'Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir' by Thomas Hardy

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It happened on Sunday after Christmas—the last Sunday they ever played in Longpuddle church gallery, as it turned out, though they didn't know it then. The players formed a very good band almost as good as the Mellstock parish players that were led by the Dewys; and that's saying a great deal. There was Nicholas Puddingcome, the leader, with the first fiddle; there was Timothy Thomas, the bass-viol man; John Biles, the tenor fiddler; Dan'l Hornhead, with the serpent; Robert Dowdle, with the clarionet; and Mr. Nicks, with the oboe—all sound and powerful musicians, and strong-winded men—they that blowed. For that reason they were very much in demand Christmas week for little reels and dancing-parties; for they could turn a jig or a hornpipe out of hand as well as ever they could turn out a psalm, and perhaps better, not to speak irreverent. In short, one half-hour they could be playing a Christmas carol in the squire's hall to the ladies and gentlemen, and drinking tea and coffee with 'em as modest as saints; and the next, at the Tinker's Arms, blazing away like wild horses with the "Dashing White Sergeant" to nine couple of dancers and more, and swallowing rum-and-cider hot as flame.

Well, this Christmas they'd been out to one rattling randy after another every night, and had got next to no sleep at all. Then came the Sunday after Christmas, their fatal day. 'Twas so mortal cold that year that they could hardly sit in the gallery; for though the congregation down in the body of the church had a stove to keep off the frost, the players in the gallery had nothing at all. So Nicholas said — at morning service, when 'twas freezing an inch an hour, "Please the Lord I won't stand this numbing weather no longer; this afternoon we'll have something in our insides to make us warm if it cost a king's ransom."

So he brought a gallon of hot brandy and beer, ready mixed, to church with him in the afternoon, and by keeping the jar well wrapped up in Timothy Thomas's bass-viol bag it kept drinkably warm till they wanted it, which was just a thimbleful in the Absolution, and another after the Creed, and the remainder at the beginning o' the sermon. When they'd had the last pull they felt quite comfortable and warm, and as the sermon went on—most unfortunately for 'em it was a long one that afternoon—they fell asleep, every man jack of 'em; and there they slept on as sound as rocks.

'Twas a very dark afternoon, and by the end of the sermon all you could see of the inside of the church were the pa'son's two candles alongside of him in the pulpit, and his spaking face behind 'em. The sermon being ended at last, the pa'son gie'd out the Evening Hymn. But no choir set about sounding up the tune, and the people began to turn their heads to learn the reason why, and then Levi Limpet, a boy who sat in the gallery, nudged Timothy and Nicholas, and said, "Begin! Begin!"

"Hey, what?" says Nicholas, starting up; and the church being so dark and his head so muddled he thought he was at the party they had played at all the night before, and away he went, bow and fiddle, at "The Devil among the Tailors," the favorite jig of our neighborhood at that time. The rest of the band, being in the same state of mind and nothing doubting, followed their leader with all their strength, according to custom. They poured out that there tune till the lower bass notes of "The Devil among the Tailors" made the cobwebs in the roof shiver like ghosts; then Nicholas, seeing nobody moved, shouted out as he scraped (in his usual commanding way at dances when the folk didn't know the figures), "Top couples cross hands! And when I make the fiddle squeak at the end, every man kiss his pardner under the mistletow!"

The boy Levi was so frightened that he bolted down the gallery stairs and out homeward like lightning. The pa'son's hair fairly stood on end when he heard the evil tune raging through the church; and thinking the choir had gone crazy, he held up his hand and said: "Stop, stop, stop! Stop, stop! What's this?" But they didn't hear 'n for the noise of their own playing, and the more he called the louder they played.

Then the folks came out of their pews, wondering down to the ground, and saying: "What do they mean by such a wickedness? We shall be consumed like Sodom and Gomorrah!"

Then the squire came out of his pew lined wi' green baize, where lots of lords and ladies visiting at the house were worshipping along with him, and went and stood in front of the gallery, and shook his fist in the musicians' faces, saying, "What! In this reverent edifice! What!"

And at last they heard 'n through their playing, and stopped.

"Never such an insulting, disgraceful thing—never!" says the squire, who couldn't rule his passion.

"Never!" says the pa'son, who had come down and stood beside him.

"Not if the angels of Heaven" says the squire, (he was a wickedish man, the squire was, though now for once he happened to be on the Lord's side)—"not if the angels of Heaven come down," he says, "shall one of you villanous players ever sound a note in this church again; for the insult to me, and my family, and my visitors, and God Almighty, that you've a—perpetrated this afternoon!"

Then the unfortunate church band came to their senses, and remembered where they were; and 'twas a sight to see Nicholas Puddingcome and Timothy Thomas and John Biles creep down the gallery stairs with their fiddles under their arms, and poor Dan'l Hornhead with his serpent, and Robert Dowdle with his clarionet all looking as little as ninepins; and out they went. The pa'son might have forgie'd 'em when he learned the truth o't, but the squire would not. That very week he sent for a barrel-organ that would play two-and-twenty new psalm tunes, so exact and particular that, however sinful inclined you was, you could play nothing but psalm tunes whatsomever. He had a really respectable man to turn the winch, and the old players played no more.

'And, of course, my old acquaintance, the annuitant, Mrs. Winter, who always seemed to have something on her mind, is dead and gone?' said the home-comer, after a long silence.

Nobody in the van seemed to recollect the name.

'O yes, she must be dead long since: she was seventy when I as a child knew her,' he added.

'I can recollect Mrs. Winter very well, if nobody else can,' said the aged groceress. 'Yes, she's been dead these five-and-twenty year at least. You knew what it was upon her mind, sir, that gave her that hollow-eyed look, I suppose?'

'It had something to do with a son of hers, I think I once was told. But I was too young to know particulars.'

The groceress sighed as she conjured up a vision of days long past.

'Yes,' she murmured, 'it had all to do with a son.' Finding that the van was still in a listening mood, she spoke on: —

Editor 1 Interpretation

Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir: A Close Reading

Thomas Hardy is a writer who needs no introduction. His works are characterized by a deep understanding of human nature and a keen observation of the world around him. In "Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir," Hardy explores the theme of absent-mindedness and its consequences. In this essay, I will be conducting a close reading of this short story, exploring its various themes and motifs, and analyzing its literary significance.

The Narrative Structure

"Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir" is a short story that is divided into two parts. The first part is a description of the setting and the characters, and the second part is an account of the consequences of absent-mindedness. The story is narrated in the third person, and the narrator takes an omniscient stance, providing an insight into the thoughts and feelings of the characters.

The story is set in a small parish church, where a choir is rehearsing for a performance. The description of the church is vivid, and the reader can visualize the scene as if they were present there. The characters are introduced one by one, and their physical appearances and personalities are described in detail.

The Theme of Absent-Mindedness

The theme of absent-mindedness is central to the story. Hardy explores the consequences of absent-mindedness through the character of Mr. Toogood, who forgets to bring his music sheets to the rehearsal. Mr. Toogood is described as a man who is usually punctual and reliable, but his absent-mindedness has caused him to forget his music sheets, which is a grave mistake in a choir rehearsal.

The consequences of Mr. Toogood's absent-mindedness are severe. The choir is unable to rehearse the piece, and the performance is jeopardized. The other members of the choir are visibly angry and disappointed, and Mr. Toogood is left feeling ashamed and embarrassed.

Hardy's portrayal of absent-mindedness is realistic and relatable. We have all experienced moments of absent-mindedness, and we can empathize with Mr. Toogood's predicament. The story serves as a cautionary tale, reminding us of the importance of being attentive and focused.

The Motif of Music

Music is a recurring motif in the story. The choir is rehearsing a piece of music, and the absence of the music sheets is a crucial plot point. The description of the music is detailed, and the reader can almost hear the choir singing.

Music is used as a metaphor for life. The choir is a metaphor for society, and the music is a metaphor for the rules and regulations that govern our lives. The absence of the music sheets symbolizes the chaos that can ensue when we disregard the rules and regulations that govern our lives.

The Use of Irony

Hardy employs irony to great effect in this story. Mr. Toogood is described as a man who is usually punctual and reliable, but his absent-mindedness causes him to forget his music sheets. The irony lies in the fact that Mr. Toogood's absent-mindedness is the very thing that causes him to be unreliable.

The consequence of Mr. Toogood's absent-mindedness is also ironic. The choir, which is supposed to be a harmonious entity, becomes chaotic and disorganized because of his mistake. The absence of the music sheets symbolizes the absence of order and discipline, and the choir's inability to rehearse the piece is a metaphor for the chaos that can ensue when rules are not followed.

The Use of Symbolism

Symbolism is another literary device that Hardy employs in this story. The absence of the music sheets symbolizes the absence of order and discipline. The choir's inability to rehearse the piece is a metaphor for the chaos that can ensue when rules are not followed.

The church is also a symbol in the story. The church is a place of worship, and it represents the moral and spiritual values that govern our lives. The choir is rehearsing in the church, and the absence of the music sheets symbolizes the disregard for these values.

The Significance of the Title

The title of the story, "Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir," is significant. The title immediately informs the reader of the central theme of the story. It also sets the tone for the story, which is serious and cautionary.

The use of the phrase "Parish Choir" is also significant. The choir is a metaphor for society, and the use of the phrase "Parish Choir" emphasizes the importance of community and the need for order and discipline in society.


In conclusion, "Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir" is a masterful piece of short fiction that explores the theme of absent-mindedness and its consequences. Hardy employs various literary devices such as irony, symbolism, and metaphor to convey his message. The story serves as a cautionary tale, reminding us of the importance of being attentive and focused. The vivid description of the setting and the characters, coupled with the realistic portrayal of absent-mindedness, makes this story a timeless classic.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Thomas Hardy’s classic short story, “Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir,” is a delightful and humorous tale that explores the consequences of absent-mindedness. The story is set in a small English village, where the choir of the local church is preparing for a special performance. However, the choir’s conductor, Mr. Toogood, is plagued by absent-mindedness, which leads to a series of hilarious mishaps.

The story begins with Mr. Toogood arriving at the church to conduct the choir. However, he forgets his baton and has to use a pencil instead. This seemingly innocuous mistake sets the tone for the rest of the story, as Mr. Toogood’s absent-mindedness continues to cause problems throughout the performance.

As the choir begins to sing, Mr. Toogood forgets to cue in the bass section, causing them to come in late. He then forgets to cue in the tenors, causing them to miss their entrance entirely. The choir soldiers on, but Mr. Toogood’s absent-mindedness continues to cause problems.

At one point, Mr. Toogood forgets to turn the page of his score, causing the choir to sing the same verse twice. He then forgets to turn the page again, causing the choir to skip an entire verse. The choir members are becoming increasingly frustrated with Mr. Toogood’s absent-mindedness, but they soldier on.

Finally, Mr. Toogood forgets to cue in the choir for the final verse of the performance. The choir members are left standing there, unsure of what to do. Mr. Toogood realizes his mistake and tries to salvage the performance, but it is too late. The choir members are left feeling embarrassed and frustrated.

The story ends with Mr. Toogood apologizing to the choir members and promising to be more careful in the future. The choir members forgive him, but they are left wondering if they will ever be able to perform successfully with Mr. Toogood as their conductor.

“Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir” is a classic example of Thomas Hardy’s wit and humor. The story is filled with hilarious moments that will leave readers laughing out loud. However, the story also has a deeper message about the consequences of absent-mindedness.

Mr. Toogood’s absent-mindedness may seem harmless at first, but it has serious consequences for the choir. The choir members are left feeling embarrassed and frustrated, and their performance suffers as a result. This is a reminder that even small mistakes can have big consequences.

The story also highlights the importance of communication and teamwork. Mr. Toogood’s absent-mindedness causes problems because he fails to communicate effectively with the choir. If he had been more attentive and communicative, the performance may have gone more smoothly.

Overall, “Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir” is a delightful and humorous story that will leave readers laughing and thinking. It is a reminder that even small mistakes can have big consequences, and that communication and teamwork are essential for success. Thomas Hardy’s wit and humor are on full display in this classic tale, making it a must-read for fans of his work and anyone who enjoys a good laugh.

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