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.
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?