The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion


Thomas Hardy

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The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Thomas Hardy's The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 in a small hamlet in Dorset, England. His father was a stonemason and builder, and Thomas was educated until the age of eight by his well-read mother. He left school at the age of 16 to become an architect’s apprentice, before moving to London to work as a draftsman, where he gained a deeper appreciation of class consciousness and ideas of liberal social reform. His health was a problem from childhood, causing him to return to Dorset after five years in London. Upon his return, he began to devote his attention to writing. Primarily a poet at first, Hardy turned to prose when none of his verse found immediate publication. He wrote a number of class-conscious novels and gained wide recognition with Far from the Madding Crowd in 1874. The same year, Hardy married Emma Gifford against the wishes of both their families. Over the course of his first marriage, he published a prolific number of works, including the two novels widely considered to be his finest, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, with the encouragement and help of his wife—though their relationship was forced and distant for its final 20 years. Much of Hardy’s writing was set in southwestern England, a place he referred to in both his fiction and his poetry (which he always valued more highly) as “Wessex.” Two years after the death of his first wife, Emma, Hardy married Florence Emily Dugdale. He died at the age of 87, having been appointed a Member of the Order of Merit. His cremated remains were interred in Westminster Abbey, though his heart was separated and buried in the churchyard of his home parish.
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Historical Context of The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion

The source story for “The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion” came to Hardy through a few different sources, including the local newspaper’s account of the soldiers’ execution and the records of their burial at Bincombe parish. These soldiers belonged to a legion of German soldiers who were posted to Dorset by King George III in the early 1800s, a period during the Napoleonic Wars when England feared (needlessly, as it turned out) a coastal invasion by Napoleon, Emperor of France.

Other Books Related to The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion

“The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion” was written over the course of a few prolific years for Thomas Hardy. A few months before drafting “The Melancholy Hussar,” Hardy wrote and published Wessex Tales, a collection of short stories that focus on ideas of social class and rank, unwanted and unhappy marriages, and the status of women. Themes in “The Melancholy Hussar” can also be found in many of Hardy’s novels, particularly in Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), whose protagonist, similar to Phyllis Grove, represents the victimhood of women, and The Trumpet-Major (1880), which is set in the same Napoleonic time period. One of Hardy’s most notable contemporaries was Charles Dickens, whose works such as David Copperfield (1849) and Great Expectations (1861) magnify, like “The Melancholy Hussar” does, the societal pressures and problems of the first half of the 19th century. Hardy’s work can be categorized alongside other contemporary writers as Victorian realism, a literary period defined by its attention to the everyday details of life and the rejection of the supernatural or melodramatic. This literary period is shared by George Eliot, whose epic novel Middlemarch (1872) is set, like “The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion,” in the English countryside and deals similarly with the issues of selfishness, provincialism, and the status of women.
Key Facts about The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion
  • Full Title: The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion
  • When Written: 1888–1889
  • Where Written: Dorset, England
  • When Published: 1890
  • Literary Period: Victorian, Naturalism, Realism
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Setting: A small village in rural Dorset, southwest England
  • Climax: Phyllis decides to remain loyal to her betrothed instead of escaping with her lover.
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion

Final Novel. When Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure was published in 1895, it was treated as offensive and immoral by some reviewers—one even nicknaming it “Jude the Obscene”—because of its representations of sexuality, and its critiques of the conventions of marriage and the class system. Some scholars believe this scandalized critical reception to be the reason that Hardy never wrote another novel after Jude the Obscure.

The Hardy Tree. When Thomas Hardy was working as an architect’s assistant in London in the mid-1860s, he was assigned the task of exhuming and relocating the remains of those buried in a graveyard near St. Pancras Station in order to make way for a new rail line. Hundreds of headstones remained after Hardy had completed the task of reburial, so he decided to place them in concentric circles around a nearby tree. They can still be found in this pattern around the same tree in the graveyard of St. Pancras Old Church.