'The Superstitious Man's Story' by Thomas Hardy

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'William, as you may know, was a curious, silent man; you could feel when he came near 'ee; and if he was in the house or anywhere behind your back without your seeing him, there seemed to be something clammy in the air, as if a cellar door was opened close by your elbow. Well, one Sunday, at a time that William was in very good health to all appearance, the bell that was ringing for church went very heavy all of a sudden; the sexton, who told me o't, said he'd not known the bell to go so heavy in his hand for years – and he feared it meant a death in the parish. That was on the Sunday, as I say. During the week after, it chanced that William's wife was staying up late one night to finish her ironing, she doing the washing for Mr. and Mrs. Hardcome. Her husband had finished his supper and gone to bed as usual some hour or two before. While she ironed she heard him coming down stairs; he stopped to put on his boots at the stair-foot, where he always left them, and then came on into the living-room where she was ironing, passing through it towards the door, this being the only way from the staircase to the outside of the house. No word was said on either side, William not being a man given to much speaking, and his wife being occupied with her work. He went out and closed the door behind him. As her husband had now and then gone out in this way at night before when unwell, or unable to sleep for want of a pipe, she took no particular notice, and continued at her ironing. This she finished shortly after, and as he had not come in she waited awhile for him putting away the irons and things, and preparing the table for his breakfast in the morning. Still he did not return, and supposing him not far off, and wanting to get to bed herself, tired as she was, she left the door unbarred and went to the stairs, after writing on the back of the door with chalk: Mind and do the door (because he was a forgetful man).

'To her great surprise, and I might say alarm, on reaching the foot of the stairs his boots were standing there as they always stood when he had gone to rest; going up to their chamber she found him in bed sleeping as sound as a rock. How he could have got back again without her seeing or hearing him was beyond her comprehension. It could only have been bypassing behind her very quietly while she was bumping with the iron. But this notion did not satisfy her: it was surely impossible that she should not have seen him come in through a room so small. She could not unravel the mystery, and felt very queer and uncomfortable about it. However, she would not disturb him to question him then, and went to bed herself.

'He rose and left for his work very early the next morning, before she was awake, and she waited his return to breakfast with much anxiety for an explanation, for thinking over the matter by daylight made it seem only the more startling. When he came in to the meal he said, before she could put her question, "What's the meaning of them words chalked on the door?"

'She told him, and asked him about his going out the night before. William declared that he had never left the bedroom after entering it, having in fact undressed, lain down, and fallen asleep directly, never once waking till the clock struck five, and he rose up to go to his labour.

'Betty Privett was as certain in her own mind that he did go out as she was of her own existence, and was little less certain that he did not return. She felt too disturbed to argue with him, and let the subject drop as though she must have been mistaken. When she was walking down Longpuddle street later in the day she met Jim Weedle's daughter Nancy, and said, "Well, Nancy, you do look sleepy to-day!"

' "Yes, Mrs. Privett," says Nancy. "Now don't tell anybody, but I don't mind letting you know what the reason o't is. Last night, being OldMidsummer Eve, some of us went to church porch, and didn't get home till near one."

' "Did ye?" says Mrs. Privett. "Old Midsummer yesterday was it? Faith I didn't think whe'r 'twas Midsummer or Michaelmas; I'd too much work to do. "

' "Yes. And we were frightened enough, I can tell 'ee, by what we saw."

' "What did ye see?"

'(You may not remember, sir, having gone off to foreign parts so young, that on Midsummer Night it is believed hereabout that the faint shapes of all the folk in the parish who are going to be at death's door within the year can be seen entering the church. Those who get over their illness come out again after a while; those that are doomed to die do not return.)

' "What did you see?" asked William's wife.

' "Well," says Nancy, backwardly – "we needn't tell what we saw, or who we saw."

' "You saw my husband," says Betty Privett, in a quiet way.

' "Well, since you put it so," says Nancy, hanging fire, "we – thought we did see him; but it was darkish, and we was frightened, and of course it might not have been he."

' "Nancy, you needn't mind letting it out, though tis kept back in kindness. And he didn't come out of church again: I know it as well as you."

'Nancy did not answer yes or no to that, and no more was said. But three days after, William Privett was mowing with John Chiles in Mr.Hardcome's meadow, and in the heat of the day they sat down to eat their bit o' nunch under a tree, and empty their flagon. Afterwards both of 'em fell asleep as they sat. John Chiles was the first to wake, and as he looked towards his fellow-mower he saw one of those great white miller's-souls as we call 'em – that is to say, a miller-moth – come from William's open mouth while he slept, and fly straight away. John thought it odd enough, as William had worked in a mill for several years when he was a boy. He then looked at the sun and found by the place o't that they had slept a long while, and as William did not wake, John called to him and said it was high time to begin work again. He took no notice, and then John went up and shook him, and found he was dead.

'Now on that very day old Philip Hookhorn was down at Longpuddle Spring dipping up a pitcher of water; and as he turned away, who should he see but William, looking very pale and odd. This surprised Philip Hookhorn very much, for years before that time William's little son – his only child – had been drowned in that spring while at play there, and this had so preyed upon William's mind that he'd never been seen near the spring afterwards, and had been known to go half a mile out of his way to avoid the place. On inquiry, it was found that William in body could not have stood by the spring, being in the mead two miles off ; and it also came out that the time at which he was seen at the spring was the very time when he died.'

'A rather melancholy story,' observed the emigrant, after a minute's silence.

'Yes, yes. Well, we must take ups and downs together,' said the seedsman's father.

'You don't know, Mr. Lackland, I suppose, what a rum start that was between Andrey Satchel and Jane Vallens and the pa'son and clerk o' Scrimpton?' said the master-thatcher, a man with a spark of subdued liveliness in his eye, who had hitherto kept his attention mainly upon small objects a long way ahead, as he sat in front of the van with his feet outside. 'Theirs was a queerer experience of a pa'son and clerk than some folks get, and may cheer 'ee up a little after this dampness that’s been flung over yer soul.'

The returned one replied that he knew nothing of the history, and should be happy to hear it, quite recollecting the personality of the man Satchel.

'Ah no; this Andrey Satchel is the son of the Satchel that you knew; this one has not been married more than two or three years, and 'twas at the time o' the wedding that the accident happened that I could tell 'ee of, or anybody else here, for that matter.'

'No, no; you must tell it, neighbour, if anybody,' said several; a request in which Mr. Lackland joined, adding that the Satchel family was one he had known well before leaving home.

'I'll just mention, as you be a stranger,' whispered the carrier to Lackland, 'that Christopher's stories will bear pruning.'

The emigrant nodded.

'Well, I can soon tell it,' said the master-thatcher, schooling himself to a tone of actuality. 'Though as it has more to do with the pa'son and clerk than with Andrey himself, it ought to be told by a better churchman than I.'

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Superstitious Man's Story: A Dark Tale from Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy is known for his dark and disturbing stories that explore the human psyche and the darker aspects of life. One of his most haunting tales is "The Superstitious Man's Story," a short story that explores the theme of fear and superstition. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the story's meaning, symbolism and literary devices, and try to unravel the mysteries that lie within.

Summary of "The Superstitious Man's Story"

The story revolves around William Privett, a farmer who is deeply superstitious and believes in ghosts and other supernatural entities. One day, he hears a spooky sound in his house and starts to panic. He summons his friend Jim Weedle, who is skeptical of William's superstitions, to stay with him for the night. The two men sit by the fire and discuss their beliefs about ghosts and the afterlife. As the night wears on, they hear more strange noises, and William becomes increasingly agitated. Eventually, he confesses to Jim that he has a guilty conscience and fears the ghosts of his past misdeeds are coming back to haunt him. Jim dismisses William's fears as irrational, but in the end, they both experience something that shakes them to their core.

The Theme of Fear and Superstition

The central theme of "The Superstitious Man's Story" is fear and superstition. William Privett is a classic example of a person who is driven by his fears and irrational beliefs. He is consumed by the belief that ghosts and other supernatural entities exist and that they are out to get him. His fear is so intense that it affects his daily life, and he is unable to function normally. Thomas Hardy explores the theme of fear and superstition in a nuanced way, showing how these beliefs can be both irrational and deeply ingrained in a person's psyche.

Symbolism and Literary Devices

Thomas Hardy uses various literary devices and symbolism to convey the story's meaning. One of the most significant symbols in the story is the sound that William hears in his house. The sound is mysterious and unsettling, and it represents the unknown and the supernatural. The sound serves as a catalyst for William's fears, and it sets the tone for the entire story.

Another literary device that Hardy employs is the use of foreshadowing. From the beginning of the story, there is a sense of foreboding and tension, which builds up as the story progresses. The strange noises, the dark setting, and the characters' heightened emotions all contribute to the sense of impending doom. By the end of the story, the tension reaches a climax, and the reader is left with a feeling of unease.

The Story's Ending

The ending of "The Superstitious Man's Story" is one of the most intriguing aspects of the story. After a night of terror and fear, William and Jim are left shaken and uncertain about what they experienced. The reader is also left questioning the reality of what happened. Was it all in their heads, or did something supernatural occur? Thomas Hardy leaves the answer to the reader's interpretation, leaving the story's ending open to multiple possibilities.

Interpretation of "The Superstitious Man's Story"

"The Superstitious Man's Story" is a haunting tale that explores the dark corners of human consciousness. Thomas Hardy delves into the theme of fear and superstition, showing how these beliefs can consume a person's life and affect their mental health. The story's ambiguous ending leaves the reader wondering about the reality of the supernatural, and it forces them to confront their own beliefs about the afterlife and the unknown.

In conclusion, "The Superstitious Man's Story" is a masterful work of literature that showcases Thomas Hardy's skill at creating atmospheric and haunting tales. The story's exploration of the human psyche and its use of symbolism and literary devices make it a must-read for anyone interested in the darker aspects of life.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Superstitious Man's Story: A Tale of Fear and Superstition

Thomas Hardy's classic prose, The Superstitious Man's Story, is a haunting tale of fear and superstition that has captivated readers for generations. Set in the rural English countryside, the story follows the life of William Privett, a simple farmer who is plagued by a deep-seated fear of the supernatural. Through his experiences, Hardy explores the power of superstition and the ways in which it can shape our lives and beliefs.

The story begins with William Privett recounting a terrifying experience he had as a young man. While walking home one night, he encounters a ghostly figure that he believes to be the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth. From that moment on, William becomes consumed by a fear of the supernatural, convinced that he is being haunted by the ghostly apparition. He becomes increasingly superstitious, performing various rituals and charms in an attempt to ward off the spirit.

As the story progresses, William's fear and superstition begin to take a toll on his life. He becomes increasingly isolated from his community, as his beliefs and behaviors become more and more extreme. He becomes convinced that the ghostly figure is responsible for a series of misfortunes that befall him and his family, including the death of his wife and the loss of his farm.

Despite the warnings of his friends and family, William remains steadfast in his beliefs, convinced that the supernatural is real and that he is being targeted by malevolent spirits. His fear and superstition ultimately lead to his downfall, as he becomes increasingly paranoid and delusional. In the end, he dies alone and afraid, consumed by his own superstitions.

At its core, The Superstitious Man's Story is a cautionary tale about the dangers of superstition and the ways in which it can distort our perceptions of reality. Through William's experiences, Hardy shows us the power of fear and the ways in which it can shape our beliefs and behaviors. He also highlights the importance of community and the dangers of isolation, as William's superstitions ultimately lead to his alienation from those around him.

One of the most striking aspects of the story is the way in which Hardy uses language to create a sense of unease and foreboding. From the very beginning, the story is suffused with a sense of dread, as William recounts his encounter with the ghostly figure. Hardy's use of vivid imagery and descriptive language creates a vivid picture of the supernatural, heightening the tension and fear that permeate the story.

Another key element of the story is the way in which Hardy explores the relationship between superstition and religion. Throughout the story, William's beliefs are shaped by his religious upbringing, as he turns to prayer and religious rituals in an attempt to ward off the supernatural. However, as his fear and superstition become more extreme, he begins to reject the teachings of his church, convinced that they are insufficient to protect him from the malevolent spirits that he believes are haunting him.

In this way, Hardy highlights the dangers of blind faith and the ways in which superstition can lead us away from rational thought and critical thinking. He also shows us the importance of questioning our beliefs and seeking out evidence to support them, rather than simply accepting them on faith.

Overall, The Superstitious Man's Story is a powerful and haunting tale that explores the power of fear and superstition. Through William's experiences, Hardy shows us the dangers of blind faith and the importance of critical thinking and rational inquiry. It is a story that has stood the test of time, and continues to captivate readers with its vivid imagery, compelling characters, and timeless themes.

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