A Tragedy of Two Ambitions
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"A Tragedy of Two Ambitions" is a short story by Thomas Hardy and was published in his collection Life's Little Ironies in 1894. In this story, Hardy tells the story of two brothers who are so ambitious to get out of their social environment that they ignore moral values and willingly accept their father's death and hide all that from their sister.
The story is divided in five chapters and follows the dramatic structure of classical drama.
The story deals with the two brothers Joshua and Cornelius Halborough and their problems their father causes. The short story is set in the 19th century. Learning Greek and Latin the two boys Joshua and Cornelius are interrupted by their drunken father who is an alcoholic. They get miffed at their father and Joshua locks him in the straw-shed so that their sister Rosa cannot see her drunken father.
The father used all the 900 pounds of their dead mother for drinking so that the boys cannot study at university. So the boys study in a training college for schoolmasters, where they get scholarships.
A few years later Joshua studies at the theological college where he is supported by his bishop and is going to be presented for ordination. He visits his brother Cornelius, who is a schoolmaster but wants to become a bishop, too. Joshua, who is delighted by church, wants to help him to become a bishop, although Cornelius doubts the church and they have a discussion about it.
Both love their sister Rosa and want to care about her and help her having a good life. Joshua meets their father with his new wife at Cornelius’ school and gets asked for some money. He is shocked about his father, who does not take him seriously and he decides with Cornelius that their father has to be sent away to Canada for their own good.
Joshua, who is ordained by now, is loved by the congregation while he officiates the first time and is asked to dine with the rich Fellmerv family. During dinner Mrs. Fellmer is shocked by Rosa, who dines with them. Albert, Mrs. Fellmer's adult son, falls in love with Rosa and wants to marry her. Their father returns home which the brothers want to avert. They try to find him but fail. They return to the Fellmer's house where they dine and find their father there, who is angry about them for sending him to Canada. He wants to stop Rosa from marrying but by going inside the Fellmer's house he falls into the river, where he drowns. His sons do not help him and stand some meters away petrified. They decide not to tell anyone of this accident.
Joshua moves away but comes back six months later to dig their not identified father. Rosa tells them that she thinks she recognised the accident but was not sure about it. The brothers argue about telling her but decide not to tell her. Some time later Rosa gives birth to her baby and Joshua visits them. He doubts the church now, too. They find the fathers walking-stick they threw away after he died and think about drowning themselves someday.
Joshua and Cornelius Halborough:
Joshua and Cornelius are brothers and have a younger sister, Rosa. Their father, Joshua Halborough senior, is a millwright and is addicted to alcohol, under which the brothers have to suffer a lot. The brothers are frustrated by the early death of their mother and the loss of their inheritance. Because their father took the money the mother saved up for the two boys they cannot visit the University any more. Instead the boys try to break through the class system and try to become clergymen by their own efforts. Therefore they study Latin and Greek on their own. The brothers try to earn money to finance their career. Cornelius works as a schoolmaster and Joshua is a resident in the theological college of a cathedral-town.
Both, Joshua and Cornelius love their sister Rosa very much and try to enable to her a comfort life by hiding the drunken father from her and saving money for her school in Brussels, where she can get a good education.
Their whole life Cornelius and Joshua are afraid of anyone to find out who their father is. They try to break up the contact and want to protect Rosa from his bad influence. Joshua and Cornelius only try to get along in life without being held up by their family circumstances.
They know very well that it is difficult for them to reach their aims when their social status is not good enough so the brothers want to marry Rosa to a wealthy man to improve their social status.
When Cornelius and Joshua learn that their father married a gypsy woman they are embarrassed and try to pay them for moving to Canada and leaving them alone. When their father appears despite this arrangement he falls into a river when he is talking to Joshua and Cornelius. Although they first want to rescue him they let him drown to get rid of him. After this they have a bad conscience and feelings of guilt. They know that their behaviour was wrong but they saw no other possibility to live a better life.
Rosa Halborough is the younger sister of Joshua and Cornelius. She is able to live a quite happy life because she is protected by her brothers. Her brothers talk about Rosa as an intelligent and beautiful young woman.
Rosa visited a school in Brussels where she received a good education. Her brothers send her away because they want to keep her out of their bad family situation. When Rosa visits her brothers, all of them are invited by Mrs. Fellmer, mother of the squire, for dinner. Rosa falls in love with the squire and marries him later on.
Rosa is an intelligent young woman but she is not aware of the problems her brothers have with their father. She mentions to have heard someone scream her name before her wedding but she does not connect it to the drowned man, who turns out to be her father and is therefore able to enjoy her life, not knowing anything about the fate of her father.