'Old Mrs Chundle' by Thomas Hardy
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The curate had not been a week in the parish, but the autumn morning proving fine he thought he would make a little water-colour sketch, showing a distant view of the Corvsgate ruin two miles off, which he had passed on his way hither. The sketch occupied him a longer time than he had anticipated. The luncheon hour drew on, and he felt hungry.
Quite near him was a stone-built old cottage of respectable and substantial build. He entered it, and was received by an old woman.
"Can you give me something to eat, my good woman?" he said. She held her hand to her ear.
"Can you give me something for lunch?" he shouted.
"Bread-and-cheese—anything will do."
A sour look crossed her face, and she shook her head. "That's unlucky," murmured he.
She reflected and said more urbanely: "Well, I'm going to have my own bit o' dinner in no such long time hence. 'Tis taters and cabbage, boiled with a scantling o' bacon. Would ye like it? But I suppose 'tis the wrong sort, and that ye would sooner have bread-and-cheese?"
"No, I'll join you. Call me when it is ready. I'm just out here."
"Ay, I've seen ye. Drawing the old stones, baint ye? Sure 'tis well some folk have nothing better to do with their time. Very well. I'll call ye, when I've dished up."
He went out and resumed his painting; till in about seven or ten minutes the old woman appeared at her door and held up her hand. The curate washed his brush, went to the brook, rinsed his hands proceeded to the house.
"There's yours" she said, pointing to the table. "I'll have my bit here."
And she denoted the settle.
"Why not join me?"
"Oh, faith, I don't want to eat with my betters—not I." And she continued firm in her resolution, and eat apart.
The vegetables had been well cooked over a wood fire—the only way to cook a vegetable properly—and the bacon was well-boiled. The curate ate heartily: he thought he had never tasted such potatoes and cabbage in his life, which he probably had not, for they had been just brought in from the garden, so that the very freshness of the morning was still in them. When he had finished he asked her how much he owed for the repast, which he had much enjoyed.
"Oh, I don't want to be paid for that bit of snack 'a b'lieve!"
"But really you must take something. It was an excellent meal."
" 'Tis all my own growing, that's true. But I don't take money for a bit o' victuals. I've never done such a thing in my life."
"I should feel much happier if you would."
She seemed unsettled by his feeling, and added as by compulsion, "Well, then; I suppose twopence won't hurt ye?"
"Why, my good woman, that's no charge at all. I am sure it is worth, this, at least." And he laid down a shilling.
"I tell 'ee 'tis twopence, and no more!" she said firmly. "Why, bless the man, it didn't cost me more than three halfpence, and that leaves me a fair quarter profit. The bacon is the heaviest item; that may perhaps be a penny. The taters I've got plenty of, and the cabbage is going to waste."
He thereupon argued no further, paid the limited sum demanded, and went to the door.
"And where does that road lead?" he asked, by way of
engaging her in a little friendly conversation before parting, and pointing to a white lane which branched from the direct highway near her door.
"They tell me that it leads to Enckworth."
"And how far is Enckworth?"
"Three mile, they say. But God knows if 'tis true."
"You haven't lived here long, then?"
"Five-and-thirty year come Martinmas."
"And yet you have never been to Enckworth?"
"Not I. Why should I ever have been to Enckworth? I never had any business there—a great mansion of a place, holding people that I've no more
doings with than with the people of the moon. No: there's on'y two places I ever go to from year's end that's once a fortnight to Anglebury, to do my bit
o' marketing; and once a week to my parish church."
"Which is that?"
"Oh—then you are in my parish?"
"Maybe. Just on the outskirts."
"I didn't know the parish extended so far. I'm a new comer. Well, I hope we may meet again. Good afternoon to you."
When the curate was next talking to his rector he casually observed: "By the way, that's a curious old soul who lives out towards Corvsgate—old Mrs—I don't know her name—a deaf old woman.
"You mean old Mrs Chundle, I suppose."
"She tells me she's lived there five-and-thirty years, and has never been to Enckworth, three miles off. She goes to two places only, from year's end to year's end—to the market town, and to church on Sundays."
"To church on Sundays. H'm. She rather exaggerates her travels, to my thinking. I've been rector here thirteen years, and I have certainly never seen her at church in my time."
"A wicked old woman. What can she think of herself for such deception!"
"She didn't know you belonged here when she said it, and could find out the untruth of her story. I warrant she wouldn't have said it to me!" And the rector chuckled.
On reflection the curate felt that this was decidedly a case for his ministrations, and on the first spare morning he strode across to the cottage beyond the ruin. He found its occupant of course at home.
"Drawing picters again?" she asked, looking up from the hearth, where she was scouring the fire-dogs.
"No. I come on more important matters, Mrs Chundle. I am the new curate of this parish."
"You said you was last time. And after you had told me and went away I said to myself, he’ll be here again sure enough, hang me if I didn’t. And here you be."
"Yes. I hope you don't mind?"
"Oh, no. You find us a roughish lot, I make no doubt?"
"Well, I won't go into that. But I think it was a very culpable—unkind thing of you to tell me you came to church every Sunday, when I find you've not been seen there for years."
"Oh—did I tell 'ee that?"
"You certainly did."
"Now I wonder what I did that for?"
"I wonder too."
"Well, you could ha' guessed, after all, that I didn't come to any service. Lord, what's the good o' my lumpering all the way to church and back again, when I'm as deaf as a plock? Your own common sense ought to have told 'ee that 'twas but a figure o' speech, seeing you as a pa'son."
"Don't you think you could hear the service if you were to sit close to the reading-desk and pulpit?"
"I'm sure I couldn't. O no—not a word. Why I couldn't hear anything even at that time when Isaac Coggs used to cry the Amens out loud beyond anything that's done nowadays, and they had the barrel-organ for the tunes—years and years agone, when I was stronger in my narves than now."
"H'm—I'm sorry. There's one thing I could do, which I would with pleasure, if you'll use it. I could get you an ear-trumpet. Will you use it?"
"Ay, sure. That I woll. I don't care what I use—'tis all the same to me."
"And you'll come?"
"Yes. I may as well go there as bide here, I suppose."
The ear-trumpet was purchased by the zealous young man, and the next Sunday, to the great surprise of the parishioners when they arrived, Mrs Chundle was discovered in the front seat of the nave of Kingscreech Church, facing the rest of the congregation with an unmoved countenance.
She was the centre of observation through the whole morning service. The trumpet, elevated at a high angle, shone and flashed in the sitters' eyes
as the chief object in the sacred edifice.
The curate could not speak to her that morning, and called the next day to inquire the result of the experiment. As soon as she saw him in the distance she began shaking her head.
"No; no;" she said decisively as he approached. "I knowed 'twas all nonsense."
" 'Twasn't a mossel o' good, and so I could have told 'ee before. A wasting your money in jimcracks upon a' old 'ooman like me."
"You couldn't hear? Dear me—how disappointing."
"You might as well have been mouthing at me from the top o' Creech Barrow."
"I shall never come no more—never—to be made such a fool of as that again."
The curate mused. "I'll tell you what, Mrs Chundle. There's one thing more to try, and only one. If that fails I suppose we shall have to give it up. It is a plan I have heard of, though I have never myself tried it; it's having a sound-tube fixed, with its lower mouth in the seat immediately below the pulpit, where you would sit, the tube running up inside the pulpit with its upper end opening in a bell-mouth just beside the book-board. The voice of the preacher enters the bellmouth, and is carried down directly to the listener's ear. Do you understand?"
"And you'll come, if I put it up at my own expense?"
"Ay, I suppose. I'll try it, e'en though I said I wouldn't. I may as well do that as do nothing, I reckon."
The kind-hearted curate, at great trouble to himself, obtained the tube and had it fixed vertically as described, the upper mouth being immediately under the face of whoever should preach, and on the following Sunday morning it was to be tried. As soon as he came from the vestry the curate perceived to his satisfaction Mrs Chundle in the seat beneath, erect and at attention, her head close to the lower orifice of the sound-pipe, and a look of great complacency that her soul required a special machinery to save it, while other people's could be saved in a commonplace way. The rector read the prayers from the desk on the opposite side, which part of the service Mrs Chundle could follow easily enough by the help of the prayer-book; and in due course the curate mounted the eight steps into the wooden octagon, gave out his text, and began to deliver his discourse.
It was a fine frosty morning in early winter, and he had not got far with his sermon when he became conscious of a steam rising from the bell-mouth of the tube, obviously caused by Mrs Chundle's breathing at the lower end, and it was accompanied by a suggestion of onion-stew. However he preached on awhile, hoping it would cease, holding in his left hand his finest cambric handkerchief kept especially for Sunday morning services. At length, no longer able to endure the odour, he lightly dropped the handkerchief into the bell of the tube, without stopping for a moment the eloquent flow of his words; and he had the satisfaction of feeling himself in comparatively pure air.
He heard a fidgeting below; and presently there arose to him over the pulpit-edge a hoarse whisper: "The pipe's chokt!"
"Now, as you will perceive, my brethren," continued the curate, unheeding the interruption; "by applying this test to ourselves, our discernment of—"
"The pipe's chokt!" came up in a whisper yet louder and hoarser.
"Our discernment of actions as morally good, or indifferent, will be much quickened, and we shall be materially helped in our—"
Suddenly came a violent puff of warm wind, and he beheld his handkerchief rising from the bell of the tube and floating to the pulpit-floor. The little boys in the gallery laughed, thinking it a miracle. Mrs Chundle had, in fact, applied her mouth to the bottom end, blown with all her might, and cleared the tube. In a few seconds the atmosphere of the pulpit became as before, to the curate's great discomfiture. Yet stop the orifice again he dared not, lest the old woman should make a still greater disturbance and draw the attention of the congregation to this unseemly situation.
"If you carefully analyze the passage I have quoted," he continued in somewhat uncomfortable accents, "you will perceive that it naturally suggests three points for consideration—"
("It's not onions: it's peppermint," he said to himself)
"Namely, mankind in its unregenerate state—"
"The incidence of the law, and loving kindness or grace, which we will now severally consider—"
("And pickled cabbage. What a terrible supper she must have made!")
"Under the twofold aspect of external and internal consciousness."
Thus the reverend gentleman continued strenuously for perhaps five minutes longer: then he could stand it no more. Desperately thrusting his thumb into the hole he drew the threads of his distracted plug. But he stuck to the hole, and brought his sermon to a premature close.
He did not call on Mrs Chundle the next week, a slight cooling of his zeal for her spiritual welfare being manifest; but he encountered her at the house of another cottager whom he was visiting; and she immediately addressed him as a partner in the same enterprize.
"I could hear beautiful!" she said. "Yes; every word! Never did I know such a wonderful machine as that there pipe. But you forgot what you was doing once or twice, and put your handkercher on the top o' en, and stopped the sound a bit. Please not to do that again, for it makes me lose a lot. Howsomever, I shall come every Sunday morning reg'lar now, please God."
The curate quivered internally.
"And will ye come to my house once in a while and read to me?"
Surely enough the next Sunday the ordeal was repeated for him. In the evening he told his trouble to the rector. The rector chuckled.
"You've brought it upon yourself" he said. "You don't know this parish so well as I. You should have left the old woman alone."
"I suppose I should!"
"Thank Heaven, she thinks nothing of my sermons, and doesn't come when I preach. Ha, ha!"
"Well," said the curate somewhat ruffled, "I must do something. I cannot stand this. I shall tell her not to come."
"You can hardly do that."
"And I've half-promised to go and read to her. But—I shan't go."
"She's probably forgotten by this time that you promised."
A vision of his next Sunday in the pulpit loomed horridly before the young man, and at length he determined to escape the experience. The pipe should be taken down. The next morning he gave directions, and the removal was carried out.
A day or two later a message arrived from her, saying that she wished to see him. Anticipating a terrific attack from the irate old woman he put off going to her for a day, and when he trudged out towards her house on the following afternoon it was in a vexed mood. Delicately nurtured man as he was he had determined not to re-erect the tube, and hoped he might hit on some new modus vivendi, even if at the any inconvenience to Mrs Chundle, in a situation that had become intolerable as it was last week.
"Thank Heaven, the tube is gone," he said to himself as he walked; and nothing will make me put it up again!"
On coming near he saw to his surprise that the calico curtains of the cottage windows were all drawn. He went up to the door, which was ajar; and a little girl peeped through the opening.
"How is Mrs Chundle?" he asked blandly.
"She's dead, sir" said the girl in a whisper.
"Dead? ... Mrs Chundle dead?"
A woman now came. "Yes, 'tis so, sir. She went off quite sudden-like about two hours ago. Well, you see, sir, she was over seventy years of age, and last Sunday she was rather late in starting for church, having to put her bit o' dinner ready before going out; and was very anxious to be in time. So she hurried overmuch, and runned up the hill, which at her time of life she ought not to have done. It upset her heart, and she's been poorly all the week since, and that made her send for 'ee. Two or three times she said she hoped you would come soon, as you'd promised to, and you were so staunch and faithful in wishing to do her good, that she knew 'twas not by your own wish you didn't arrive. But she would not let us send again, as it might trouble 'ee too much, and there might be other poor folks needing you. She worried to think she might not be able to listen to 'ee next Sunday, and feared you'd be hurt at it, and think her remiss. But she was eager to hear you again later on. However, 'twas ordained otherwise for the poor soul, and she was soon gone. 'I've found a real friend at last,' she said. 'He's a man in a thousand. He's not ashamed of a' old woman, and he holds that her soul is worth saving as well as richer people's.' She said I was to give you this."
It was a small folded piece of paper, directed to him and sealed with a thimble. On opening it he found it to be what she called her will, in which she had left him her bureau, case-clock, settle, four-post to bedstead, and framed sampler—in fact all the furniture of any account that she possessed.
The curate went out, like Peter at the cock-crow. He was a meek young man, and as he went his eyes were wet. When he reached a lonely place in the lane he stood still thinking, and kneeling down in the dust of the road rested his elbow in one hand and covered his face with the other. Thus he remained some minute or so, a black shape on the hot white of the sunned trackway; till he rose, brushed the knees of his trousers, and walked on.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Old Mrs Chundle: A Masterpiece of Psychological Realism
Thomas Hardy is known for his masterpieces in the field of psychological realism. His works are an epitome of the conflict between the individual and society, the past and present, and the human psyche and the environment. In this literary criticism, I will analyze one of his finest short stories, "Old Mrs Chundle". The story is a perfect example of Hardy's mastery in portraying the complexities of the human mind and society's attitude towards the elderly.
"Old Mrs Chundle" is a short story that revolves around an old woman named Mrs Chundle, who is on her way to a small village in England. She is a simple and kind-hearted woman who is travelling to the village to attend a Church service. Unfortunately, she misses the train and is stuck in the village with no place to go. She is eventually approached by the local Vicar, Mr. Toller, who offers to help her. He invites her to stay with him for the night and promises to take her to the Church service the next day. However, when Mr. Toller finds out that Mrs. Chundle is a Dissenter, he becomes uncomfortable and tries to avoid her. He ultimately decides to skip the Church service, leaving Mrs. Chundle alone and heartbroken.
Thomas Hardy's characters are known for their depth and complexity. "Old Mrs Chundle" is no exception. The story has only two major characters, Mrs. Chundle and Mr. Toller, but both are portrayed with great detail and nuance.
Mrs. Chundle is the protagonist of the story. She is an old, simple, and kind-hearted woman who is on her way to a Church service. She is a Dissenter, which means she does not belong to the Church of England but to a different Christian denomination. Mrs. Chundle is a woman of faith and is deeply devoted to her beliefs. She is also a bit forgetful and absent-minded, which is evident when she misses her train.
Mr. Toller is the Vicar of the village. He is a man of the Church and is deeply devoted to his duties. He is also a bit self-centered and is more concerned about his reputation than the well-being of others. Mr. Toller is uncomfortable when he finds out that Mrs. Chundle is a Dissenter. He is dismissive of her and ultimately abandons her in her time of need.
"Old Mrs Chundle" is a story that deals with several themes. The most prominent themes are:
The story highlights society's attitude towards the elderly. Mrs. Chundle is an old woman who is dismissed and ignored by the people she encounters. She is treated as a burden and is left alone when she needs help the most. Mr. Toller's attitude towards Mrs. Chundle is a reflection of the society's ageist beliefs.
Religion is another theme that runs through the story. Mrs. Chundle is a Dissenter, which means she does not belong to the Church of England. Her beliefs are different from those of Mr. Toller and the villagers, which creates a divide between them. Mr. Toller's discomfort with Mrs. Chundle's beliefs is a reflection of the religious intolerance that exists in society.
The story also highlights the hypocrisy of the Church and its representatives. Mr. Toller is a Vicar, but he is more concerned about his reputation than the well-being of the people he is supposed to serve. He is dismissive of Mrs. Chundle because of her beliefs, which goes against the teachings of Christianity.
"Old Mrs Chundle" is a masterpiece of psychological realism. The story is a powerful portrayal of the complexities of the human mind and society's attitude towards the elderly. The story is not just a commentary on ageism but also on the hypocrisy and intolerance that exists in society.
The character of Mrs. Chundle is a representation of the elderly population. She is a woman who is dismissed and ignored by the people around her. Her age is seen as a burden, and she is left alone when she needs help the most. The character of Mr. Toller is a representation of the Church and its representatives. He is more concerned about his reputation than the well-being of the people he is supposed to serve. His discomfort with Mrs. Chundle's beliefs is a reflection of the religious intolerance that exists in society.
The story also highlights the theme of hypocrisy. Mr. Toller is a Vicar, but he is more concerned about his reputation than the well-being of the people he is supposed to serve. He is dismissive of Mrs. Chundle because of her beliefs, which goes against the teachings of Christianity. This hypocrisy is a reflection of the Church's attitude towards the elderly and its failure to live up to its teachings.
"Old Mrs Chundle" is a powerful short story that highlights the complexities of the human mind and society's attitude towards the elderly. The story is a commentary on ageism, religious intolerance, and hypocrisy that exist in society. The characters of Mrs. Chundle and Mr. Toller are masterfully crafted and serve as a representation of the elderly population and the Church's representatives, respectively. The story is a masterpiece of psychological realism and a testament to Thomas Hardy's mastery in portraying the human psyche.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Old Mrs Chundle: A Tale of Compassion and Redemption
Thomas Hardy's classic short story, Old Mrs Chundle, is a poignant and heartwarming tale of compassion and redemption. Set in the idyllic English countryside, the story follows the interactions between a kindly curate and an old, lonely woman who lives in a remote cottage. Through their unlikely friendship, Hardy explores themes of human connection, empathy, and the power of small acts of kindness.
The story begins with the arrival of the curate, Mr. Stockdale, in the village of Chundlewick. He is a young and enthusiastic man, eager to make a difference in the lives of his parishioners. One day, he hears of an old woman who lives alone in a cottage on the outskirts of the village. Her name is Mrs. Chundle, and she is known to be a difficult and cantankerous woman who refuses to attend church or receive any visitors.
Despite this, Mr. Stockdale feels compelled to visit Mrs. Chundle and offer her his services. He sets out on foot to her cottage, braving the muddy roads and inclement weather. When he arrives, he is met with suspicion and hostility from Mrs. Chundle, who is wary of strangers and resentful of any attempts to interfere in her life.
Undeterred, Mr. Stockdale persists in his efforts to befriend Mrs. Chundle. He brings her gifts of food and firewood, and engages her in conversation about her life and experiences. Gradually, Mrs. Chundle begins to open up to him, revealing a tragic past that has left her bitter and resentful.
As their friendship deepens, Mr. Stockdale learns that Mrs. Chundle's aversion to church is rooted in a traumatic experience she had many years ago. She had attended a service where the preacher had spoken harshly of sinners and the fate that awaited them in the afterlife. Mrs. Chundle, who had always been a devout and faithful woman, was so horrified by this message that she had never set foot in a church again.
Moved by her story, Mr. Stockdale decides to hold a special service for Mrs. Chundle in her own home. He invites a few of her neighbors to attend, and delivers a sermon that emphasizes God's love and forgiveness. Mrs. Chundle is deeply moved by the service, and begins to see the curate in a new light.
The story reaches its climax when Mrs. Chundle falls ill and is unable to care for herself. Mr. Stockdale takes it upon himself to nurse her back to health, spending long hours by her bedside and tending to her needs. Through his kindness and compassion, Mrs. Chundle begins to see the world in a new light. She realizes that there is goodness and love in the world, and that she has been missing out on it for far too long.
In the end, Mrs. Chundle passes away peacefully, surrounded by the love and care of her new friend. Mr. Stockdale is left with a sense of deep fulfillment, knowing that he has made a difference in the life of a lonely and troubled woman.
Old Mrs Chundle is a timeless story that speaks to the power of human connection and the importance of empathy and compassion. Through his portrayal of Mr. Stockdale and Mrs. Chundle, Hardy reminds us that even the most difficult and unapproachable people can be reached with patience, kindness, and understanding. He also shows us that small acts of kindness can have a profound impact on the lives of others, and that it is never too late to make a difference in someone's life.
The story is also notable for its vivid descriptions of the English countryside and its inhabitants. Hardy's prose is rich and evocative, painting a picture of a world that is both beautiful and harsh. He captures the rhythms and cadences of rural life, and imbues his characters with a sense of authenticity and depth.
In conclusion, Old Mrs Chundle is a classic work of literature that continues to resonate with readers today. Its themes of compassion, redemption, and the power of human connection are as relevant now as they were when the story was first published. Through his portrayal of Mr. Stockdale and Mrs. Chundle, Hardy reminds us of the importance of empathy and kindness, and of the transformative power of small acts of love.
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