On the Western Circuit was published in 1984. It was written by Thomas Hardy who was known as one of the greatest novelist in the English language. He was born in 1839 and died in 1928. On the Western Circuit was taken from a collection of Thomas Hardy’s novels called ‘Life’s Little Ironies’. A lot of Thomas Hardy’s novels were viewed as negative and it would seem he had a pessimistic view on life. He thought it was impossible to find true happiness. Thomas Hardy wrote his novels in the Victorian era. At this point there were a lot of double standards and women were extremely repressed by men and society. Thomas Hardy was a realist and aware of the challenges and pressures faced by women. They had limited education, limited wealth and limited power. Society only had real respect for those women married and in a secure relationship.
Hardy disagreed with Victorian values and was conscious of the difficulties society caused. In this particular novel there are themes of deception, powerless women, education, blame, Victorian values and society. The women in the story all set out with good intent but are not aware of what the repercussions that will ensue as a result of their actions and desires. As a result of their various desires they all find themselves trapped in situations they cannot change, without being looked down upon by society. The pressures of society’s ‘perfect’ expectations leads them to circumstances they would rather not be in. They are pulled down by society and not able to truthfully express their emotions.
In the story, Anna, an attractive but uneducated servant is spotted on a funfair by Charles Bradford Raye, a wealthy educated Esquire from London. Charles picks out Anna, as the prettiest, from a group of girls. At the beginning this gives us the impression that he may be quite superficial and considers appearance an important issue:
“…but by and by the observers eye centred on the prettiest girl out of the seven…”
Whilst Charles is passing through Anna’s home of Melchester he has a relationship with her which results in them sleeping together. To Charles, it would seem that Anna was merely just a bit of fun, whilst on his businesses trip in Melchester. Anna takes the whole ordeal a lot more seriously. She imagines her and Charles being together. Anna was brought up in the country and the story would suggest she has not had many past relationships and Charles observes this as soon as he meets her:
“It was not difficult to fall into conversation with her. Unreserved – too unreserved – by nature, she was not experienced enough to be reserved by art….”
Anna’s mistress also finds Charles very attractive and is interested in the young man. She wishes she was Anna’s age again and could be in her position.
When Charles leaves Melchester to return to his home of London, Anna continues her interest in him. She is determined to stay in contact with Charles and as she is not very well educated she asks, Edith Harnham, her mistress, to write him a letter from herself. Charles, is intrigued by the well-written letter and also continues to stay in contact, with what he thinks is the young girl he met in Melchester. As the letters continue, Edith finds herself being more and more drawn to Charles.
Anna, later declares herself to be pregnant with Charles’ baby. Edith is worried about the news but as Charles is so impressed and intrigued by, what he thinks are Anna’s letters he agrees to do the dutiful thing and decides to marry Anna. Anna is very happy and goes to see Charles, accompanied by Edith. Anna assumes she will be able to hide the secret that she is not able to write fluently and is not at all like the woman who wrote the letters, but not long after they are married, Charles asks her to go to the next room and write his sister a letter informing her about the ceremony:
“Say it in the pretty poetical way you know so well how to adopt…”
The secret is then soon discovered but Charles, (although he has a kiss with Edith) again, does the dutiful thing as stays with his pregnant wife. Edith is not in a position to pursue a relationship with Charles because of her marriage and because of Anna. Charles and Edith would be greatly frowned upon by society if they were to continue a life together. They have to hide and ignore their desires for one another.
Blame is a large part of the story. All the characters play their part in causing the mess that has been caused, although, they do not set out to intentionally hurt one another. All the main characters carry out actions that may be wrong but if the story is looked closer at, it is clear that there are other parties to blame too. Edith’s husband does not provide a loving, caring relationship that she longs for. There marriage does not seem to be based on love:
“…but Mrs Harnham did not care much about him.”
Women were not as well educated as men and Anna had not been given the opportunity to learn which had left her, not illiterate, but not able to do a lot academically either. Society placed greater value on men’s education and welfare; there were a lot of double standards.
Society would have also have affected their decisions about their futures. Charles may not have agreed to stay with Anna if he had known she had been deceiving him. He has to do what is right in the eyes of society.
Raye is described a lot at the funfair and it is where we are first introduced to him. We learn of his background and description. Raye seems to be enjoying himself at the funfair.
“Throbbing humanity in full light was, on second thoughts, better than architecture in the dark”
He is described as being dfferent from the rest of the crowd. He soon spots Anna and wastes no time in making himself known to her. Rayes attitude towards the funfair is also described with a lot of imagery. Once he meets Anna, temptation plays a large part:
“He postponed till the morrow his attempt to examine the deserted edifice, and turned his attention to the noise.”
Anna and Charles first meet at the funfair. The funfair is described in several different ways. Many sexual overtones are used throughout its description. There is a lot of imagery used to create this effect. Several colours are mentioned. This gives you a clear idea to what the scene at the funfair would be like:
“Lurid” “smoky glare” “dazzling”
At a funfair, everyone would be enjoying themselves and having fun. This leads the story to bring in pleasure, as imagery. It could mean the pleasure they are having because they are at the funfair and having fun, or they pleasure they are having because they are together and the pleasure is the feeling/emotion they have.
“She was absolutely unconscious of everything save the act of riding: her features were rapt in ecstatic dreaminess”
There are also major differences in the way Hardy describes the funfair. It is described as pleasurable and fantastic but also the imagery of hell is brought into it. It would seem there is a lot of chaos and confusion all around:
“It was compounded of steam barrel-organs, the clanging of gongs, the ringing of hand bells, the clack of rattles, and the undistinguishable shouts of men.”
A lot of movement and sound are described in this quote, as with others. This gives the funfair an extremely realistic effect. It lets the reader know what is going on and the feelings the characters are having:
“…Like gnats against a sunset”
Edith plays a little part at the funfair, although the part she does play has great effect on her. She seems to be very interested in the funfair but holds herself back and does not let herself join in with the fun. I think she would like to participate in but does not want to be seen interpreted any differently to how she normally is:
“I like it”
She is interested and yearning to join in.
Charles was the one who began the events in the story, so because of this you could choose to put most of the blame upon him. He was supposed to be on a business trip but instead his superficial nature led him to find out the prettiest girl he could and begin a temporary relationship with her. He was initially attracted to Anna, for superficial pleasure and he did not take the time to get to know her and consider the effects his interest in her may have. His attitude to all the girls at the funfair is shallow and degrading. He thinks of them more as objects than real people.
“Having finally selected her”
This quote shows how Charles is at this point thinking of Anna as an object and not considering her as a person. ‘Selected her’ ‘Studied her’ These are not words you would typically use to describe what you are doing to people; this is how you would describe objects or perhaps animals.
Charles is also, not always completely truthful. He introduces himself initially using a partially false name and does not tell all of his background and reasons for visiting Melchester. Charles knows that he has power over Anna and can see from the very beginning she is inexperienced with men and easily led astray/influenced. He uses this at the beginning to find out about her and pursue his interest. You could blame Charles for the outcome because he does pursue the relationship with Anna, although he knows he will not be staying and cannot really have a long-term relationship with her. He still continues to see while he is in Melchester and he must have been sleeping with her, because later we find out Anna is pregnant with his baby.
“by persuasion obtaining walks and meetings with the girl six or seven times during the interval; he had in brief won her, body mind and soul.”
This quote also tells that he had been sleeping with her and again refers to Anna more as an object, when it says that he had ‘won her.’
It could be seen that Charles is only using Anna and as soon as he leaves Melchester will not think about her again once he returns home.
When Charles discovers that Anna is pregnant, firstly he raises her hopes by assuring her he will come and see her. This is soon over ridden when he sends another later saying he cannot get away and will not be visiting her. Considering the circumstances you would assume that Charles would rush to see Anna and look try to comfort her and look after her as she is carrying his child alone. It takes another cleverly written letter from Edith Harnham to make Charles take responsibility for his actions and say he will look after Anna. He deciders to marry Anna but I think he is only persuaded to do this because of the pretty and clever letters he receives from Edith. His reason for the marriage is obviously not based on love. Society would come into the story here; Charles cannot leave Anna, a poor young servant to bring his child up alone. She would obviously be looked down on and if it was found out he had made he pregnant he may also not be thought as highly off. We can see how society would react from Mr Harnhams reaction. When he finds out Anna is pregnant he instantly wants her to leave and she is told to leave the house.
“…an inkling of Anna’s circumstances reached the knowledge of Mrs. Harnhams husband or not cannot be said, but the girl was compelled, in spite of Edith’s entreaties, to leave the house”
Charles suspiciously wants the wedding to be private. This suggests he is not proud of his bride and surprisingly considering why he chooses her initially does not want to show her off. He may be ashamed of his reasons for marrying Anna, or feel very guilty, so he does not want a lot of people to witness the wedding.
From another point of view, Charles could be seen to be just a young romantic man, who made one mistake and now has to pay the consequences for the rest of his life. He is clearly attractive to women:
“wicked and nice”
The main reason Charles could be pitied is the deception that he receives. He is fooled over many months into thinking that Anna is something she is not. It could be seen that he grows to, perhaps love her by receiving all the letters and seeing what he thinks she is really like.
After he discovers Anna is pregnant he does express regret and do the decent thing by providing a home for her and marrying her, he could have backed out and left her to fend for herself. He does feel guilty and know that he did behave wrongly:
“God forgive me! He said tremulously. I have been a wicked wretch. I did not know she was such a treasure as this”
He clearly knows he was wrong and regretfully reflects on in his actions. Through the writing correspondence, over a long period of time, he does grow fond of what he thinks is Anna and takes responsibility of his actions when the times comes.
Charles does take on a huge responsibility when he decides to look after Anna and their baby. He knows he will be trapped for the rest of his live and unable to lead his own current life, it will mean a complete change to what he is currently used too. He shows more courage and decency when he still decides to stay with Anna after they return from the wedding and he discovers it was not her writing the letters and therefore not her he thought he was falling in love with. Charles knows he will have to spend the rest of his life in a loveless marriage and as divorce would not have been looked on very well in the eyes of society, there would be know way for him to escape it or change the mistakes he had made.
Overall, although Charles did make mistakes and did acted wrongly by pursuing the relationship with Anna, he was not aware of the consequences and I think he does have a conscience and he does amend for his actions.
Anna is portrayed as an innocent, pretty, young girl and it would seem that you could not place the blame on her as she is the one who ends up carrying a baby in a loveless marriage. Although, there are several reasons why you could place blame upon her. Anna is attracted to Charles and likes the superficial pleasures.
“… He had nothing square or practical about his look, much that was curvilinear and sensuous.”
Charles immediately impresses her at the funfair and wastes no time in informing him of all her background information. She is very open, although this could be due to lack of experience with men. Like Charles, she does not always think about what she is doing and acts upon her impulse. The consequences of what she is doing are not thought about it. It could be thought that because she is not educated very well that she is unable to think what may happen and how society would think off her, especially after she sleeps with him. She rushes into sleeping with them and all seems to happen very quickly. Charles is only on a short business trip but the end, Anna assumes there are in a relationship and is sleeping with him.
Anna’s main fault is the deception with the letter writing. At the beginning it may not have seemed a big deal but after time went by she must have realised she was playing with peoples emotions and deceiving Charles into thinking she was something she was not. She is very naive about the situation and careless not to think how her actions would be affecting the people involved and what people would think if they found out. She is giving Charles a completely wrong impression of herself; she is making him grow feeling for someone that she is not. The letters make her sound educated, which is far from the truth. Anna gets well out of her depth and seems to have loose control over what she is doing. She gets very excited and childish over the situation, as she is overwhelmed by everything.
When Anna has to leave the house she continues the deception enormously. She asks Edith to continue writing letters to Charles on her behalf. This shows she is not taking a lot of responsibility over the letters as she feels she does not even have to be there to read them. This shows her lack of concern for what Edith is writing.
Through the story a lot of Anna’s actions are wrong her lack of education may lead her to act the way she does. She seems to have a little understanding for a lot of things. She is young and her lack of education and understanding give her a lot less power over her actions than the rest of the characters.
For her age, she does have a lot to take on. She has no real rules or boundaries around her so may not have a clear idea of what is wrong and right. She has a lot of freedom and probably after she meets Charles has a lot of new emotions and feelings to deal with, that she has not felt before. Her lack of experience may lead her to be naive; she may not have meant to cause the problems that everyone is faced with in the end.
Some of Anna’s actions could be seen as cunning and look as if they were planned to make him fall into a trap. In perspective, would such a simple girl, as Anna be able to plan things like that out. It would probably be more sensible to look at her actions more as silly mistakes, as she could be very excitable and childish.
“Anna jumped for joy like a little child”
At the end of the story, Charles discovers it was Edith and expresses how he feels to her. Charles knows he will never love Anna truly but stays with her out of pity. This makes the reader feel sympathy for Anna as she does not know this and she is not aware of Charles feelings and actions towards Edith. She is deceived about his affection and will now have to live her life in a loveless marriage.
Anna must have felt quite eager about Charles’ committing to her. If she had been left by herself she would have had to face a lot more pressures from society. Victorian values would have not improved of her being an unmarried mother.
Edith Harnham plays a large role in Anna’s life. She almost takes on a motherly role. She tries to gain control of Anna and would seem to interfere in Anna’s life a lot. The story suggests Edith is jealous of Anna and would very much like to be in her position.
“Anna – poor good little fool – hasn’t the intelligence to appreciate him! How should she? While I – don’t bear his child”
She becomes obsessed with Charles. It is clear it is not just about helping Anna that makes her continue to write the letters. Whilst Anna is away she, off her own back she still replies to Charles letters, without Anna’s acknowledgement. Edith seems to let Charles and the romance overcome her sense.
It is clear she has a cold and loveless marriage but by writing the letters to Charles shows no loyalty to her husband at all. If the letters she was writing had been found she would have been in a lot of trouble and if society were to find out she would of surely been frowned upon.
Edith probably deceives most people in the novel. She supposedly cares a lot for Anna and is like a mother to her but is unable to protect her and in the end Anna does get hurt. She deceives Anna about her true feelings for Charles and how she is expressing them in her letters. She goes to far and begins to write her own feelings instead of consulting Anna first and least trying to get her to put some input into the letters. Even after the wedding Edith deceives Anna. She admits her feelings and goes behind Anna’s back with Charles. Again, she does not consider the consequences and how people would feel if they were to find out. Her husband would with no doubt leave her a single women and Anna would not want to continue seeing her.
Edith’s reason for pursuing Charles may have been her loveless marriage. She has never experienced true love and this may have been her only chance but she is unable to do it. Society traps her in her current marriage although she is lonely and longing for love. She also longs for children, which her and her husband do not have and he is not considering. She is only driven by desires that she should not really express. It may have been hard to keep such passionate feelings inside and writing the letters would have made her aware of Charles and Anna’s relationship constantly.
At the end of the story, although she has to go home knowing she will never be able to be with her true love, she does make sure Anna is married and goes back to her husband. She must have suffered immensely with divided loyalties.
Society and their pressures may have influenced the women’s actions in the story. Hardy was aware of the difficulties that women faced at this time and the story highlights this. He knew that sexual desire was evil and women were powerless. They had no vote and were economically dependant upon men. They could not be fulfilled. There lives were not dictated by themselves. All the characters in the play are driven by uncontrollable desires.
Hardy would say that no one could control his or her fate or future. He believed humans were at the mercy of forces beyond their control.
My sympathies would lie mostly with Charles and Anna, as they will now have to spend the rest of their lives pretending and making people see their relationship for something it is not. I think I would blame Edith mostly because she was older and more experienced with the world and you would think she would have more knowledge to stop her acting the way she did. I do believe all the characters must have found it hard given the restrictive culture in their society not to be able to express the feelings they held for each other. This would definitely resulted in many being unable to fulfil their hopes and aspirations.