decorated initial 'T'

he Trumpet-Major, serialised in the popular monthly magazine Good Words from January to December 1880, and published by Smith, Elder & Co. in three volumes in October of the same year, is Thomas Hardy's seventh novel — a historical and pastoral romance set in and around the seaside resort of Budmouth (Weymouth), in Hardy's Wessex in the years 1804-1808, during the Napoleonic Wars. The Reverend Donald Macleod, the editor of the magazine Good Words, which was mostly of religious character, requested that Hardy's novel must be free from indecencies so that it could be read by the magazine readers also on Sundays. As a result, Hardy censored the magazine publication, but he significantly revised the volume edition, restoring it to its original form. Hardy used this method of self-censorship for magazine publications of both Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure (Pite 248).

The immediate reception of the novel by most of the reviewers was favourable, but its sale in the book form was not satisfactory (Gittings 402). Both the Spectator and the Athenaeum praised the author's imaginative power and his ability to portray rural life. The Athenaeum even compared him to Dickens: “Mr. Hardy seems to be in the way to do for rural life what Dickens did for that of the town” (Blunden 47). Later critics varied in their opinions about the novel. The novel has been criticised for its weak plot and praised for representation of characters. Albert Guerard dismissed it as one of Hardy's worst novels (39). Evelyn Hardy (no family relation) wrote appreciatively about The Trumpet Major that it is “one of Hardy's most delicate, most charming works. It is full of enchanting descriptions — of an old manor-house crusted with lichen, of the mill, mill-house, pool and gardens which smell of summer or its decline” (173).

Before Hardy began to write this novel, in 1878, he had done a thorough historical research which involved visits to the Reading Room of the British Museum and copying of period details from antiquarian books and periodicals, including John Hutchins's History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset (1774) and C.H. Gifford's History of the Wars Occasioned By the French Revolution (1817). He had also talked in London with the Chelsea pensioners and the aged eye-witnesses in Dorset, and examined parish records and inscriptions on local tombstones (Norman 74). Hardy compiled his historical findings about native Dorset during the Napoleonic Wars in the manuscript called 'The Trumpet-Major Notebook', which he also used later, while writing The Dynasts. Now 'The Notebook' is one of the prized exhibits of the Dorset County Museum (Evelyn Hardy 171). Hardy also used his family reminiscences and other oral histories. His grandparents told him about local preparations against Napoleon's imminent invasion. His grandmother related stories about the bivouacking of soldiers nearby the miller’s home. Hardy's grandfather, also Thomas, had served as a volunteer militiaman in Weymouth. In 1879, Hardy visited his family home twice to hear from his father about their family history which was deeply rooted in Dorset. In The Trumpet Major Hardy revived his childhood fascination with the Napoleonic era and blended family and local history with general history related to that time.

Shortly after the publication of The Trumpet Major the Critic, a New York periodical, accused Hardy of plagiarising the amusing militia drill scene in Chapter 23 entitled “Military Preparations on an Extended Scale,” from Augustus Baldwin Longstreet's book, Georgia Scenes, published in America in 1840. The accusation was reprinted in the Academy, a London periodical, in February 1882, and caused a consternation. Although the charges of plagiarism were repeated in American and English periodicals, Hardy did not make a public reply until 1895. In the preface to the 1895 edition of The Trumpet Major, he stated that the accusations were groundless because he had taken the militia drill scene from Gifford's book of military anecdotes, and was completely unaware of Longstreet's work. In fact, Hardy drew heavily upon Gifford's History of the Wars Occasioned By the French Revolution and reproduced almost verbatim in The Trumpet Major a sketch “Satire upon American Discipline,” which Gifford had reproduced himself from a comic sketch published in a Georgia newspaper by Oliver H. Prince (1782-1837), a lawyer, journalist, story writer and a US Senator.

The allegations of plagiarism did not affect the popularity of The Trumpet Major. In October, 1881, a second edition in one volume was printed by Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, and reprinted in 1887, 1890, 1892, and 1893 (Weber 260). The flaw of unintentional plagiarism in The Trumpet Major is quite evident, although today, when the practice of postmodern citation, known as intertextuality, is widespread and acceptable, Hardy may be excused for borrowing a short printed text and placing it in a new context. In his 'Notebook' he had jotted down extracts or paraphrases from various sources and treated them as 'raw material' for his fiction. After some time he may not even have remembered whether the “militia drill scene” was a literal copy or a paraphrase.

The Trumpet-Major has a relatively simple plot (Millgate 193). It tells about a woman courted by three competing suitors against the backdrop of the anticipated landing of Napoleon's troops in Britain. The novel skilfully mingles historical facts and fiction. Hardy introduces King George III and his family, who stayed in Weymouth during the Napoleonic Wars, as well as his alleged ancestor Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy (later Vice Admiral), who served under Admiral Horatio Nelson and commanded the HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. The fictional plot of the novel focuses on Anne Garland, a lovely country girl, who lives quietly with her impoverished widowed mother in a part of Overcombe Millhouse, which belongs to the miller Loveday, until a regiment of Royal dragoons sets up camp near the village and prepares to defend the coast from the expected invasion of Napoleon’s fleet. She becomes attracted by one of the dragoons, John Loveday, one of the miller's sons and a gallant trumpet-major. John falls in love with Anne but soon finds out that she has two more suitors: his jolly and fickle brother Bob, who was Anne’s childhood sweetheart, now a merchant navy captain and a two-timing womaniser, and Festus Derriman, the selfish and cowardly nephew of a local squire. Eventually, Bob Loveday, who persuades Captain Hardy to take him on board the Victory , returns safely from the Battle of Trafalgar, captivates Anne's heart and they are married. His brother John, the trumpet major, will die in one of the bloody battlefields of Spain in the service of the king and country.

The Trumpet Major, which is regarded as a minor novel by Hardy, has recently received much critical attention (Harvey 104). The strength of the novel lies in Hardy's style and his description of the English countryside awaiting Napoleon's invasion, as well as country fairs, army camps, royal parties and weddings. Hardy, who had a lot of admiration and sympathy for the British military men, provides meticulous descriptions of contemporary weaponry and military uniforms as well as detailed facts about the British army and the navy. The Trumpet Major played an important role in Thomas Hardy's literary development, but as Beat Riesen has written, it may in fact be taken as a rather minor side-product of the phase of development which eventually brought forth The Woodlanders, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure and, after further years, the unstageable drama in verse, The Dynasts (99). The novel's little flaw — a plagiarised paragraph — seems to be negligible today. After all, a novel is essentially an ingenious patchwork of more or less explicit borrowings from other writers.

Related material

References and Further Reading

Blunden, Edmund. Thomas Hardy. London: MacMillan, 1941.

Clifford, Emma. “The 'Trumpet-Major Notebook' and The Dynasts,” The Review of English Studies, Vol. 8(30) 1957, 149-161.

Gittings, Robert. Thomas Hardy. London: Penguin Books, London: Penguin Books, 2001.

Guerard, Albert. Thomas Hardy: The Novels and Short Stories. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1949.

Hardy, Evelyn. Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography. London: Hogarth Press, 1954.

Hardy, Thomas. The Trumpet Major. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Harvey, Geoffrey. The Complete Critical Guide to Thomas Hardy. London: Routledge, 2003.

Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Norman, Andrew. Thomas Hardy: Behind the Mask. Stroud: The History Press, 2014.

Pite, Ralph. Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life. London: Picador, 2006.

Riesen, Beat. Thomas Hardy’s Minor Novels. Bern, Frankfurt am Main, New York: Peter Lang, 1990.

Thomson, George. “The Trumpet-Major Chronicle,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 17(1) 1962, 45-56.

Weber, Carl J. Hardy of Wessex, His Life and Literary Career. New York: Columbia University Press.

Created 22 March 2015