chapter  IX
11 Pages

SHORT STORIES AND LITTLE IRONIES

Another London editor who was eager for something from Hardy worked in the office of Chatto & Windus, the publishers of Belgravia. They also published the New Quarterly Magazine. Its editor requested a short story, and once again Hardy dropped his other work long enough to respond to the editorial appeal. As a result, ‘An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress’ appeared in the New Quarterly for July 1878, where it ran to more than sixty pages. Hardy achieved a story of this length with such promptness by salvaging about fifteen chapters from his rejected first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady.1 The editor of the New Quarterly was pleased enough to ask for more; and in April 1879 ‘The Distracted Young Preacher’ appeared, to be followed in April 1880 by ‘Fellow-Townsmen’. Thus, in the months immediately before the publication of The Return of the Native and in the period immediately after this novel had begun its run in Belgravia, Hardy saw the publication of five short stories. He thus found himself embarked upon a voyage not at all of his own charting, one which was to continue for the next twenty years or more. In all, he produced nearly fifty short stories. Some of them are very good; some, it must be admitted, are very poor. In general, they can be said to show the same characteristics as the novels. They come from the same Wessex environment and deal with the same traditions and superstitions. Obviously, no short story can provide space for the gradual building up of interest in a powerfully drawn character, or for tracing the approach of a gathering storm that finally breaks in a scene of dramatic climax; but, in their own class and judged by their

own proper standards, Hardy’s short stories are often very well done. A few of them are excellent. ‘The Three Strangers’ is one of these. In recognition of the fact that the short stories are not as well known as the novels or the poems, they are all listed and annotated (briefly) in the Notes.1