The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion


Thomas Hardy

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The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion: Genre 1 key example

Part 1
Explanation and Analysis:

“The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion” is a short story that belongs to the genre of historical fiction. As a story written in the late 1800s and set in the early 1800s, “The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion” revisits a previous historical moment. The following passage demonstrates how much research Hardy did in order to make the Napoleonic setting believable (though he himself did not live through said era):

It was nearly ninety years ago. The British uniform of the period, with its immense epaulettes, queer cocked-hat, breeches, gaiters, ponderous cartridge-box, buckled shoes, and what not, would look strange and barbarous now. Ideas have changed; invention has followed invention. Soldiers were monumental objects then. A divinity still hedged kings here and there; and war was considered a glorious thing.

Hardy demonstrates his commitment to historical accuracy when describing the British soldiers’ uniform at the time and how it had “immense epaulettes” (or shoulder pads) along with “[a] cock-hat, breeches, gaiters, [a] ponderous cartridge-box,” and more. He also has his narrator—who, like him, exists in the 1890s—explain the way that social mores and collective values have changed since Phyllis's time, via claims like “Soldiers were monumental objects then” and “war was considered a glorious thing.”

Hardy’s commitment to including realistic details about the early 1800s also renders this story a work of realism. Rather than glorifying or demonizing England’s military past, Hardy does his best to capture it realistically, from the mundane (such as the specifics of the military uniforms) to the dramatic (such as the fact that the German Legion really did execute two of its soldiers in 1801). While Hardy does include some elements of “romantic” writing about the scenery or Phyllis and Matthäus’s love for each other, he does so within a realistic portrait of early-19th-century life in southwestern England.