So You Think You Know Thomas Hardy: The Answers
1. What is the name of the cow who is the occasion of Oak’s second meeting with Bathsheba? Daisy. She is calving at the beginning of the narrative and Bathsheba’s aunt keeps her for milk. A favourite (if troublesome) beast, Daisy is mentioned later in the narrative. Dogs, after they have proved their worth, like Oak’s George (who also returns later) are named, as are the horses at Upper Farm, but never sheep. There is a hierarchy of farm animals, as of farming folk, in Wessex.
2. What is Susan’s nickname among the children of the town? ‘The Ghost’, which in a sense she is. She is bodiless––wasting away––and has come back to haunt Henchard.
3. Of what does Grace dream, on her first night back at Hintock? ‘Kaleidoscopic dreams of a weird alchemist-surgeon, Grammer Oliver’s skeleton, and the face of Giles Winterborne.’ Not a happy conjunction for Giles.
4. Who, as best the reader can piece together, are the Durbeyfield children and what are their ages? Abraham is nine at the beginning of the narrative. He is the last male of the d’Urberville line and the oldest boy in the family. The other Durbeyfield children, as the action opens, are: Tess (something over sixteen), Liza-Lu (something over twelve), Hope (age unknown, but plausibly around seven), Modesty (five?), a three-year-old boy (unnamed), and a one-year-old baby. The early scenes in the novel should be played out in the reader’s mind against a background of ceaseless domestic clatter in the cramped Durbeyfield household. Given Tess’s age, the Durbeyfield parents can only have been married some seventeen years and must be comparatively young (in their late thirties or early forties) although the modern imagination may tend to picture them as much older.
5. What did Jude’s father die of? The shakings––possibly ‘ague’, or malaria, more likely delirium tremens (‘the shakes’). We only learn about Jude’s background when Arabella spitefully enlightens him as to his father’s domestic brutality and his mother’s consequent suicide. ‘The Fawleys were not made for wedlock’, as his great-aunt says. Jude’s thoroughgoing ignorance of his family background is one of the minor mysteries of the novel.
6. What is the great communal beer mug at Warren’s Malthouse called, and why? ‘God-forgive-me’ because, when its vast contents are drained, the drinker feels (momentarily) ashamed of his over-indulgence.
7. Why does Henchard go to Mrs Goodenough’s ill-fated furmity tent? Because, mistakenly, his wife wants to prevent him going to the beer tent––thinking that non-alcoholic furmity (a kind of fruity cordial) will keep him safe from indulging his weakness for strong liquor––something already known to her.
8. Why does Marty habitually call Giles (who calls her ‘Marty’) ‘Mr Winterborne’? Because he is her father’s employer and, when she fills her father’s working shoes, her employer too. Giles, apparently, acquiesces in her deference––unfeeling as we may consider it.
9. What colour are Tess’s eyes? Neither black, nor blue, nor gray, nor violet ‘but all those shades together’. It is not a hue which one can easily imagine.
10. Jude has given Arabella a framed lover’s photograph of himself. What happens to it? Arabella throws it out as junk to be auctioned. Jude buys it and burns it.
11. To what does Bathsheba attribute her lack of ‘capacity for love’? ‘An unprotected childhood in a cold world has beaten gentleness out of me.’ If it has frozen her capacity for tenderness, that unprotected childhood would seem to have also rendered her unusually independent in spirit. Bathsheba says very little about her childhood. One assumes she was brought up during her father’s religious-maniac, rather than erotomaniac, phase of life––possibly the grossly inappropriate name was given her, like ‘Magdalen’ in the nineteenth century, to remind a little girl of her sinful gender heritage.
12. ‘Casterbridge’, the narrator tells us, ‘announced old Rome in every street’. What can one read into this antiquarian observation, if anything? Rome brings with it associations of violence, of gladiatorial combat, of the fall of empires (even those as small as those based on the corn trade), and of paganism.
13. What do Mr and Mrs Melbury wear to Giles’s ‘randy-voo’, intended to welcome Grace back as his lover? Mrs Melbury wears her ‘best silk’. Mr Melbury, aware of the class difference between him and Giles, wears his ‘secondbest suit’ (his very best suit, reeking of camphor and not to be worn more than once or twice in a lifetime, is later taken out of the press for the visit to the House, in which he beseeches Mrs Charmond to stop coquetting with Fitzpiers).
14. What is ‘scroff’ and what part does it play in Tess’s downfall? Scroff is dust which, during the dance, rises and gets under skirts, and soils the sweating dancers. This is the prelude to Tess’s calamitous surrender to Alec in The Chase. Details such as this indicate how hard this novelist pressed against the censorious standards of ‘decency’ in Victorian fiction. As he says elsewhere, Hardy is writing for readers of ‘full age’.
15. Jude and Sue sleep together at the shepherd’s cottage, on their ill-fated day’s excursion. Do they do anything more than (literally) sleep? No, although it is presumed that they do. Courts of law would make the same cynical presumption.