Sunday, October 16, 2016

Under the Greenwood Tree Part 5 - The Social Contract

A cordwainer, that is, a maker of shoes;
differentiated from a cobbler
who merely repairs them.
The last major facet of Thomas Hardy's Dutch portrait of his Dorchester community in decline is more nebulous than the others I've outlined so far; specifically, the relationship between the individual and the larger community or social convention. I say that it's more nebulous because, unlike landscape descriptions or dialogue, it's rarely explicit in the text. It's implied in the ways that characters interact with one another.

It is, however, one of the central themes of the book, embodied in the disruption that Parson Maybold's installation brings to the community. Before the nature and scope of that disruption can be appreciated, it will be valuable to understand what it is that is being disrupted. There is a relationship between the land, the individual, the family and the community that can be thought of as a web that has been undisturbed for generations prior to the opening of the book. Individuals assume vocations (and in fact are defined by those vocations) based on the needs of the community and, in some cases, by the traditions that exist within the family into which they are born.

As the members of the quire gather in Reuben Dewy's home to drink cider and rehearse prior to the long night of caroling, Hardy uses this curious sequence, from the mouth of Mr. Penny, the shoemaker, to underscore the intimate nature of the relations between members of the community.

"Well," said the shoemaker, seeming to perceive that the interest the object had excited was greater than he had anticipated, and warranted the last's being taken up again and exhibited; "Now, whose foot do ye suppose this last was made for? It was made for Geoffrey Day's father over at Yalbury Wood. Ah, many's the pair o' boots he've had off the last. Well, when 'a died, I used the last for Geoffrey, and have ever since, though a little doctoring was wanted to make it do. Yes, a very queer natured last it is now, 'a believe," he continued, turning it over caressingly. "Now, you notice that there" (pointing to a lump of leather bradded to the toe), "that's a very bad bunion that he've had ever since 'a was a boy. Now, this remarkable large piece" (pointing to a patch nailed to the side), "shows a' accident he received by the tread of a horse, that squashed his foot a'most to a pomace. The horseshoe cam full-butt on this point, you see. And so I've just been over to Geoffrey's, to know if wanted his bunion altered or made bigger in the new pair I'm making."

In this one short speech, Hardy demonstrates that the whole of Geoffrey Day's life is bound up in Mr. Penny's shoemaking capabilities. The same is true of everyone else connected to the service he provides. He later asserts that he once identified a corpse otherwise unrecognizable from the bloat of drowning by the shape of the foot. It is no wonder then that when he produces a shoe intended for Geoffrey's daughter, Fanny, it is viewed by those in the room as an intimately tied to her person as if she'd suddenly appeared in the room. Reuben's son, Dick, uses it to fill in the gaps in his imagination about her, while noting that it filled him with "a delicate feeling that he had no right to do so without having first asked the owner of the foot's permission." Penny makes an interesting distinction about the boot though, noting that he "don't care to mend boots I don't make," (because he is a cordwainer, a maker of shoes, not a cobbler, a repairer of them) suggesting that, though born of the community, Fancy Day is apart from it in a way that her father is not.

Another passage, describing the exterior of Mr. Penny's shop, outlines a similar idea from another angle, noting that:

No sign was over his door; in fact--as with old banks and mercantile houses--advertising in any shape was scorned, and it would have been felt as beneath his dignity to paint up, for the benefit of strangers, the name of an establishment whose trade came solely by connection based on personal respect.

This notion that the labor and creativity of the individuals in the community belongs solely to the community asserts itself quite forcefully on one of the two central plots; namely, the eviction of the Mellstock Quire as the principal music providers in the church.

To Parson Maybold, someone with roots in the region but not a member of the community, there is little gravity in the decision to "modernize" the church by replacing the string ensemble with an organ. It is the most obvious outcome of having a) an organ b) someone who can play it (Fancy) and c) a wealthy supporter who has asked him to make the change (Fancy's other suitor, Farmer Shiner). Ironically, all three people who are involved in the decision --The Parson, Fancy, and Farmer Shiner-- are excluded by circumstances from the community: The Parson, by birth and education; Fancy by education and slightly elevated social status stemming from her father's relationship with the Earl of Wessex; and Shiner by his wealth.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Under the Greenwood Tree Part 4 - Dialogue and the Dorset Tongue

The Dorset accent has been featured in prominent roles
 in recent fantasy classics like Hagrid from the Harry Potter films. 
In Under the Greenwood Tree, Thomas Hardy employs a very different set of strategies to capture the language of Dorset than his literary ancestor, the poet William Barnes. Barnes, as demonstrated in part 3 of this series, wrote his verse in the Dorset dialect, painting the sounds of the region in purposeful phonetic spellings that deviate from modern English. Hardy retains his regular voice in describing the setting and action but hints at the peculiarities of Dorset speech in the dialogue. As the story features characters at different points on a continuum of class, caste and education levels, those devices ring with a particular clarity in scenes where socially disparate characters interact.

Dialogue dominates Under the Greenwood Tree. Conversations fill entire chapters and sometimes spill over into the next. Hardy paints his characters mainly through almost obsessive tics in their speech patterns. Reuben Dewy, the male romantic lead's father, is the most instantly recognizable with his habit of throwing in a "my sonnies"  as a prelude to filling half a page while talking to no one in particular.

"Hullo, my sonnies, here you be then!" said Reuben Dewy at length, standing up and blowing forth a vehement gust of breath. "How the blood do puff up in anybody's head, to be sure, a-stooping like that! I was just going out to gate to hark for ye." He then carefully began to wind a strip of brown paper round a brass tap he held in his hand. "This in the cask here is a drop o' the right sort" (tapping the cask); "'tis a real drop o' cordial from the best picked apples --Sansoms, Stubbards, Five-corners, and such-like--you d'mind the sort, Michael?" (Michael nodded.) "And there's a sprinkling of they that grown down by the orchard-rails--streaked ones--rail apples we d'call 'em, as 'tis by the rails they grow, and not knowing the right name. The water-cider from 'em is as good as most people's best cider is."

(For readers not familiar with the Dorset accent, this video suggests reading it in Robbie Coltrane's delivery as Hagrid from the Harry Potter films.)

Drawing from this example (which is descriptive of the way Hardy's captures the Dorset speech from this particular social set), we can make a few broad generalizations about his strategy. First, there is the use of archaic pronouns like "ye" and "thee" and "thou," which show up with some regularity. Secondly, we see a lot of non-standard contractions like "'tis" and "d'mind" and "d'call."
One of the more interesting of these contractions that shows up regularly is a terminal 'n after a verb, (such as "that ever I should call'n such") as a substitution for the word 'him." This is also represented as an uncontracted "en" where we might expect to see a "him."

There is also an attention to cadence that shouldn't be overlooked. Hardy regularly employs the passive voice in his dialogue construction, which contributes to the feeling that it takes his characters a long time to say the simplest things. Consider how it affects the cadences of this passage, delivered by Mr. Penny, a member of the Mellstock Quire: "If so be I hadn't been as scatter-brained and thritingill [wrong-headed] as a chiel, I should have called at the schoolhouse wi' a boot and I cam up along. What is coming to me I really can't estimate at all!"

There are a few moments where the differences between common Dorset speakers and their more refined neighbors are contrasted directly, giving an even clearer sense of the devices Hardy is using to reinforce the dialect in the text. In a pivotal scene in the book, the Quire travels to the home of Parson Maybold in order to lobby against the installation of an organ in the church to replace them. Maybold, like Fancy Day, is representative of someone with roots in the area who has been elevated in status through education and his language and demeanor reflects it.

"What I have been thinking" --the tranter implied by this use of the past tense that he was hardly so discourteous as to be positively thinking it then--"is that the quire out to be gie'd a little time, and not done away wi' till Christmas, as a fair thing between man and man. And, Mr. Mayble, I hope you'll excuse my common way?"

"I will, I will. Till Christmas," the vicar murmured, stretching the two words to a great length, as if the distance to Christmas might be measured that way. "Well, I want you all to understand that I have no personal fault to find, and that I don't wish to change the church music by forcible means, or in a way which should hurt the feelings of any parishioners. Why I have at least spoken definitely on the subject is that a player has been brought under--I may say pressed upon-my notice several times by one of the churchwardens. And as the organ I brought with me is here waiting" (pointing to a cabinet-organ standing in the study), "there is no reason for longer delay."

Fancy's dialogue reads largely like Parson Maybold's but Hardy accentuates her attention to language in a passage connected to the after-wedding party that notes that [emphasis mine]: The propriety of every one was intense by reason of the influence of Fancy, who, as an added precaution in this direction, had strictly charged her father and the tranter to carefully avoid saying 'thee' and 'thou' in their conversation, on the plea that those ancient words sounded so very humiliating to persons of newer taste."

There is one last tidbit about language as it relates to class hidden in Geoffrey Day's introduction, although it probably reflects more on class than language. As the game-keeper for one of Lord Wessex's estates, Day develops two different protocols for talking with others; one for those considerably above him in status (his employer) and those considerably below him (as typified in this passage by his helper Enoch but just as easily applied to any member of the Dewy family).

Although not an extraordinarily taciturn man among friends slightly richer than himself, he never wasted words upon outsiders, and to his trapper Enoch his ideas were seldom conveyed by any other means than nods and shakes of the head. Their long acquaintance with each other's ways, and the nature of their labours, rendered words between them almost superfluous as vehicles of thought, while the coincidence of their horizons, and the astonishing equality of their social views, by startling the keeper from time to time as very damaging to the theory of master and man, strictly forbade any indulgence in words such as courtesies.

In the next installment of JLS, we'll look at more of these social conventions and how the define the relationships and expectations between different members of the cast.