The Hand of Ethelberta: A Comedy in Chapters


The Hand of Ethelberta

A Comedy in Chapters

By Thomas Hardy

The Hand of Ethelberta is a novel by Thomas Hardy, published in 1876. It was written, in serial form, for the Cornhill Magazine, which was edited by Leslie Stephen, a friend and mentor of Hardy's.

At the beginning of the book, we are told that Ethelberta was raised in humble circumstances but, through her work as a ...

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The Hand of Ethelberta

A Comedy in Chapters

By Thomas Hardy

The Hand of Ethelberta is a novel by Thomas Hardy, published in 1876. It was written, in serial form, for the Cornhill Magazine, which was edited by Leslie Stephen, a friend and mentor of Hardy's.

At the beginning of the book, we are told that Ethelberta was raised in humble circumstances but, through her work as a governess, married well at the age of eighteen. Her husband died two weeks after the wedding and, now twenty-one, Ethelberta lives with her mother-in-law, Lady Petherwin. In the three years that have elapsed since the deaths of both her husband and father-in-law, Ethelberta has been treated to foreign travel and further privilege by her benefactress, but restricted from seeing her poor family.
The events of the story concern Ethelberta's career as a famous poetess and storyteller as she struggles to support her family and conceal her secret-that her father is a butler. Beautiful, clever, and rational, she easily attracts four very persistent suitors (Mr. Julian, Mr. Neigh, Mr. Ladywell, and Lord Mountclere), but is reluctant to give her much-coveted hand.

This somewhat frivolous narrative was produced as an interlude between stories of a more sober design, and it was given the sub-title of a comedy to indicate-though not quite accurately-the aim of the performance. A high degree of probability was not attempted in the arrangement of the incidents, and there was expected of the reader a certain lightness of mood, which should inform him with a good-natured willingness to accept the production in the spirit in which it was offered. The characters themselves, however, were meant to be consistent and human.

On its first appearance the novel suffered, perhaps deservedly, for what was involved in these intentions-for its quality of unexpectedness in particular-that unforgivable sin in the critic's sight-the immediate precursor of 'Ethelberta' having been a purely rural tale. Moreover, in its choice of medium, and line of perspective, it undertook a delicate task: to excite interest in a drama-if such a dignified word may be used in the connection-wherein servants were as important as, or more important than, their masters; wherein the drawing-room was sketched in many cases from the point of view of the servants' hall. Such a reversal of the social foreground has, perhaps, since grown more welcome, and readers even of the finer crusted kind may now be disposed to pardon a writer for presenting the sons and daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Chickerel as beings who come within the scope of a congenial regard.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
"The Hand of Ethelberta is … a portrait of two artists – Ethelberta Petherwin and Thomas Hardy …"
—Tim Dolin
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781496156600
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/5/2014
  • Pages: 380
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840. In his writing, he immortalized the site of his birth—Egdon Heath, in Dorset, near Dorchester. Delicate as a child, he was taught at home by his mother before he attended grammar school. At sixteen, Hardy was apprenticed to an architect, and for many years, architecture was his profession; in his spare time, he pursued his first and last literary love, poetry. Finally convinced that he could earn his living as an author, he retired from architecture, married, and devoted himself to writing. An extremely productive novelist, Hardy published an important book every year or two. In 1896, disturbed by the public outcry over the unconventional subjects of his two greatest novels—Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure—he announced that he was giving up fiction and afterward produced only poetry. In later years, he received many honors. He died on January 11, 1928, and was buried in Poet’s Corner, in Westminster Abbey. It was as a poet that he wished to be remembered, but today critics regard his novels as his most memorable contribution to English literature for their psychological insight, decisive delineation of character, and profound presentation of tragedy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2002

    One of Hardy's best

    The Hand of Ethelberta starts well, maintains its' lively pace through the middle with many plots and schemes all throughout, and finishes well to boot; but not in the way one first expects it to conclude. Ethelberta, Hardy's heroine for this book, is one of the most complex characters in Hardy's work. She is the daughter of a butler, who, being ambitious, aspires to raise herself up through a well placed marriage with someone of wealth and class. (As the story begins she has done this once already and became widowed a mere 3 weeks later.) She is cunning and resourceful in ways few others are, but, while being driven in part by motives not entirely selfish, seems at times cold and calculating. She is pursued first by an old lover, Christopher Julian. Mr. Julian was once a potential marriage for her but she opted for his rival, Mr. Petherwin, instead. He has since fallen into ruin after the death of his father and, being penniless, turned to his hobby of music for his profession. His lone companion at this point in his life is his sister, Faith, with whom he lives. But Mr. Julian has rivals. There is Mr.Neigh, the nephew of an influential family, with whom she is acquainted with by the name of Doncastle, who is said to be independently rich and known to be more than a little aloof, if not eccentric. And there is Mr.Ladywell. A painter of moderate celebrity but is from a good family and is wealthy, of course. As if things weren't bad enough, there is Lord Mountclere, a rich and powerful womanizer, whose enjoyment of the childish games he plays is fueled as much by his jealousy as by his sense of power. Hardy gives this story its' tension by making Ethelberta's lineage unknown to all concerned, but already known to Mr. Julian. In Hardy's time social class was EVERYTHING. The upperclass was for the upperclass only. The lower class was expected to keep its' respectful distance and know its' place. Ethelberta had dined at their houses, attended their gatherings, not as a member of her own true class, but as an equal. This would have been scandalous in its' day. To have excepted the daughter of a servant as an equal to those with money, education, and worldly opportunity and experience would have been unheard of. A marriage with an upperclass bachelor to that of a woman whose lower class pedigree is confirmed by her father's occupation, that being a butler, could hardly be expected to be entered into knowingly. Hardy gives us other characters that balance out the narrative. There is Picotee, one of Ethelberta's sisters, who falls in love with Mr.Julian. Her invalid mother, Mrs. Chickerel, who is afraid of almost everything except giving unsolicited commentary and advice peppered with her own doubts and misgivings. Her father, Mr. Chickerel, who tries to be fatherly on occasion but really only seems fit to be a butler. There is Mr. Mountclere, the brother of Lord Mountclere, whose condescending manners are the stuff revolutions are fueled by. And last but not least there is the perfidious Miss Menlove, whom the men certainly do seem to love but are never really more than a flirtatious fling to her, who threatens to be Ethelberta's undoing. For fans of Victorian Literature already acquainted with Hardy's work or not, Make This Purchase Now! With a rich story line and its' incredible heroine, Ethelberta, this novel deserves to be read.

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