Thomas Hardy’s A Woman's Fancy: Pathetic Intimacy Between a Women and a Dead Man

Thomas Hardy’s  A Woman's Fancy narrates the progress of a curiously pathetic intimacy between a women and a dead man, initiated by critically mistaken assumptions that both were once man and wife. As is general with narrative verse, it is the broad outlines of the story which give the poem its emotional charge, and encourage the reader’s involvement in two complementary ways.

 Thomas Hardy’s A Woman's Fancy is made accessible through the use of traditional verse patterns and direct vocabulary.

A strong rhythmic pattern dominates throughout the regular rhyming of lines two and four, while the repetition of irregular line lengths in each stanza culminates in a dramatic emphasis on the short six-syllable fourth. It is as though we are reading a ballad, where the forms of poetry --- or verse ---- stamp themselves on material often drawn from the lives and language of ordinary people in order to furnish it with broad importance, broad significance. The inversions required at lines 21 and 34, ‘exclaim she’ and ‘uprises he’, add to this effect – the quaintness of the latter, together with ‘thuswise’ , suggestive of a sense of folk tradition.

Thomas Hardy
 Particulars are edited out – ‘She came; she lodged’ – which might otherwise detract from the central focus of the narrative. What stories within stories, for example. Are to be glimpsed at in the severe politeness of the exchange between the two women which comprises the first two stanzas? The friendless woman – never named, although the taking-on of another’s name is a main feature in the very man for whose death she is blamed. Not only is the unable to absolve herself from stories and social prejudices, but the actually succumbs to them to the extent that they progressively determine her own sense of identity. And of course the more she finds herself involved in stories about this dead spectre the more, ironically, she confirms the community’s assumptions.

 The central focus of Thomas Hardy’s  A Woman's Fancy is the strength of tender whim recalled at “As I were, first to last, his dearest,”. In appreciating the antithesis of strength and tender within the context of the whole, we recognize the paradox of fragile fiction assuming the strength of reality. This of course, underlines the raison d’être of the entire poem. Through the art of the ballad the world is shown to consist of narrative within narrative in which humane assertions, doomed from the start, take on a universally tragic dimension.

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