The Son’s Veto
There are any number of injudicious, difficult, and failed marriages in Hardy’s work. It was a subject dear to his heart, since he felt that his own marriage to Emma Gifford had run onto the rocks of boredom and indifference once it had passed beyond its early days of romance.
Sophy at nineteen has a proposal of marriage from Sam the gardener which she refuses, but thinks is reasonable. She explains to Twycott ‘It would be a home for me,’ which illustrates her social vulnerability. However, Twycott then proposes to her. She does not love him, but respects him and is flattered by an offer from someone she considers ‘august’ – that is, of higher social status.
But Twycott is twice her age; he dies first; and although he leaves provision for Sophy in his will, none of his financial affairs are made accessible to her. On his decease, his son Randolph becomes his principal legatee.
When Sophy (as a widow) receives a second proposal of marriage from Sam, she will have to forfeit her house if she accepts, and by implication her income as well. In other words, despite having moved upwards in the social class system on her marriage to Twycott, she becomes vulnerable to possible downward social mobility on his death. The fact that Sam makes a success of his fruit and vegetable business merely reinforces the sad irony in the story. Sophy would have been socially secure in accepting his offer of marriage, if she had not been emotionally bullied by her own son.
To become a vicar in the Church of England is to join the upper echelons of the Establishment, even at a modest level. A home and an income are provided for a minister of the church, and in addition it is common for the fees of a private education to be paid for any children.
Reverend Twycott has no children with his first spouse, but when he marries Sophy they have a son Randolph, who is privately educated – first at a public school, then at Oxford University.
Thomas Hardy knew the value of education – particularly as one of the few mechanisms (Along with marriage) to upward social mobility. And he knew how difficult it was to gain access to higher education for people of lower class origin – no matter how talented. Jude the Obscure is a novel devoted to this subject (along with the theme of injudicious marriage).
But Hardy also realized that absorbing the cultural values of an upper class institution such as a university might create social tensions. Randolph Twycott is upper middle class by birth, because his father is a vicar; but his mother remains an uneducated woman of humble origins.
The son chooses to adopt a snobbish sense of superiority over his mother – illustrated in the story by her trivial lapses in English grammar, which he corrects. But more seriously he maintains a completely groundless sense of emotional superiority over her by his tyrannical refusal to accept her proposed marriage to Sam.
His formal education has done nothing to develop his sense of humanity or common decency. He might be clever enough to graduate from Oxford, but he has no common respect for his own mother.
On what is Randolph’s claim to superiority based? For this we need to step back once again to the basis of his parent’s marriage in class terms. Twycott marries his servant Sophy, and in doing so he knows he is ‘committ[ing] social suicide’. That’s because as a minister and a member of the upper middle class, he would be expected to choose a wife at a comparable level in class terms.
He marries Sophy more or less in secret, then gets round the problem of social stigma by moving away from the rural community in which his ministry is located (in Aldbrickham) to a new living in an obscure part of south London.
This illustrates another feature of social life of which Hardy was acutely aware – the differences between rural and urban life. Twycott knows that in a village or town everybody’s social status...
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