“On the Western Circuit” is a short story written by Thomas Hardy, one of Britain’s greatest novelists. Hardy was born on June 2, 1840 in Higher Brockhampton, Dorset. He wrote novels such as “Far from the Maddening Crowd”, “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” and “Jude the Obscure”. I will be answering the question of who was the most to blame for the outcome of “On the Western Circuit” and possible reasons for each character to hold the most responsibility. I will also be explaining why I sympathise with the characters.
The main characters are Raye, a well off lawyer from London who captures the heart of Anna, a simple country girl from the small village of Melchester. Edith, who is Anna’s mistress and guardian, is also very taken by Raye, and ends up falling in love with him. Raye and Anna end up married because Anna becomes pregnant, much to the dismay of Edith and Raye who is by this time in love with Edith. Raye feels that it is his duty to marry Anna, even though he is not in love with her.
The story is set in Victorian times, and Hardy was very interested in the strict moral attitudes of Victorian society, and people’s behaviour who are of different social backgrounds. The story starts when Raye meets Anna at the steam fair, and they start to have a relationship together. Anna’s older mistress, Edith Harnham, falls in love with Raye, without him realising, when their hands accidentally touch at the fair. Edith longs for Raye, although she knows that because she is married, and so much older than him, they could never be lovers.
Raye returns to his work place in London wishing only to keep contact with Anna through letters, and the occasional visit to her when he is on the Western Circuit. Little does he know that Anna cannot read or write very well, so she gets Mrs Harnham to write letters to him from her. We later find out that Raye had made Anna pregnant while he was with her, and Edith sends him an urgent letter telling him this, but urges him not to rush down and disrupt his busy schedule. Raye feels obliged to marry Anna, and does so in a small ceremony in London.
Soon after this, Raye finds out that it has been Edith writing letters to him, signed with Anna’s name, and that he had been deceived. It is at this point when Edith confesses that she has fallen in love with him. Raye also admits that he feels the same way about her, but remains married to Anna although he is not happy and thus the story ends. At the opening of the story, we first meet Raye who is on his way to the funfair. Hardy describes the fair vividly, and shows it to be a place of temptation because this is where Raye was tempted by Anna, revolving on the hobbyhorse.
Her beauty tempted him as Raye describes her as “unmistakably the prettiest girl”. Hardy shows the fair to be a place where you can let your hair down, and it is a welcome change from the strict Victorian morality. Hardy writes that Raye “threw himself into harmony with his new surroundings” by “lighting a short pipe”, and by “putting his hat on one side”. This shows that Raye was trying to fit in and look like one of the country folk. Hardy describes it as a chaotic place because of “human figures… darting athwart and across, up, down and around”.
The words “A smoky glare” shows the confusion surrounding the fair, and Hardy created the image by appealing to all senses and describing, “the clanging of gongs, the ringing of hand bells… and the undistinguishable shouts of men”. He is telling you what Raye can hear, as well as see. The fair and the Cathedral contrast with each other because the cathedral is seen as a very orderly, house of God, whereas the fair is seen as a place where sin can be indulged, and disorder is compulsory. The Victorian attitude at the time regards fun as something only to be had by simple country folk.
The quote “a greater contrast between juxtaposed scenes” proves that the two places are very different from each other. The fair could be seen as a symbol of hell, with all the pleasure and freedom that could be experienced there, with the symbol of heaven being the cathedral. The word “inferno” that Hardy uses to describe the fair could be linked to the inferno of hell. I think he is trying to describe it as a fantasyland, because riders of the hobbyhorses “were quite fascinated by the undulations in this most delightful holiday-game. ” It is almost like a dream world.
The fair affects the characters in different ways. For Raye I think the fair is a new experience for him, he is used to formalities in London, and probably hasn’t been to a fair before. It is also the first place where he meets Anna. As the text says, he “selected her” which shows that his opinion of women is one that they can be picked or chosen like they are a piece of fruit from a grocer. Anna seemed to be in “paradise” on the merry-go-round. This was also a new experience for her, as she says to Raye when they start speaking “It has been quite unlike anything I have felt in my life before”.
She also tells Raye “this was the first time she had ever seen a steam circus” which proves that she had never been to one before. She acts like a child who sees a magic trick, and cannot figure out how it is done. Edith also has feelings about the fair. She longs to be there, but feels that because of her husband not liking it, and because of her social background, she shouldn’t. She tells her husband that “she likes it” whereas he thinks that it is a “horrid nuisance”. The fair is also the place that she meets Raye, and although he is not taken by her at first, after him accidentally clasping her hand, she finds him “very wicked and nice”.
She is “stirred with the stranger’s manner and charm” and “the tenderness of his idle touch”. She is very attracted to him and, although she knows that she could never have him, she produces a “reasonless sigh” because her own marriage is not fulfilling and her “deeper nature had never been stirred”. In many respects, Raye could be considered to blame for the outcome of the story. It was him who started events, he only wanted Anna for a quick fling while he was travelling, and it was her superficial beauty that attracted him, as the quote “the observer’s eyes centred on the prettiest girl” shows.
He calls her “his select country beauty”, so he must regard himself quite highly, and that he could have any lady he desires. He used Anna for a bit of excitement, and intended to do so on each of his circuit journeys “three to four times a year”. Secondly he wished their marriage to be private, as the quote “He wished the ceremony to be in London for greater privacy” illustrates. This shows the reader that Raye is concerned about social status, and would even enrol Anna “in a little private training in the social forms of London” to get her up to his standards.
He was bothered about what his upper class friends and colleges would think if he were to marry a simple country girl like Anna. On the other hand we can sympathise with Raye, because could have run off when he found out that Anna was pregnant, and left her to fend for herself with the baby. Instead he put his professional ambitions on the line by marrying her. We had already discovered that Raye was not interested in love and marriage as Hardy wrote at the beginning that “his sordid ambition is the master passion… aking the time honoured place of love”, so deciding to marry her must have been difficult for him.
Furthermore, Raye did feel guilty that he had lead Anna on, and deemed himself “a wicked wretch” which shows me that he has got a conscience. Anna could be considered to blame because she also had a part in the outcome. Firstly she deceives Raye by asking Mrs Harnham to write to him because she cannot read or write very well, and that she would “sink into the earth if he knew”. This shows that she is embarrassed to let Raye know that she is not very literate, but she doesn’t want to put him off.
She also did not catch on that Edith likes Raye very much, because when Edith tells Anna that she cannot go on writing to Raye “because of it’s effect on me” Anna does not have the intelligence to realise what Edith is trying to tell her. I can sympathise with Anna though, because she received little education because in her youth “there had been no school within a distance of two miles” and there had also been “nobody to care about her learning rudiments” so in my opinion it is not the fault of Anna that she cannot read or write very well, it is society’s fault. I think in those days, education for women was not seen as very important.
What is more, she only deceived Raye because she loved him, and did not want to loose her relationship with him as the quote “had won her body and soul” shows. Also Anna was very young and nai?? ve and, in my opinion, is not to really to blame for the outcome. She did not understand Edith’s situation, and her love for Raye. Edith could be to blame because she lets romance overcome her common sense. “She opened each letter, read it as if intended for her”. This shows that she got carried away with her love for Raye. It became like on obsession for Edith as the text says, “she lived in the ecstasy of fancy”.
This was the first time she had experienced true love, and she got carried away with this. Another point is that she deceived Anna by not telling her about her true feelings for Raye. She also deceived Raye because she agreed to write to him, pretending to be Anna, overcoming her better judgement. “She felt bound to accede” because she had not stopped the relationship so far, and she cared for Anna, and wanted “to help her as much as she could”. Also in my opinion, Edith could have stopped the marriage because she was aware of the whole truth, and could have persuaded Anna to call off the wedding.
She did not do this because as I said, she cared for Anna, and in my opinion, did not want to cause her any unhappiness. On the other hand Edith was trapped in a loveless marriage and her marriage “was not fulfilling” and the text says that she led a “lonely life”, so I can sympathise with her for wanting a little excitement. She felt “responsible” for Anna, and did show kindness for her by not to telling Raye at first that she loved him. I think that she regarded Anna as a daughter, and Anna regarded her as her mother.
Society could have affected the characters opinions and actions. Single motherhood in Victorian times was looked at as socially unacceptable. If Raye had left Anna instead of marrying her, she would not have had any benefits, and would probably have been shunned by society. Edith’s husband had already said that he thought is “t’was time” that Anna was married. Divorce was also seen as social unacceptable in the days when this story was written. In Victorian times, it was also common for men to be aloud more sexual freedom than women, and sleep with who ever they wanted.
Raye shows this by telling Anna when they first meet that he prefers the country to the town because “it contained such girls as herself”. This shows that Raye doesn’t find it hard to attract women and sleep with them. The outcome of the story would also been affected in the fact that when Edith was younger, she would have been urged by her parents to marry at a young age, and as the text says, her husband was a “pis aller” which means last resort. She realised when it was too late that “she had made a mistake” in her choice of husband.
There was a lot of fate involved in the overall outcome of the story, because if Raye had decided to visit the Cathedral instead of the church, none of this fiasco would have happened. I also think that if Edith had not gone looking for Anna at the fair and seen Raye, and their hands hadn’t accidentally touched, she would not have developed her unstoppable desire for him. The story reflects Hardy’s obvious pessimistic view on life. Hardy describes love as something that “often leads up to passion, heart-ache, union, disunion, devotion, overpopulation, drudgery, content, resignation, despair”.
This shows that Hardy does not have a very optimistic view on love in general. The ending of the story also shows this because Edith and Raye end up in a loveless marriage. I think if this storyline were used for a soap opera nowadays, the plot would possibly end in Raye running off with Edith, or possibly Edith seeking revenge on Anna by killing her, or ruining her marriage. This sort of ending would not have been used in Victorian times though because it would have been seen as outrageous by society. In conclusion, I feel that Edith holds most responsibility for the outcome of the story.
I think she could have prevented Raye and Anna seeing each other, or explained to Anna how Raye really felt about her. She failed to protect Anna and became obsessive. I also do not think she should have admitted to Raye about her love for him after the wedding, because in my opinion he would have been better off not knowing so he wouldn’t be able to wish that he had run away with her. I feel most sympathetic for Anna who did not know of all the things going on behind her back, like Edith’s love for Raye, and Raye only marrying her because of her baby.