The Trumpet-Major – Thomas Hardy
The reader of Mr. Hardy’s novel, „The Trumpet Major,“ will at once ask himself, „Is not this author making a brave struggle against the scepticism, the pessimism that have been assailing him? Will not the optimism of the poet and idealist finally conquer the pessimism of the realist?“ If Mr. Hardy had died after writing „The Trumpet Major“ the last question might well have been answered in the affirmative. Few more charming, spontaneous, wholesome stories than this have ever been written by an English novelist. Sweet Anne Garland may well be set by Sweet Anne Page, and her two devoted swains, fickle Bob Loveday, the sailor, and staunch John Loveday, the Trumpet Major, are worthy to live as long as the language in which their adventures are told. This is the only one of Mr. Hardy’s stories that at all claims the title—the great title in spite of some modern critics—of an historical romance. The scene is laid on the southern coast of England during the exciting days of Napoleon’s contemplated invasion. The historical setting is worthy of all praise—indeed, as we shall see later, Mr. Hardy shares with Thackeray the power to move as freely in the past as in the present. We consider „The Trumpet Major“ to be the most charming of Mr. Hardy’s stories, and if all its characters had possessed the nobility of the unselfish hero and if its action had been more tense and pitched upon a higher plane it would easily have been his greatest work. As it is, it is one of the cleanest, most interesting, most wholesome stories that can be recommended to readers old or young.
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Plot summary of the Trumpet-Major (from Wikipedia):
It’s 1804 and England expects an invasion attempt by Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies. Near Budmouth (Weymouth) Anne Garland lives with her widowed mother in part of a flour mill, next to their landlord and friend miller William Loveday. Thousands of soldiers pitch camp on the downs nearby, ready to meet the invasion. Anne attracts the admiration of two of them, both with local connections: Trumpet Major John Loveday, the decent and thoughtful son of the miller, and Yeomanry officer Festus Derriman, the boastful and aggressive nephew of the skinflint local squire. Anne favours John and loathes Festus, but Festus pesters her, a situation not helped by her mother’s desire for her to marry him on account of his rank and (assumed) wealth. However when her mother changes her view (partly due to the miller’s courting of her) and favours marriage to John, Anne changes her mind and favours Festus, thinking herself too ‘high’ for a miller’s son.
Into all this walks Bob Loveday, the miller’s younger son, home from a life in the merchant navy. Anne has a secret passion for him (they were childhood sweethearts), but he has brought home Matilda, a prospective bride whom he met just two weeks earlier in Southampton. John and Matilda recognise each other, and after a private conversation about her past she does a midnight flit. John tells Bob what’s happened, and although Bob understands, he can’t help resenting John’s intervention. Miller Loveday and Mrs Garland marry, John’s regiment moves away (with neither Anne, Bob nor Festus sorry to see him go), and Anne turns her focus to Bob. Anne plays hard to get with Bob, while Festus continues to pester her. She discovers that John sent Matilda away for honourable reasons (she’d previously thought he’d done it to elope with her), and writes him an apologetic letter, which he misinterprets as encouragement. Festus’s uncle insists on telling Anne where he’s hidden his will and other documents, but she drops the (cryptic) details in a field, where they’re found by a mysterious woman.
The invasion beacons are lit, although it’s a false alarm. In the chaos Festus almost has Anne at his mercy in an isolated cottage. She escapes and is found by John. He finds Festus and beats him, but drunken Festus thinks he’s Bob. John thinks he has a chance with Anne but discovers she’s with Bob, so to cover his embarrassment he pretends to be in love with an unnamed actress at the Budmouth theatre. Pressed to show Anne and Bob his sweetheart, John buys them tickets for the play, which is also attended by the King and Queen, who are staying in Budmouth. Matilda appears on stage, and John’s shocked expression is mistaken for passion. Festus, lurking as always, encounters Matilda (who is also the mysterious woman from earlier) out for a late-night walk. The press gang (naval recruiters who force men into service) are in town, and Festus and Matilda tip them off that Bob is an experienced sailor. The press gang come to the mill, but Bob escapes, with help from Matilda, who regrets her earlier action.
Bob, however, feels increasing guilty about not serving his country. Discovering that John still loves Anne tips the balance, and Bob persuades local man Captain Hardy (real-life captain of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory) to take him on board, thus doing his duty and leaving the way clear for John. Anne goes to Portland Head to watch the Victory sail past. In Budmouth she sits crying, and is comforted by the King, who is passing by. The Loveday family endure a long wait for news of the Victory, eventually hearing of the Battle of Trafalgar, but not whether Bob has survived. Finally a sailor comes to tell them that Bob is unharmed – but also that he’s engaged to a baker’s daughter in Portsmouth.
John sees his chance, but Anne rejects him. Meanwhile Festus discovers that John, not Bob, beat him up, and courts Matilda in the mistaken belief that this will upset John. Over a year or more, Anne begins to warm to John, and he is ecstatic – until a letter comes from Bob, saying he still wants Anne. John tries to be cold towards Anne, but this only makes her warmer towards him, until she virtually proposes to him, just as Bob, newly promoted to Naval Lieutenant, writes to say he’s coming home for her. Bob arrives and John withdraws. Anne rejects Bob, but he wears her down with his naval tales and fine uniform. However when he makes his big move, she rejects him again, and he storms out. Anne is worried that he’ll do something stupid, but is distracted by Squire Derriman, who arrives asking her to hide his deeds box, as Festus and his new fiancée Matilda are searching the house for it. She hides it in a window seat.
Bob returns in good temper; he’s been drinking with his new best friend, Festus. Anne yields to Bob, saying that if he can behave himself with the ladies for six months she’ll be his. Then it turns out that Festus is waiting outside; he comes in, Anne flees, and watching from a hole in the floor of the room above, sees Squire Derriman sneak in and try to retrieve the box. Festus catches him, but Bob intervenes. Derriman snatches the box and disappears, with Festus and Matilda in pursuit. The next morning Squire Derriman is found dead from exhaustion, but the box has disappeared. It’s eventually found hidden in Anne’s room. Derriman has left all his property to Anne, except for a few small houses which will provide Festus with a living, but not luxury.
Festus and Matilda are married, Anne and Bob are to be engaged, and John’s regiment is posted away to battle in Spain, where, we are told, he will die.
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
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