The Withered Arm and Other Stories, 1874-1888, Paperback

The Withered Arm and Other Stories, 1874-1888 Paperback

Edited by Kristin Brady

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


"See if she is dark or fair, and if you can, notice if her hands be white; if not, see if they look as though she had ever done housework, or are milker's hands like mine." So Rhoda Brook, the abandoned mistress of Farmer Lodge, is jealous to discover details of his new bride in 'The Withered Arm', the title story in this selection of Hardy's finest short stories.

Hardy's first story, 'Destiny and a Blue Cloak' was written fresh from the success of Far From the Madding Crowd.

Beautiful in their own right, these stories are also testing-grounds for the novels in their controversial sexual politics, their refusal of romance structures, and their elegiac pursuit of past, lost loves.

Several of the stories in The Withered Arm were collected to form the famous volume, Wessex Tales (1888), the first time Hardy denoted 'Wessex' to describe his fictional world.

The Withered Arm is the first of a new two-volume selection of Hardy's short stories, edited with an introduction and notes by Kristin Brady.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 464 pages, map
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
  • ISBN: 9780140435320



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I first read Thomas Hardy as a teen, after the wonderful Nastassja Kinski appeared in the Roman Polanski film Tess. My favourites were Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Major of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure. So, I was very pleased to get this collection of stories, through the Blog a Penguin Classic scheme, written by Hardy over the period 1874 to 1888, in chronological order as they were written.The book contains an introduction and quite extensive notes by Kristin Brady. To be honest, I skipped the intro and pretty much ignored the notes. They break up the narrative too much, in my opinion, making the experience more like reading an academic text.I enjoyed the stories very much. Some are quite short, such as The Thieves Who Couldn't Help Sneezing and The Three Strangers, and fairly forgettable. The longer stories, such as The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid or The Waiting Supper are mini novels, dealing with themes that occur often in Hardy's writing. Romance between gentry and common-folk, as well as the boundaries between classes, or between men and women of the time, are explored. And of course, the long-term consequences of poor decisions, compounded by coincidental events and accidents, form the bases of most of the stories.I thought the Withered Arm (the story) a little unusual, in that it contains an almost supernatural theme. But my favourite is The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid, the longest story in the book, which has a fairytale-like start ("You shall go to the ball"), a complicated romantic triangle, and finishes with the girl choosing the right man and living happily every after - in an unusual twist for Hardy.The language throughout is beautiful, full of imagery, and not at all difficult to read. I recommend this collection for any Hardy fans.