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In the various short stories, Hardy writes of the true nature of nineteenth century marriage and its inherent restrictions, the use of grammar as a diluted form of thought, the disparities created by the role of class status in determining societal rank, the stance of women in society and the severity of even minor diseases causing the rapid onset of fatal symptoms prior to the introduction of sufficient medicinal practices. A focal point of all the short stories is that of social constraints acting to diminish one's contentment in life, necessitating unwanted marriages, repression of true emotion and succumbing to melancholia due to constriction within the confines of 19th century perceived normalcy.
Published in 1888, Wessex Tales contained five stories ("The Three Strangers", "The Withered Arm", "Fellow-Townsmen", "Interlopers at the Knap", and "The Distracted Preacher") all published first in periodicals.
For the 1896 reprinting, Hardy added "An Imaginative Woman," but in 1912 moved this to another collection, Life's Little Ironies, while at the same time transferring two stories—"A Tradition of Eighteen Hundred and Four" and "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion"—from Life's Little Ironies to Wessex Tales.
TV and Film Adaptations
Six of the short stories were adapted as television dramas by the BBC as the anthology series called Wessex Tales:
- "The Withered Arm" (7 Nov 1973 BBC2), adapted by Rhys Adrian, directed by Desmond Davis The Internet Movie Database claims Davis is uncredited (this is an error) and starring Billie Whitelaw
- "Fellow-Townsmen" (14 Nov 1973 BBC2), adapted by Douglas Livingstone, directed by Barry Davis and starring Jane Asher
- "A Tragedy of Two Ambitions" (21 Nov 1973 BBC2), adapted by Dennis Potter, directed by Michael Tuchner and starring John Hurt
- "An Imaginative Woman" (28 Nov 1973 BBC2), adapted by William Trevor, directed by Gavin Millar and starring Claire Bloom
- "The Melancholy Hussar" (5 Dec 1973 BBC2), adapted by Ken Taylor, directed by Mike Newell and starring Ben Cross
- "Barbara of the House of Grebe" (12 Dec 1973 BBC2), adapted by David Mercer, directed by David Jones and starring Nick Brimble and Ben Kingsley
- "AQA - Anthology Zone - Thomas Hardy". anthology.aqa.org.uk. Retrieved 2016-05-03.
- Malcolm, Cheryl Alexander; Malcolm, David (2008). "Thomas Hardy: Wessex Tales : A Companion to the British and Irish Short Story : Blackwell Reference Online". Blackwell Publishing Inc. Retrieved 2014-05-21.
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