because they're small format books.

But for those who have e-book readers, here it is in Gutenberg.
http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/3058


message 5: by Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.), Founder (last edited Sep 05, 2010 03:28PM) (new)

Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) | 1483 comments Mod
I'll jump in and share some of my initial thoughts too.

I was immediately struck with the title of the story--"The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid"--when I first encountered the story in my Penguin classics collection, The Withered Arm and Other Stories. It just has an almost fairytale, or folktale, quality about it. Intentional, I'm sure.

Then the two paragraphs that, as Madge referenced above, introduces us to the 'milkmaid' Margery. Dressed in a pink frock, kerchief covering her head under her bonnet, and a basket on her arm. Isn't that just the image of "Little Red-Riding Hood" setting off on her walk through the woods to Grandmother's house? It really jumped out at me!

The next paragraph is pure Hardy too. Hardy loves to describe his rustics rambling about the Wessex countryside. Think about all of Hardy's novels dor a moment--his protagonists are all prodigious walkers. And it matters not their sex. For example, Tess is one who walks about almost more than any other Hardy character. I think it is a time-distance-environment connection type of thing for Hardy, and it certainly reflects what he himself did, both as a boy and as an adult.

In this particular story, Margery is walking through the woods that are dripping with the condensation from the morning fog; and she carefully and fastidiously avoids stepping on all of the earthworms that are out on the wet ground (again, maybe a subtle nod to a pastoral and peaceful coexistence with nature?). Margery avoids certain species of trees to walk under because she knows they will drip more water (e.g., the beech and ash trees). All in all, this was just an amazingly beautiful paragraph (Sigh, I wish that I could write like this...).

Then upon her return trip, by a different route, the reader is exposed to the first hint of tension in the story when Margery reaches the boundary between the woods and the open lawn of the private estate that she plans to cross as a shortcut--
"Before doing so she looked around in the wary manner of a poacher. It was not the first time that she had broken fence in her life; but somehow, and all of a sudden, she had felt herself too near womanhood to indulge in such practices with freedom. However, she moved forward..."
It almost becomes an 'erotic' tension doesn't it? Because she is now a young woman, there are intrinsic dangers in doing foolish or risky things now that children could likely get away with.

I also love how Hardy always seems to give himself the opportunity to throw in a little of his love for architecture into his stories, novels, and poetry; and here is no different. He paints a vivid portrait for the reader of the estate that Margery is approaching, and even of the little "all-year-round" where she encounters the man sitting.

Well, maybe I shall stop here, and then pick up my thoughts later tonight. I really do love this story, and hope that some of you are enjoying it as well. Cheers!


message 6: by Kester (new)

Kester Andrews | 36 comments Chris I want to thank you for introducing me to such a masterful wordsmith as Thomas Hardy. The story was indeed enjoyable and well structured. I did get a fairytale feel to it at the beginning; the scene at Three-Walks seeming like a page out of Cinderella (fairy godmother and all). The almost forced exit from the ball and the disappearance of all evidence (by burning) also reminded me of that story. The symbolism of her crossing over the stile (It was a Rubicon in more ways than one) smacked of a loss of that innocence that bathed the first chapter. The learning of the Polka was also tinged with eroticism "Thus they moved around together, the moon shadows from the twigs racing over their forms as they turned".that crossing of the stile and what followed was indeed a loss of innocence for Margery. More to follow.


message 7: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 06, 2010 08:51AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Christopher wrote: "I'll jump in and share some of my initial thoughts too.

I was immediately struck with the title of the story--"The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid"--when I first encountered the story in my Peng..."


Yes, in the fairytale element of some of his earlier stories, you almost get the idea that he was practising for his later works, trying out a genre familiar to him in childhood.

The phrase 'felt herself too near womanhood' gives us an early indication of the sort of sexual imagery which got dear Hardy into so much trouble and which eventually made him give up novel writing:(. His descriptions of women invariably have a sexual connotation and although they are ostensibly innocent he gives us to understand that their innocence can be lost at any time. Hardy was a womaniser and I think his deep love of women shows through in his descriptions of women and the problems they encountered living in Victorian society.

The inclusion of the beech and the ash here shows Hardy using the symbolism of trees as Margery approaches the house - the beech is known as the 'tree of wishes' and the ash represents sacrifice/surrender. In his descriptions of nature, Hardy regularly uses the symbolism of flowers and trees well known to Victorians.

Hardy shows his architectural training in his description of the house as being of the 'Italian elevation made familiar by Inigo Jones and his school' and is paying homage to the first major British architect to use Italianate Renaissance designs in English buildings. (He is also credited with bringing the proscenium arch and movable scenery to the theatre.) Perhaps his most famous building is the Banqueting House in Whitehall, built for Charles I, which has a magnificent ceiling painted by Reubens and was where Charles I was hanged by the republican Protectorate during the English Civil War:

http://www.hrp.org.uk/BanquetingHouse...


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) | 1483 comments Mod
Madge, this is an outstanding response! First I could not agree more completely with the your paragraph
"The phrase 'felt herself too near womanhood' gives us an early indication of the sort of sexual imagery which got dear Hardy into so much trouble and which eventually made him give up novel writing:(. His descriptions of women invariably have a sexual connotation and although they are ostensibly innocent he gives us to understand that their innocence can be lost at any time. Hardy was a womaniser and I think his deep love of women shows through in his descriptions of women and the problems they encountered living in Victorian society."
This is so true! I have just recently finished both Tomalin's and Millgate's biographies of Hardy, and you completely have the right of it. Hardy loved the pretty face, and he loved the mind behind it too. Again, I think it was Hardy's adherence to Shelley's notion of the 'search for the ideal Love' that enchanted him so.

I have to say that your next paragraph was a real eye-opener for me. I had no idea of the meaning and symbolism behind the actual tree species. Again, I think your paragraph here is quite important--
"The inclusion of the beech and the ash here shows Hardy using the symbolism of trees as Margery approaches the house - the beech is known as the 'tree of wishes' and the ash represents sacrifice/surrender. In his descriptions of nature, Hardy regularly uses the symbolism of flowers and trees well known to Victorians."
This information opens up a whole new world for me to explore as I read Hardy's fiction and poetry.

Thank you for sharing all of this with us, Madge! I should not be surprised though, you are the Chief Researcher. Cheers!


message 9: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 05, 2010 09:46PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Thanks Chris:).

There are quite a few interpretations of the symbolism of trees but I suspect that Hardy might have drawn on the Celtic ones because Dorset is sandwiched between Celtic Cornwall and Celtic Wales.

http://www.whats-your-sign.com/celtic...

Talking of Shelley reminds me of the macabre story in Claire Tomalin's biog when Hardy worked on the building of the new Midland railway at St Pancras (now wonderfully restored!). There were many graves in the nearby churchyard including those of Mary Shelley and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and their coffins had to be dug up and transported elsewhere: 'Hardy's job [as an assistant architect] was to keep an eye on things in the evening and sometimes into the night. Many coffins fell apart as they were brought out and Hardy and Blomfield [his architect boss] were both there when a collapsed coffin gave up one skeleton and two skulls....In these circumstances even the thought that Shelley had wooed his Mary at her mother's grave there half a century earlier could not do much to cheer Hardy.'

http://www.e-architect.co.uk/images/j...

These amusing little videos give the history from Victorian times to the present day restoration. Part I makes reference to Thomas Hardy and the removal of the graves:-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YteYgF...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1Xh2o...


message 10: by Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.), Founder (last edited Sep 05, 2010 09:45PM) (new)

Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) | 1483 comments Mod
OMG, this is too cool! I actually watched the both vids, they were fabulous! I'll bet that every time anyone digs in London; well, any where in England, one uncovers all sorts of things. Great videos, Madge, and the mention of Hardy was brilliant.

I also remember the reference in Tomalin too. That it such a great biography, especially for those of us who do not have a degree in literature. Although I have to put in a plug for Millgate's. It is truly quite readable and enjoyable too.


message 11: by Kester (last edited Sep 06, 2010 05:50AM) (new)

Kester Andrews | 36 comments I am humbled in the presence of you guys. The contributions that we are getting are forcing me to put down Adam Bede and revisit The Milkmaid once again. Thank you Madge for the videos and the perspective and Chris for the detailed analysis you guys are true troves of literary treasure! Cheers! By the way, did anyone else feel a little disturbed as to the Holmesian (my word) way in which Jim, after the musician informed him that he spotted Margery at a ball, reasoned to the realisation that The Baron had taken her? I found it a little stretch of deductive reasoning maybe because Hardy did not fill us in with the logical steps that got him there. Do you think that this was deliberate, as it was a very important turning point in the story? Your thoughts.


message 12: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments You don't do so badly at literary analysis yourself Kester! I hadn't noticed the lack of deductive reasoning but I am not very good at literary sleuthing. Conan Doyle was writing after Hardy so it can't be an attempt at Doyle's style but Hardy may have been influenced by Wilkie Collins whose book the Moonstone, published in 1868, is regarded as heralding the advent of the detective story in Europe. So Hardy may have been trying his hand at detective fiction in the Milkmaid, which seems to have quite a few experimental literary sortees.


message 13: by Kester (new)

Kester Andrews | 36 comments I have spent the last half-hour listening to a very condensed version of Mr. Hardy's life and it has been intriguing. One aspect that fascinated me was his love of architecture and specifically his admiration for Church structure but not for what was being taught in them. It is not surprising that ,given his love for nature (through his unrepentant Darwinism), the majority of his scenes are outdoors and not in. His ardour for Wessex permeates this story and I am interested in reading some more of his works to see how this carries into them. On a related note, how much do you think that knowing the biography of an author impacts on your appreciation for his/her work?


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) | 1483 comments Mod
First of all, Kester, you have nothing to be humbled about here. I am simply delighted that you are enjoying this little tale of Thomas Hardy's! I truly enjoy his short stories just as much as I enjoy his longer works. I have a couple more of his short stories that I would like to offer up for discussion and analysis at a future date.

Secondly, you'll find that Madge is a 'national treasure' in and of herself. We are quite fortunate to have her as a member of this book club. Not only does she have great knowledge about our books and authors, but she loves to dig about and find the very best background and related information. I find it simply astounding at how much her information has added to my overall enjoyment of whatever it is we are reading at the time.

Finally, I very much appreciated your reference to 'Sherlock Holmes' associated with Romantic Adventures. There are loads of little clues scattered throughout the story that Hardy uses to bend the reader in one direction or the other.

For example, remember in the second chapter when Margery has encountered the man sitting in the 'all-year-round', and in the second paragraph--
"Having imprudently advanced thus far, Margery's wish was to get back again in the same unseen manner; but in moving her foot for the purpose it grated on the gravel. He started up with an air of bewilderment, and slipped something into the pocket of his dressing gown. She was almost certain it was a pistol. The pair stood looking blankly at each other."
Whoa! What is going on here? She thinks she sees him slip a pistol into his pocket?

And then in just a few paragraphs further on the man receives a letter from the postman. While Margery waits, he reads the letter, and then tells Margery--
"'My guardian child--my good friend--you have saved me!'

'What from?' she ventured to ask.

'That you may never know.'

She thought of the weapon, and guessed that the letter he had just received had effected this change in his mood, but made no observation till he went on to say, 'What did you tell me was your name, dear girl?'"
All kinds of little, but important clues here. It is my opinion that the Baron (Baron von Xanten, we come to find out) was in the process of getting ready to commit suicide until Margery comes across him in the all-year-round. Is that how you saw it? Why did he want to kill himself? I wonder what the contents were of the letter that changed his mind? All of this together completely galvanizes the reader to want to charge on with reading the story and figure out what is going on!


message 15: by Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.), Founder (last edited Sep 06, 2010 09:46AM) (new)

Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) | 1483 comments Mod
Kester wrote: "I have spent the last half-hour listening to a very condensed version of Mr. Hardy's life and it has been intriguing. One aspect that fascinated me was his love of architecture and specifically his..."

Kester, when I find an author that I very much like, I do tend to go and try and find a good thorough biography. Reading a biography of an author tends to really provide a lot of insight into why they wrote what they did, and what writing meant to them. Knowing the author well is just one more tool I use to help me better interpret and understand what the author is telling me in their fiction or poetry.

For excellent biographies of Thomas Hardy, I would refer you to Claire Tomalin's recent (2007) biography, Thomas Hardy; and/or Michael Millgate's superb and scholarly Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited. Both books are in my library, and are posted here on my Goodreads bookshelves under "Thomas Hardy" if you should like to look at them.


message 16: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 06, 2010 11:13AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Christopher wrote: "Kester wrote: "I have spent the last half-hour listening to a very condensed version of Mr. Hardy's life and it has been intriguing. One aspect that fascinated me was his love of architecture and s..."

Chris - you have forgotten Rosemarie Morgan's Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy, from which you have previously quoted, to our delight.

I am like Chris, Kester, and read around any classic novel as much as I can before I read it. I do not care about spoilers, I just want to immerse myself in the 'life and times' of the author and to know as much as I can about authorial intent. Claire Tomalin is a good starter for a Hardy biography and Morgan is titillating. Tomalin has also written Jane Austen, A Life and The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens as well as excellent biography of Samuel Pepys - The Unequalled Self. And I must mention her biog of my heroine: The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft (Mary Shelley's feminist mother).

And here is a nice little review of another Tomalin book Thomas Hardy : the time torn man:-

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-ent...

(Thanks muchly for your kind words Chris - I am only too pleased that the political research I did for 25 years of my working life trained me to be useful in another direction and now provides a hobby for the wee small hours:)).


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) | 1483 comments Mod
MadgeUK wrote: "Christopher wrote: "Kester wrote: "I have spent the last half-hour listening to a very condensed version of Mr. Hardy's life and it has been intriguing. One aspect that fascinated me was his love o..."

I have to say that that review (by Sue Gaisford) was pretty much spot-on. I enjoyed Tomalin's biography of Hardy immensely, and look forward to reading some of her other bios!

You're so right about the Morgan book too, Madge. That is a 'must have' for even the casual reader of Hardy's novels. Thanks for posting that reference.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

MadgeUK wrote: "I am like Chris, Kester, and read around any classic novel as much as I can before I read it. I do not care about spoilers, I just want to immerse myself in the 'life and times' of the author and to know as much as I can about authorial intent"

I tend to do exactly the opposite. I want to read an author's writing first because I like it to be as fresh as possible and as free from other interpretations as I can make it (with the classics that's a bit more difficult). I very often read introductions last, for instance. Then when I've had my own first impression I may go back and read other commentary or biographical material.


message 19: by Kester (new)

Kester Andrews | 36 comments Kate wrote: "MadgeUK wrote: "I am like Chris, Kester, and read around any classic novel as much as I can before I read it. I do not care about spoilers, I just want to immerse myself in the 'life and times' of ..."

This is what I normally do as well Kate. I like to get a first read that is free from preconceived notions and then go back and discover the author's life. I guess it's simply a matter of preference; "What floats your boat"!


message 20: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 07, 2010 12:35AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I think I have come to reading 'around' novels because I have already read most of the British classics and biographies about their authors, seen radio and TV broadcasts etc etc, so not much remains 'virgin' for me as an elderly Englishwoman:). It is now often the 'tangents' that interest me as much as the novels themselves, although I still savour good descriptive writing like Hardy's.


message 21: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 07, 2010 01:29PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I am just peeping at our Milkmaid again and was struck by the sentence about the Baron having 'real sorrow' for his recklessness with Margery when 'she rolled along the high road with him in a carrige'. There is another classic novel where the lady is compromised because she similarly 'rolled along' with a gentleman in a carriage but my memory fails me at the moment (and I have just had a glass of Sangria...). Anyone remember which one it is and whether it was written around the time Hardy wrote this story?


message 22: by Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.), Founder (last edited Sep 07, 2010 01:53PM) (new)

Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) | 1483 comments Mod
MadgeUK wrote: "I am just peeping at our Milkmaid again and was struck by the sentence about the Baron having 'real sorrow' for his recklessness with Margery when 'she rolled along the high road with him in a carr..."

At first I thought of Gaskell's North and South, but the perception (mis-perception, really) of the "compromised" lady actually took place on the rail platform (i.e., involving Margaret Hale, her brother, and John Thornton). Hmm... you've got me thinking now.

Oh, and Sangria sounds great right now! Cheers!


message 23: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 07, 2010 01:55PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments No it was definitely a carriage - they went round and round a square - Vanity Fair? Anna Karenina? It has featured in films of the book too....Mmmmm....annoying! It will probably come to me around 3am!

I love North & South, my favourite Gaskell:).


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