The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion

by

Thomas Hardy

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The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion: Part 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Phyllis and Humphrey go for a walk. The conversation is mostly led by Humphrey, which gives Phyllis time to calm herself down. She is surprised when he changes the subject from more impersonal topics of fashion to the matter of a difficulty he is experiencing. He reveals he brought Phyllis the mirror as a gift in order to ask her a favor. He has secretly married someone else, and, because his father will not fully approve of his bride, he needs Phyllis to claim that she never would have married him. Phyllis is relieved by this news. She wants to confide in Humphrey about Matthäus Tina but knows she must not—especially because keeping his escape a secret will grant him more time to succeed.
Humphrey’s selfishness is emphasized—he talks so much, Phyllis is hardly able to get a word in. It’s also implied here that he has thought so little about Phyllis’s own desires that he can share his secret marriage with her and ask her for a favor without worrying she’ll be angry. Clearly, he has spent his time away working towards his own happiness, and using his engagement with Phyllis as a useful cover story. Phyllis does not express any emotion to Humphrey, once again setting this relationship apart from her conversations with Matthäus Tina, in which many intimate details were shared. Her relief confirms her lack of interest in the marriage, and her silence about Tina, despite wanting to share her story, shows that she is still loyal to him even when there is no longer any hope of happiness together.
Themes
Love vs. Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Gender, Rank, and Power Theme Icon
Loyalty Theme Icon
Phyllis returns home, halfheartedly regretting her decision not to leave with Matthäus Tina. Wrapped up in her sadness, she doesn’t leave the house for a few days. One morning, though, she ventures down to the bottom of the garden, where she used to meet Tina at the wall. She notices that the grass near the wall has been flattened by her habit, and that it might be this that alerted her father to the meetings between the two. 
After her heartbreak, the first time Phyllis leaves the house is to visit the place she associates with Matthäus Tina, suggesting her feelings for him remain and have become tangible and permanent, attached to the stone wall. In the light of day, she’s able to see the concrete effects of her trysts with Tina, implying that she has come to realize both the depth of their connection, and her inability to keep it secret.
Themes
Love vs. Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Secrecy, Rumor, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Quotes
While at the garden wall, Phyllis hears unusual noises coming from the military camp. She is shocked to see the regiments standing in lines behind two empty coffins. A procession advances while the army band plays a death march; Phyllis sees two soldiers in a mourning coach along with two priests. The two men are blindfolded and made to kneel on the coffins while the procession pauses. Twenty-four men stand with guns raised, and when the commanding officer signals, they fire at the two kneeling soldiers. Phyllis sees one of them fall forwards, the other backwards. When the soldiers, later revealed to be Matthäus Tina and Christoph, are shot, Phyllis shrieks and falls to the ground, though nobody past the garden wall notices.
Phyllis’s reaction to the soldiers being shot is based on an unconfirmed, yet well-informed assumption that the soldiers are Matthäus Tina and Christoph, though neither she nor the reader are completely sure of this fact until the narrator provides the information. Nevertheless, Phyllis’s faint is the most dramatic and emotional way she behaves in the story, far surpassing her reaction to Humphrey’s revelation. Even though Phyllis made the decision to remain loyal to Humphrey, and to give up her life with Tina, her emotional connection to Tina is still so intense it affects her physically.
Themes
Love vs. Societal Expectations Theme Icon
The executed soldiers are placed in the coffins, but the English colonel of the regiment demands that they be turned out onto the ground as an example for the other soldiers to march past. After this, the bodies are once again placed in the coffins and taken away. Dr. Grove, hearing the sound of gunfire, rushes out into the garden where he finds Phyllis lying against the wall, unmoving. Phyllis is taken indoors, but remains unconscious for a long time and is not her normal self for weeks.
Matthäus Tina’s desertion is not only punished with death, but is extreme enough to serve as an example to the other soldiers in the legion. This is the final and most profound implication that his longing for home was extreme, and took precedence over any other loyalty. It seems to take the sound of gunfire for Dr. Grove to pay attention to his daughter, only showing her care when she is at the point of collapse.
Themes
Captivity, Restriction, and Escape Theme Icon
Secrecy, Rumor, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Loyalty Theme Icon
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It transpires that Matthäus Tina and Christoph made it to the boat, but navigated to Jersey instead of France in error. There, they were caught along with two other soldiers who escaped along with them. In their trial, Tina and Christoph claimed full responsibility for the desertion, allowing the other two soldiers to have their sentences commuted to flogging while they themselves were given the death penalty.
The escape ended in failure not due to betrayal but through an innocent mistake, which makes it seem inevitable that Matthäus Tina would never find the freedom he longed for. Even in the face of death, though, he and his friend were unwilling to betray others, accepting the consequences of their actions without attempting to implicate others—something Tina also did when he refused to persuade Phyllis to come with him, and something Humphrey failed to do by requiring Phyllis to help him evade his father’s expectations.
Themes
Captivity, Restriction, and Escape Theme Icon
Loyalty Theme Icon
Their unmarked graves lie next to each other in the churchyard, a place the narrator only knows because Phyllis showed him. Phyllis keeps the graves well-maintained for the rest of her life. The narrator returns the story to the present time, and describes the graves as overgrown, with Phyllis’s own grave now nearby. A generation has passed, and only the older villagers know the significance of the graves.
Without Phyllis to attend to them, the soldiers’ graves are unkempt, which suggests that Phyllis was the only one in the surrounding area, or in the country, to care about them. This also emphasizes the loneliness and alienation the soldiers felt in England, and their tragic inability to escape, even in death. That Phyllis did tend the graves over the course of her life, though, is a sign that she was bold enough to show her devotion by her actions—just not at the point when it mattered most. The graves are unmarked, meaning the only people who know of their importance are those who know the 90-year-old story or those who read the parish records. It’s a reminder that this tale, and others from that time and place, are close to slipping from collective memory.
Themes
Captivity, Restriction, and Escape Theme Icon
Love vs. Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Secrecy, Rumor, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Quotes