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The Trumpet-Major (1880)

by Thomas Hardy

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9441315,410 (3.57)32
Hardy distrusted the application of nineteenth-century empiricism to history because he felt it marginalized important human elements. In The Trumpet Major, the tale of a woman courted by three competing suitors during the Napoleonic wars, he explores the subversive effects of ordinary human desire and conflicting loyalties on systematized versions of history. This edition restores Hardy's original punctuation and removes the bowdlerisms forced upon the text on its initial publication.… (more)



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» See also 32 mentions

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Familiar Thomas Hardy themes, three suitors, Festus and brothers John and Robert Loveday all approaching and being treated in different ways by an enigmatic, likeable and sometimes unpredictable Anne Garland. The story is set against the background of threatening French invasion and Napoleon Bonaparte. More specifIcally the Victory, Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar are in the background with Robert Loveday among the crew. The twists and turns and characters resemble Gabriel Oak, Boldwood and Sergeant Troy in the more polished Far from the Madding Crowd. The trumpet major book engrossed me and has its usual setting of rural life, of idiosyncracies of country folk and great insight into human nature. The underpinning sense of realism means that all does not end well for everyone. ( )
  jon1lambert | Feb 2, 2019 |
As I’m reviewing this six years after reading it, I can’t offer an in-depth response, but I do remember “The Trumpet-Major” as being an enjoyable read. I’d like to read it again in future – and then I could compose a more insightful review. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Apr 28, 2018 |
Romantic, nicely described ( )
  keithgordonvernon | May 1, 2017 |
"It was sometimes recollected that England was the only European Country, which had not succumbed to the mighty little man who was less than human in feeling and more than human in will" Hardy's novel is set in early 19th century England when fear of a French invasion led by Napoleon Bonaparte was a fact of life for many people living in the South of England, but in Hardy's world questions of love and marriage take priority.

Ann Garland and her mother are tenants of Miller Loveday and have rooms within the mill. Ann is being courted by the aggressive Festus Derriman whose father is a farmer and landowner, but the Miller's eldest son John, now a dragoon has for a long time loved and admired Ann and is now stationed nearby in preparation for any attempted invasion; he is the trumpet-major and his natural correctness and good manners have hindered his courting. Ann as a younger woman had a fancy for the miller's younger son Bob who has returned from a spell in the merchant navy and has got himself involved with Matilda who he intends to marry as soon as possible. What follows is a delightful game of missed opportunities, furtive meetings and avoidances as Ann behaving impeccably, unwittingly leads all the men in her life a merry dance.

A light romance on the surface played for amusement and laughter by Hardy is undercut by a feeling that tragedy is just around the corner, but Hardy never allows tragedy to materialise even though we expect it might at any moment. There are some marvellously well drawn characters: the flighty adventurous and capable Bob, the all too upright John, the cowardly vociferous and larger than life Festus, the comic miser uncle Benji Derriman, the wordly Matilda and of course Ann herself who might have strayed in from a Jane Austen novel as she tries to make sense of a dance she does not really understand. They play out their loves and hopes in a lightly militarised zone of operations, which gives an edge and a hint of danger as well as reinforcing the class consciousness that lies heavily across all Hardy's characters actions.

Hardy's marvellous descriptions of the mill and it's pond, which is a big attraction for the officers and their horses is seen primarily from Ann's point of view, it is her safe haven as she uses all her resources in the many roomed mill and it's gardens to play hide and seek with her courtiers, Bob can use the same playground to evade the press gang and people are able to spy on each other when the occasion demands. Outside of the Mill there is danger as when Ann has to run the gauntlet of Festus' attentions whenever she goes outside, while Uncle Benji sees the Mill as a safe place to hide his possessions and the stalwart figure of Miller Loveday is a reassuring rock that the characters can cling to in time of need.

The Napoleonic wars are the fuel that drive the story, but they take place off stage as Hardy moves his troops and characters around events that we hear of second hand, but we actually get to meet Captain Hardy of "kiss me Hardy" fame and Bob tells of his adventures on board HMS Victory, there are many references to Boney, but the slaughter of men in war time is waiting in the wings. King George III stays nearby, a little down the coast and creates a diversion with his bathing machine. The invasion scare leads to an exciting chase and a situation that could lead to rape and the press gang is an evil intrusion into the main characters lives, but Hardy's feel for the comedy in these situations never make the reader fear for his characters. There are chases, misunderstandings, practical jokes, ribaldry, coyness and some unlikely coincidences that all add to the humour.

The Trumpet-Major is not one of Hardy's better known novels and I am not sure is deserves to be, however it is beautifully realised with a lightness of touch that makes it a delightful read. I was immediately drawn into Hardy's world by some wonderful prose and my interest never let up till the end and it made me laugh. Great book for a rainy day and a four star read. ( )
5 vote baswood | Nov 7, 2013 |

An excellent read with the rural background, well-drawn female characters and self-sacrificing heroes that we expect and love from Hardy, but a bit lighter, with less tragedy, and an interesting historical (to Hardy as well as to us) setting, which gives him the opportunity to muse on the passing of time. There’s a particularly lovely bit about the weapons kept in the church which gradually move away, come in for other uses, and eventually drop to pieces on various farms. Festus Derriman, one of the inevitable set of suitors, is hilarious in his moodiness and cowardice. John Loveday is the solid hero, a kind of Diggory Venn figure, making things right in the background; his brother, Robert, is more flighty, and there is always the sense that things could go badly wrong. Old Mr Derriman is a figure of fun, but also of pathos, not too broadly drawn for sympathy in the end, with a purity in his relationship with Anne as a surrogate daughter. The historical details are nicely done, with the fashions carefully delineated, Hardy of the Navy (the “Kiss me, Hardy” one, presumably), and encounters with the king. A charming and overall good read. I doubt I would have approached this without Ali’s Hardy Reading Project, and I’m glad I did. ( )
1 vote LyzzyBee | Oct 2, 2012 |
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In the days of high-waisted and muslin-gowned women, when the vast amount of soldiering going on in the country was a cause of much trembling to the sex, there lived in a village near the Wessex coast two ladies of good report, though unfortunately of limited means.
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