The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion

by

Thomas Hardy

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The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion: Part 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One night the following week, Phyllis, Matthäus Tina, and Christoph make their escape. The plan is for Tina to meet Phyllis at the fork in the highway, while Christoph will collect a boat from the harbor and row it to the meeting point over the hill. As soon as Phyllis’s father goes to his room, Phyllis leaves the house and walks to the meeting point on the highway.
This plan requires Phyllis to take the initiative to leave of her own accord, and over the course of her relationship with Tina, she has obviously become bold enough to do so—of course, only when her father cannot immediately stop her.
Themes
Captivity, Restriction, and Escape Theme Icon
Phyllis is hiding behind a fence on the highway, waiting for Matthäus Tina, when a stage-coach comes down the hill and stops a few yards away from her. Two passengers alight, and Phyllis recognizes one of them as her betrothed, Humphrey. The other is his friend. As they’re waiting for a man with a horse and trap to collect them, Phyllis hears Humphrey saying that he has returned to the countryside to bring Phyllis a gift. He describes it to his friend as a “peace-offering,” saying that Phyllis deserves it, as he’s treated her so badly. Humphrey goes on to mention that he’s heard a rumor about Phyllis becoming involved with one of the visiting soldiers, but that he doesn’t believe “a girl of her good wit” would do such a thing.
It’s clear by what Humphrey says that he knows he has not been treating Phyllis the way a betrothed should—though his remedy for this, a gift, is rather superficial, implying that he does not greatly value Phyllis’s emotions or consider her to be a complicated person. Humphrey’s language also suggests that if Phyllis really has been forming a relationship with a soldier, it would mean that, in his view, she has been acting rashly and without common sense. However, he has taken for granted thus far that Phyllis has been loyal to him, and this assumption leads him to discredit the rumor.
Themes
Love vs. Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Secrecy, Rumor, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Loyalty Theme Icon
Phyllis suddenly realizes that her behavior—her relationship with Tina and her plan to escape—will be seen as a great scandal. She regrets believing the rumor that Humphrey had broken their engagement, and understands now that he has been planning to return and honor their agreement. She resolves to “stay at home, and marry him, and suffer.” She waits for Matthäus Tina to reach their agreed meeting spot, so that she can explain her decision. When Tina arrives, he does not attempt to convince Phyllis to come with him, though he is saddened to leave her. Phyllis begs Tina to remain in England, but he cannot abandon Christoph or leave his mother waiting for him, so he continues with the escape.
Phyllis makes the decision not to escape with Tina, not because she does not love him, or because she is worried about her own physical safety, but because she is cowed by the idea of scandal and damage to her reputation. This is the climax of the story, though the climactic action is only occurring in Phyllis’s thoughts. She realizes now that her actions, which have been propelled by her desire for freedom, love, and happiness, are directly at odds with what will be judged as appropriate behavior for a young woman. That this societal judgment is enough to make Phyllis forfeit her happiness shows that it is a formidable, if intangible, force. Tina will not attempt to convince or coerce Phyllis into coming along, which again sets him apart from Humphrey (whose gift for Phyllis is a form of coercion). Nor will he allow Phyllis’s decision to interfere with the loyalty he feels to his friend and his mother.
Themes
Captivity, Restriction, and Escape Theme Icon
Love vs. Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Loyalty Theme Icon
Quotes
Phyllis watches Matthäus Tina walking away and eventually meeting Christoph further down the highway. She is tempted for a moment to rush forward and go with him, but her courage fails her, and she returns home instead. The next morning, Phyllis’s father is excited to inform her, “triumphantly,” that Humphrey has brought her a gift and will return again soon to walk with her. The gift is a mirror in an ornate frame, which Phyllis admires. When she looks into the mirror, she realizes her sadness is visible. Resolving to appear happier, and to stop resisting her engagement and her future, she brightens her eyes, dresses for her walk, and waits for Humphrey at the door.
Phyllis’s temptation to run after Tina despite the decision she has made not to go with him shows that there is a possibility, if only slight, for her—or for any young woman—to disregard social expectations if she finds enough courage to do so. The description of Dr. Grove as “triumphant” is a sign that his desire for Phyllis’s respectable marriage to Humphrey has won out over Phyllis’s own aspirations of happiness and love. Humphrey’s gift of the mirror adds to the image the reader has of Humphrey as a self-interested person. When Phyllis looks into it, she sees only what truly exists: her own image, exhausted and upset. She resolves to make the best of her reality, in which her only option is to appease Humphrey and her father, and to ensure her appearance suits that goal.
Themes
Captivity, Restriction, and Escape Theme Icon
Love vs. Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Gender, Rank, and Power Theme Icon
Quotes
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