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"Dame the Ninth: The Duchess of Hamptonshire"
bizarrevictoria
Here's another insane Thomas Hardy short story from his collection "A Group of Noble Dames". This one's pretty brief, which is probably for the best, because the more space you give this guy, the more absurd he gets. Dames the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth can be found here. No need to read those before you read this one. Only one more to go before we wrap this up!

"Dame the Ninth: The Duchess of Hamptonshire"

Once upon a time there was a cantankerous old bastard named Mr. Oldbourne and he had a daughter who (sing it if you know it) was wondrously beautiful. But she was so pure of mind that she had no idea of her physical gifts: "her beauty was discovered, measured, and inventoried by almost everybody in that part of the country before it was suspected by herself to exist. She had been bred in comparative solitude" (340).

Yeaaaaah, that's super creepy. "Hey, Stan, did you measure and inventory that chick's beauty today?" "I sure did, Ted. Up nine points from yesterday!"

They live nearby the Duke of Hamptonshire, who is a very great lord, and blah blah. He's a duke, and that's all that's really important. And you know he is the ultimate mack-daddy because they give him a lot of phallic imagery: "This nobleman's personal appearance was somewhat impressive. His complexion was that of the copper-beech tree. His frame was stalwart . . . he carried an unpolished sapling as his walking-stick . . . His castle stood in the midst of a park, surrounded by dusky elms" (339). Yeah. I bet it did.

They also lived near the new young curate, who has the goofiest goddamn name of "Alwyn Hill". He was decidedly NOT the mack-daddy: "He was a handsome young deacon with curly hair, dreamy eyes . . . a complexion as fresh as a flower, and a chin absolutely beardless" (340).

Of course the girl falls in love with the young deacon. Unfortunately, one day, the Duke spots her and falls in love with her. He has this really hilarious moment where he thinks about how immune he has always been to the charms of women, but suddenly realizes that (DURRRR) you have to have a WOMAN in order to have a BABY in order to keep his DUCAL LINE GOING (DURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR). Seriously. He just . . . remembers . . . the birds and the bees.

He thinks, "Well, it's kind of huge deal that I have some sons, so I better marry that girl who I met for the first time today." So he goes to her father and says, "Want to be the father of a duchess?" And the father goes, "Uhhh, chyaaaah," and the duke goes, "Yippee!"

When Mr. Oldbourne breaks the news to his daughter, she tells him she wants to marry Alwyn, the beardless whelp, and he lays an iron-fisted daddy-smack-down of NO. So she marries the duke and everyone is saaaaaad, except the Duke and Mr. Oldbourne.

Alwyn gets so saaaaad that he tells the new duchess he's going to emigrate to America because he can't stand to see her and not be with her and he needs bigger continent to hold all of his saaaaaadness. She gets so saaaaaad that she asks if she can run away with him. And he saaaadly and nobly says, "No, you gotta stay with your husband and do the right thing."

He gets on his ship of saaaadness and contemplates life and listens to "My Heart Will Go On" on repeat thinks about God and even conducts a funeral and throws the corpse over the side into the water I'll never let go, Jack because apparently he is just a walking raincloud who kills joy and other passengers with is heavy goddamn moodiness wherever he goes.

Finally, he lands in America and does some deacon-ing for a long time and slowly gets happy (or at least becomes less of a walking depression medication commercial) again. Nine years later, he reads in the paper that the duke DIED!!! He leaves his widowed duchess with no children!!! And Alwyn runs and gets on the fastest bliss-ship he can find, to race to his love's side and finally marry her. What's better is that apparently the duke STILL couldn't figure out how the birds and the bees worked, because they had no babies, so she's left probably unsullied! (blah blah, Victorian moralizing claptrap about virginity and a woman's purity, don't make me gag, Hardy).

Alwyn lands in England, rushes to the ducal seat and goes inside to "pay his respects" (nudge nudge, wink wink) to the duchess. He sees her. He rushes up to her. She turns around. And it's not her.

He says, "The hell? Where's my duchess?" And the duchess says, "Oh, I'm the duke's second wife. His first wife ran away to America right after they got married. After she was gone long enough to be declared legally dead, the duke remarried. If you're looking for her, she got on this particular ship. Maybe that will help you track her down."

Alwyn realizes it's the same ship he sailed on. He does some investigating, found out that she followed him to America anyway, hid in steerage under a different name, and didn't want to reveal herself to him until they were both in America. Unfortunately, she died on board. It was her covered-up corpse that he had given a funeral for and threw overboard, never knowing who it was.

THE END

The moral of the story is: always aim to be someone's second wife. You'll be favorably compared with their crappy first wife, and then they'll die and leave you their estate.

It's like a poor attempt at a Twilight Zone episode, minus the speculative angle, but keeping the twist and the crushing moral judgment at the end.

Edited at 2014-03-12 01:49 pm (UTC)

There must ALWAYS be crushing moral judgment. If it ain't crushin', it ain't Victorian.

I was UNPREPARED for that ending. Like, possibly even more nonsensically misery-mongering than the other ones. Which is frankly impressive.

I KNOW! All of these stories just . . . end. And they end on really strange, deeply unsatisfying notes.

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