Monday, September 14, 2015

"A Grimly Humorous Little Tale with Almost Perfect Unity of Setting and Action"

"In the neighbourhood of country-towns hanging matters used to form a large proportion of the local tradition."

"The Three Strangers."
By Thomas Hardy (1840-1928).
First appearances: Longman’s Magazine and Harper's Weekly, March 1883.
Reprinted in AHMM, July 1996.
Long short story (23 pages in PDF).
Online HERE.
THERE'S certainly more than meets the eye when during a blustery, rainy evening three complete strangers drop in on a christening . . .

With his brilliant skills at description and character drawing, if Thomas Hardy had decided to become a full-time crime fiction writer, we believe his name would today rank right up there with Doyle, Carr, Christie, and Sayers. A few excerpts:
 ". . . the oddity of my trade is that, instead of setting a mark upon me, it sets a mark upon my customers."
. . . All this time the third stranger had been standing in the doorway. Finding now that he did not come forward or go on speaking, the guests particularly regarded him. They noticed to their surprise that he stood before them the picture of abject terror—his knees trembling, his hand shaking so violently that the door-latch by which he supported himself rattled audibly: his white lips were parted, and his eyes fixed on the merry officer of justice in the middle of the room. A moment more and he had turned, closed the door, and fled.
. . . The firing of the alarm-gun went on at intervals, low and sullenly, and their suspicions became a certainty.
". . . you've got to come and be our prisoner at once!" said the constable. "We arrest 'ee on the charge of not biding in Casterbridge jail in a decent proper manner to be hung to-morrow morning. Neighbors, do your duty, and seize the culpet!"
. . . Stories were afloat of a mysterious figure being occasionally seen in some old overgrown trackway or other, remote from turnpike roads; but when a search was instituted in any of these suspected quarters nobody was found.
- For more of Hardy's shorter writings go to The FictionMags Index HERE. You can find a detailed discussion (Warning: SPOILERS) on The Victorian Web HERE that includes Hardy's use of biblical, classical, and medieval allusions in "The Three Strangers."
Apparently the only time he ever smiled was when he was cashing a paycheck.

Category: Paleo-Jamesian crime fiction

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