Short Story Mini-Review: An Imaginative Woman by Thomas Hardy

An Imaginative Woman by Thomas Hardy (1894)

This is the first of Thomas Hardy’s short stories that I’ve read but I would now like to read more. As you might expect from Hardy, An Imaginative Woman is well-written and descriptive but with a slightly dark and melancholy feel.

Ella Marchmill, the ‘imaginative woman’ of the title is an aspiring poet, writing under the male pseudonym of John Ivy because ‘nobody might believe in her inspiration’ if they knew she was a woman. Her husband, a gunmaker, is her exact opposite in temperament and interests. When the couple and their three children go on holiday to Solentsea in Upper Wessex, Ella becomes obsessed with the previous occupier of their lodgings – a fellow poet by the name of Robert Trewe. During their stay in Solentsea she convinces herself she has fallen in love with a man she has never even met and desperately tries to arrange a meeting with Trewe. As I don’t want to spoil the story for you I won’t reveal any more of the plot and will leave it to you to find out whether or not Ella succeeds in meeting Robert Trewe.

No, he was not a stranger! She knew his thoughts and feelings as well as she knew her own; they were, in fact, the self-same thoughts and feelings as hers, which her husband distinctly lacked; perhaps luckily for himself, considering that he had to provide for family expenses.

“He’s nearer my real self, he’s more intimate with the real me than Will is, after all, even though I’ve never seen him,” she said.

The theme of this story was actually very similar to the Mary Elizabeth Braddon novel The Doctor’s Wife which I reviewed a few weeks ago, in which a woman becomes bored with her marriage and develops an obsession with another life that exists only in her fantasies. The outcome of the two stories, however, is very different. There’s a clever plot twist at the end of An Imaginative Woman but I found the final few paragraphs a bit too harsh and cruel.

If you’d like to read this story yourself, you can find it online here.

The illustration by Arthur J. Goodman shown at the top of this post originally appeared in The Pall Mall Magazine in April 1894 and depicts Robert Trewe and Ella Marchmill – Picture courtesy of Philip V. Allingham

Have you read any of Thomas Hardy’s short stories? Which one do you think I should read next?

14 thoughts on “Short Story Mini-Review: An Imaginative Woman by Thomas Hardy

  1. Lyn says:

    Thanks for the review. I love Hardy & I have this story in one of my collections so I’ll read it tonight. I’d suggest On the Western Circuit next. It’s so hard to review short stories as plot is everything but this one has all Hardy’s melancholy about love & relationships.

  2. Iris says:

    I have a book of short stories by Hardy on my shelves, but as ever I have yet to read it. Sounds like I might be in for a treat if I ever pick it up!

  3. Hannah Stoneham says:

    Thank you for recommending this. i am a fan of Hardy’s novels and poetry but have never found my way to the short stories. What an interesting collection of books you do read!

    Thanks for sharing

    Hannah

  4. Stephanie says:

    I’ve read Thomas Hardy’s Life’s Little Ironies, and this short story is by far my favourite. The plot is enticing.

  5. maryam says:

    please can u tell me the end of this story i need the summary but all the summaries don`t have the end, tell did she meet him at the end or not, i need a reply

    • Helen says:

      This is still the only short story I’ve read by Hardy, but I do want to read more of them! I still have a few of his novels left to read too; I’m in the middle of The Woodlanders at the moment and love it so far.

  6. Phil says:

    Agree with your thoughts on the final paragraph. I love Hardy, but his worldview that “everything turns to shit” isn’t actually true in reality. Several alternative endings, just as poignant, suggest themselves.

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