Thomas Hardy’s The Withered Arm and Gamblers Never Win by Stan Barstow

Topic: Adoption
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Last updated: April 21, 2019

In this assignment we will be comparing the leading female characters in Thomas Hardy’s The Withered Arm and Gamblers Never Win by Stan Barstow. The leading female roles in The Withered Arm are that of Rhoda Brook and Gertrude Lodge. Hilda Scurridge is the main female character in the Stan Barstow story, with Eva, her daughter also making a brief appearance. As well as the female characters in the stories, we will also be looking at how the time period in which the story was written/is set affects how the social and historical influences and situations are when it comes to issues such as marriage.

The first thing we will compare is the appearance of each of the characters. Rhoda Brook is described in the book as a ‘thin, fading woman of thirty’. We also know several other details about her appearance by looking at the text. She is said to have very pale skin, which is unusual because she is a milk-woman who would spend most of the time outside. She also has very dark eyes which appear to be the only thing left about her which can seem beautiful. We derive this information from the quote – The radiance lit her pale cheek and made her dark eyes, hat had once been handsome, seem handsome anew.Because she works as a dairy maid on the farm, Rhoda has workers hands which are worn and blistered. She seems very self-conscious about them and when Gertrude comes along, she asks constantly about what her hands look like.

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She is also quite tall and this seems to be the only thing she is satisfied about when she finds out what Gertrude is like. Gertrude Lodge, however, is completely different from Rhoda. She is described as having lightish hair, eyes of a ‘bluish turn’ and a red mouth.Rhoda’s son when he tells his mother about Gertrude says she has a face ‘as comely as a live doll’s’. Whereas Rhoda is thirty years old, we re not told exactly how old Gertrude is, however, we do get the impression that she is much younger than Rhoda and very beautiful. Unlike Rhoda, who comes from a working class background, Gertrude show ‘marks of a lady’, this means that she looks as though she come from the upper class and has never had to do any manual work. In Gamblers Never Win, we meet Hilda Scurridge. Hilda was, as the book says, once very beautiful.

But, her hard life has taken its toll on her and her appearance. She is described as having a ‘sallow’ face with dark eyes and dark hair which she ties in a knot at the back of her head. Her eyes appear to be, like Rhoda, the only thing about her that is still attractive – only in her eyes, almost black, was her prettiness of her youth ever revealed We are also told that her legs ‘once her best feature’ were swollen and covered in blue veins. It would appear that Hilda Scurridge has been aged and worn before her time and if her situation had been different, would most probably maintained the beauty of her youth.Gertrude Lodge appears to be the exact opposite of both Hilda and Rhoda and represents everything they envy or want.

Hilda and Rhoda both seem very alike in their appearances. In each of the descriptions, the writers use many different adjectives to help us envision the women such as ‘beautiful’, ‘comely’ and ‘handsome’. They do not, however just put in a description on its own. It is usually mixed in with dialogue or as a train of thought on the writer’s behalf. This makes them more part of the story and easier to digest. In The Withered Arm, we see Rhoda Brook as a very lonely woman.

She lives in poverty with only her son to keep her company. The father of her son, Farmer Lodge, does not acknowledge the boy and so she seems to be more lenient toward his unruly behaviour as though to make up for the fact that his father has ignored him all his life and resolutely refuses to acknowledge the boy as his own. Rhoda seems even lonelier at the beginning because the other milkmaids talk about her behind her back and so she sits away from them.

This can be seen in the first chapter ‘A Lorn Milkmaid’ by the phrases ‘a thin, fading woman of thirty milked somewhat apart from the rest. and ‘the first woman murmured under her cow to her next neighbour, ”Tis hard for she,’ signifying the thin worn milkmaid aforesaid. ‘ During all of this, Rhoda does not speak nor make herself noticed. This gives us an idea that she prefers to keep herself to herself. This theory is strengthened further as she and her son live quite a way from the other villagers, as though they are in the community but not part of it. We also get the impression later in the book that the villagers do not trust her as they advise Gertrude to ask Rhoda of Conjuror Trendle’s whereabouts.

To be referenced to when speaking of a conjuror meant that the villagers suspected Rhoda of witchcraft. This could have led to all sorts of consequences, such as her expulsion from the community or even a witch trial. Whereas Rhoda Brook lives in poverty, Gertrude seems to live quite a comfortable life.

When Farmer Lodge takes Gertrude home for the first time, he is said to have a ‘handsome new gig’. A gig is a two wheeled carriage and to have a new one indicates that Farmer Lodge is a well off man. We also hear that Gertrude is a lady. This means that she comes from a well to do family and has never had to work in order to survive.Farmer Lodge owns most of the land in the little farming community where he, Gertrude, Rhoda and her son live. The fact that Mr. Lodge was able to marry Gertrude at all shows that she will live a luxurious life while under his roof as the father of a lady such as Gertrude would not have allowed her to marry someone lower than her own social status.

Whereas Rhoda likes to keep to herself, Gertrude seems to enjoy going around the village and meeting everyone. This open and caring attitude leads Rhoda to start a friendship, though short-lived, with Gertrude.Before she met Gertrude, Rhoda had asked her son to describe everything about her. Rhoda had no intention of actually meeting Gertrude as she felt quite bitter about the fact that Farmer Lodge married her and wished to start a family with her, while ignoring both Rhoda and her son. This slight obsession with Gertrude’s looks takes its toll and one night, Rhoda has a dream about her.

In the dream, Gertrude is sitting on top of Rhoda, waving her wedding ring in front of Rhoda’s face until Rhoda grabs her by the arm and throws her across the room and away from her.At this point she wakes up. Obviously she is quite shaken from the experience as it seemed so real.

Nothing can prepare her for the shock she gets the next day however; Gertrude arrives at the cottage, explaining that she promised Rhoda’s son that she would come over to give him a pair of boots. This shows a charitable side to Gertrude as she didn’t have any obligation to go up there. Rhoda realises that Gertrude is not a nasty as she thought she would be. Gertrude has marks on her arm and when queried about them, she says that she does not know how they got there.Rhoda recognises them from her own hand and decides to say nothing of her dream. She knows that unknowingly she has placed a curse of some kind on Gertrude. Gertrude’s arm becomes shrivelled and withered hence the name of the tale. Eventually she and Rhoda decide to go see Conjuror Trendle and seek his help to find out who has done this to Gertrude.

After she comes out of his house, her relationship with Rhoda sours. We can only assume that she saw it was Rhoda who had placed the curse on her arm. Hilda Scurridge does not have much in common with Gertrude, likewise, neither does Rhoda Brook.Hilda, like Rhoda, lives in poverty. She lives with her husband, Fred Scurridge. While Hilda struggles to make ends meet and buy enough food for them both to live on, Mr.

Scurridge gambles most of their money away. We see from the text that when they were newly married, they bought a house and were quite happy. Eventually though, the romance in their relationship disappeared and the house fell into disrepair. Because Mr. Scurridge is out most of the time, Hilda’s situation is similar to Rhoda’s as there is no male husband to take care of them.Both have children, Rhoda has her son and Hilda has a daughter called Eva who left home because of her fathers gambling problems.

Like Farmer Lodge, Scurridge refuses to speak of her, simply saying that he has no daughter (Farmer Lodge has the same attitude towards his son). On the other hand, Gertrude has no children throughout her marriage to Farmer Lodge. He begins to believe that because he has no child to his wife that the heavens are punishing him for refusing to acknowledge Rhoda’s son. In ‘Gamblers Never Win’, we hear about Hilda’s father.He is portrayed as a tyrannical father who constantly spoke about the sins of the world and God. He did not approve of Fred Scurridge and we get the impression that Hilda began a relationship with him to spite her father. We do not get any similar story of how the relationship of either Rhoda or Gertrude with Farmer Lodge in ‘The Withered Arm’ Another difference between the books is that while Farmer Lodge does not get married to Rhoda, even though she is carrying his child, Fred and Hilda have to get married because she becomes pregnant.The difference in these circumstances are because of the social standing on intercourse before marriage.

In the 1830’s, when ‘The Withered Arm’ was written a man did not have to marry a woman if she got pregnant as it was seen as her fault. She would probably be thought of as a ‘scarlet woman’ for a while but sooner or later it would be forgotten. However, in the 1950’s (when ‘Gamblers Never Win’ was written) to become pregnant out of wedlock was a huge social gaffe. Many men who found their partners to be with child were forced to marry them.

This is how Mr. Mrs. Scurridge came to be married. Abortions were not made legal in Britain until 1968 so Hilda could not have avoided her marriage. Unfortunately, it seems as though the passion and desire which brought Mr. and Mrs. Scurridge together did not last and the relationship has dwindled into a dull and repetitive lifestyle. Divorce was also heavily frowned upon in the 1950’s so both Fred and Hilda stay together even though they are unhappy.

Both stories are set in rural areas, this allows the loneliness and isolation of the main characters (Gertrude, Rhoda and Hilda) to be emphasised.It also allows for many different aspects of life to be shown as both middle class and working class live close by to one another. We can see this by the difference in lifestyle of Rhoda and Hilda compared to Gertrude and Farmer Lodge. However, there is a major difference between the two rural areas portrayed in the stories; the area in ‘The Withered Arm’ is a farming village, isolated from the rest of the world and the village in ‘Gamblers Never Win’ is largely dependent on the coal mine where most of the male inhabitants work. In rural ‘Wessex’ (the fictional town Thomas Hardy used for most of his stories) superstition reigns.

Ailments can be cured by a ‘conjuror’ and curses can be cast over people by sorcerers. The whole plot basis for ‘The Withered Arm’ is magic and superstitions. On the other hand, there is nothing like that in ‘Gamblers Never Win’ as the basis for the story is that of love lost and ill treatment leading to tragedy. In this sense, both stories are very much alike as the stories in them have a strong sense of underlying grimness, a type of bitterness which runs throughout the two texts. The theme of crime and punishment runs strongly through both pieces as well although in different ways.In ‘The Withered Arm’ it focuses on the idea that the law is not always fair.

For example, Thomas Hardys’ father told him about a young boy who was hanged for being present when a hay rick was set alight. The boy was not responsible for the fire but was hung anyway. The same thing happens to Rhoda’s son in the end of ‘The Withered Arm’. This ‘true’ story seems to have had a great effect on Hardy. This theme of crime and punishment differs in ‘Gamblers Never Win’. The punishment here is not so much a physical one as a moral one.Mr. Scurridge has treated his wife badly, gambled and most probably committed many other sins.

Hilda Scurridge’s father said that even if a gambler seems to win, their sin will catch up with them. This is true in the case of Fred Scurridge; he wins a large amount of money on the football pools and before he can tell Hilda, his ‘sin’ catches up with him and he dies, bleeding in the snow outside him home. The ironic part about his death is that Hilda had complained about a hook outside the house where she cut herself, Scurridge told her to stop complaining.The same hook was the cause of Mr. Scurridge’s death as it tore out the front of his wrist. Both books are set in a time when your vocabulary skills and accent indicated your social status.

Working class people were seen as using many local words (dialect) in speech. They were also shown as having heavy, thick accents. The middle and upper class however, because they were higher in social standing, were portrayed as speaking in Standard English and using Received Pronunciation. This form of speech can be seen today in how our monarchy speak. Today, only around 1% of the population use Received Pronunciation.Both books use this stereotyping in order to help the readers distinguish between working class people and their ‘betters’. We can see this difference in speech by looking at the dairyman in chapter one of ‘The Withered Arm’ and Gertrude. When Gertrude first meets Rhoda she tells her of the mark upon her arm.

In this portion of dialogue, there is no indication of a local word, abbreviation or anything else of the sort. She speaks as a lady should, with each word pronounced correctly. On the other hand, the dairyman uses several local words in a small amount of dialogue.He also does not use grammar correctly; this can be shown by the following speech: “Now then, what the Turk do it matter to us about Farmer Lodge’s age, or Farmer Lodge’s new mis’ess? ” Likewise, Hilda Scurridge also speaks with strong dialect inserted. An example of this would be when she speaks about a younger Scurridge as ‘A little wiry dandy of a man’. Description of places also plays a large part in both books. Stan Barstow spends several sentences describing the awful state of the Scurridge’s house.

When describing the furniture, he uses words such as ‘sagging’, ‘cracked’, ‘grimy’ and ‘worn’ to name but a few.The overall impression you get of the house is that it has suffered the dame fate as it’s inhabitants; slowly failing into despair and gloom. Another theme which Hardy runs is the theme of continuation and the idea that “life goes on”. In “The Withered Arm”, the story begins and ends with Rhoda milking in the sheds. The grim ending of this story with a death is quite a contrast to the happy ending in “Far From the Madding Crowd”. Hardy favours the more monotonous, grim style of writing, though, (as anyone who has read Tess ‘o’ the D’Urbervilles can testify).The ending in ‘Gamblers Never Win’ also end in a death and we feel that it was the only way either of the characters could have successfully escaped from their dull lives.

We can derive from the texts that the characters are very different from one another. Rhoda, one of the leads is seen as a strong, independent woman who can hold her own. As we have seen, Rhoda is very quiet and because she is lonely, she can get quite bitter when it comes down to the fact that she will never get back together with Farmer Lodge. I think that until he got married she had held onto a small amount of hope that they would be together again.I think that Hardy uses her difficult situation to his advantage as it emphasises her strong will to survive and how well she copes.

Gertrude is almost the complete opposite. She seems very dependant on Farmer Lodge in the beginning. Hardy shows us the difference in her character before and after the arm well. Before her arm withers she is seen as a kind and charitable woman. She doesn’t believe in magic and scorns the idea that it could be a curse affecting her.

However, afterwards we see her as a bitter, vain woman who will try anything in order to return her arm to its natural state.Barstow creates an indifferent character in Hilda Scurridge. Although she lives in awful conditions and suffers mental abuse from her husband, she still continues to stay. She does not hate her husband as can be seen in the phrase ‘there was nothing of hatred.

.. but only a dull, flat apathy.

‘ Because she has heard it all before, Hilda no longer cares what Scurridge says about her. He shows her as being extremely tolerant and without hope of anything in her life changing. It is as though she is a mere husk of the woman she once was.In terms of their treatment, Gertrude and Rhoda are very much alike. Rhoda was very young when she met Farmer Lodge as was Gertrude. He had a relationship with her then left her before she became worn and unsightly. When he first brings Gertrude home, he fawns over her beauty. However, when her arm begins to disfigure, he seems to ‘go off’ her and pays her less and less attention over the years.

This seems to kill something inside Gertrude as she realises that he cared only for her appearance and sees her as a possession to be kept in the house.Hilda suffers most in the stories because her husband was once a wonderful man who she then had to watch as a ‘demon’ took over him and turned him into a vile creature who’s every word to Hilda is laced with malice. Hilda had to watch as her whole world disintegrated around her. Not once throughout the whole story does Fred Scurridge say anything nice to his wife. Indeed, some of the last words he said to her were ‘D’you think you’re fir to take anywhere? Look at yersen! ‘ Out of the three women, Rhoda gets the best treatment.Although Lodge left her, he did not treat her badly as the other two are when he was with her. I think that although both stories are very similar, it is the little differences such as the treatment of the characters and the language used that makes the biggest impression. The language in ‘The Withered Arm’ can be a little hard to follow and so a lot of the plot can be lost.

Out of the three characters I feel most sympathy for Hilda as she has never really seen what life can be like because she was with her God-fearing father until she was twenty two and the she was married to Scurridge.Rhoda I can understand why she is like what she is but she seems to be able to cope with just about anything life will throw at her. Gertrude, I do not feel any pity towards her as she seems too vain and bitter towards the end of the book. She doesn’t often do anything by herself and when she does, it ultimately leads to her demise. I don’t really think I can comment on the rights and wrongs of the treatments of the character as I haven’t lived in those times so I don’t really understand the workings of the social statuses and what would be acceptable and what would not in each different time.

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