"The Fiddler of the Reels" by Thomas Hardy

12Feb05

Car’line seems to be torn between sexual passion and domestic stability in this story. The description of the emotions that Car’line’s feels when Mop, er, plays his fiddle is rather sexual: “[Ned] could not play the fiddle so as to draw your soul out of your body like a spider’s thread…till you felt as limp as withywind and yearned for something to cling to.” Ned is a stable, respected man who is a good prospect for a husband, but he does not create the sexual stirrings in Car’line that Mop does. But Mop is content to create those feelings in Car’line, use her, and then discard her, leaving her with a child. The final scene, when Mop is playing the reels, is a bit of a stand off between Car’line and Mop. Mop is trying to assert his sexual power over Car’line, while Car’line tries to deny that power, to reclaim some dignity from their previous encounter. Mop completely sublimates her and she falls to the floor weeping.

Car’line turns to Ned for stability after Mop leaves her with a child. But Car’line must also sublimate herself to Ned. If I had my copy of the story handy I would quote a sentence that describes Car’line as a less-fancy teapot that makes tea better than a beautiful one. Basically, Car’line functions well as a wife for Ned, but there doesn’t seem to be much admiration between them. I think that Ned married Car’line as a way of getting back at Mop for stealing his fiancée. By marrying her and adopting Mop’s illegitimate child, Ned assumes Mop’s life just as he thought that Mop had assumed his. When Mop kidnaps the child, Ned goes to pieces, but he states that he isn’t much concerned about Car’line even though she cannot stop sobbing. Ned is upset because Mop has once again claimed something that Ned considered his. The child’s name isn’t mentioned until after she is kidnapped, suggesting that the child only became so important to Ned once Mop had her.

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