By F.B. Pinion
A advisor to the works of thomas hardy and their heritage
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Extra info for A Hardy Companion: A Guide to the works of Thomas Hardy and their background
410-12). No doubt he had heard many stories of the old choir from his parents and grandmother, for the Hardy family had been the mainstay of the Stinsford string choir for almost the first forty years of the nineteenth century. Hardy had studied the family music notebooks, and though, as he tells us, 'there was, in fact, no family portrait in the tale', the tranter's house is, recognizably the Hardys' at Higher Bockhampton, and old William Dewy, Reuben 20 The Novels Dewy, Dick Dewy, and Michael Mail occupied the same seats and played the same instruments as Thomas Hardy senior, Thomas Hardy junior, James Hardy, and James Dart in 'Mellstock' church gallery (Life, 95, 11).
In a story which skilfully combines light romance with the declining fortunes of the choir, it is obvious that the role of the latter is not a subordinate one. The members of the Mellstock choir are not presented equally, but among them are lesser, static, perennial figures, which are undoubtedly the forerunners of the comic rustics in the chorus of commentators and gossips to be found in Far from the Madding Crowd or The Return of the Native. They owe something to the observation of a countryman who could regard local characters with keen humorous detachment after a period of absence in London, but much more to creative genius inspired by Shakespearian and Dickensian influences.
Hardy relied on observation rather than on creative imagination: he and his wife had recently visited Rouen; they lived in London in the early part of 1875 'on account of Ethelberta'; and they moved to Swanage the following July. The London scenes, except for minor pictorial touches, are sketchy; the narrative moves too slowly to elicit interest in them, and only when the plot quickens, at Cripplegate Church, is the scene dramatically fused with situation. Background scenes continue, enlivened with farce, across the Channel and at Rouen, at Corvsgate Castle and Melchester, and in the environs of Knollsea, as the more exciting complications of the finale are reached.