“Dame the Fourth: Lady Mottisfont”

Here's another messed up Thomas Hardy short story for you. It's from his collection called A Group of Noble Dames and if you want to read my recaps of Dames the First, Second, and Third, there they are.

For those who want brief recaps, "Dame the First" was the one where a 13-year-old girl marries the 30-something man against her father's wishes, and then tries to give herself smallpox so her husband can't sex her up.

"Dame the Second" was the one where the girl marries the really attractive lower class guy who gets maimed in a fire and dies, and she spends her second marriage making out with his hunky statue until her new husband mentally abuses her into loving him instead.

"Dame the Third" was the one where the rich girl secretly marries the poor man, but he dies and she tries to distance herself from the bad match by having a poor girl raise their baby, but then feels bad because the baby grows up to be awesome and wants nothing to do with her.

I like to recap so you can see some parallels in the stories. The first two were about wealthy girls who ended up loving their class-appropriate husbands more than their poor boyfriends/husbands. The third one (along with this story) is about the really dubious parenting choices made by upper class women.

So, without further ado, I present: "Dame the Fourth: Lady Mottisfont".

SIR ASHLEY MOTTISFONT: Hey, Philippa, you're not that great a looker, but you are nice and reasonably wealthy and I like you, so let's get married, 'kay?

PHILIPPA: I will be a dutiful and loving wife, blah blah blee blah.

SIR ASHLEY: Oh, ummmmm, one quick thing you should probably know: I have a love child, can we keep her? I was riding through the fields one day and found this orphan waif baby girl foundling child thing and I decided to do some Christian charity. One of the local town women is raising her in comfort on my dollar because I'm a good guy and this little girl is totally, totally not the product of an illicit relationship, nope. So . . . is that cool with you?

PHILIPPA: That has got to be the stupidest story I have ever heard. I'm not an idiot. But because you are actually a decent guy and because we are of the English aristocracy, I will keep up your pretense and let you keep her.

SIR ASHLEY: Awesome! In the meantime, I'll try to find a good family to adopt her. Hey, we should probably name her now!

ME: Wait, how old is this kid?

SIR ASHLEY: She's two!

ME: Why the hell doesn't she have a name yet?

PHILIPPA: Let's call her Dorothy!

SIR ASHLEY AND PHILIPPA: *get married, are happy for years*

CHILDREN OF THEIR OWN: *do not show up*

PHILIPPA: *starts visiting Dorothy at the peasant farm* I doubt I'll ever be a mother, and this little girl is so sweet that I don't want her to be given up for adoption. Why don't we adopt her, honey? Because she's clearly your child anyway, I mean honestly.

SIR ASHLEY: Really? That's great!

DOROTHY: *moves into the mansion* *years go by, everyone is happy*

SIR ASHLEY: Hey, honey, *ahem* funny story . . . we have a new neighbor.

PHILIPPA: Who is it?

SIR ASHLEY: An Italian Contessa.

PHILIPPA: What's she like?

SIR ASHLEY: Smokin' hot. I mean, stupidly hot. Also, a widow. Also, incredibly rich. Also, she wants a favor.

PHILIPPA: What do you mean a favor? We don't even know this woman!

SIR ASHLEY: Yeah, she's a total stranger and most definitely not my baby mama who I met while traveling a few years ago, nope.

PHILIPPA: What does she want?

SIR ASHLEY: Oh, nothing much, just to adopt our daughter.

PHILIPPA: I'm sorry, what?

SIR ASHLEY: Well, back before we adopted Dorothy, I had put out a notice for any good families who wanted to adopt her and she's the first person to respond. Silly me. It was ages ago. I forgot entirely about the whole thing. The Contessa is absolutely, completely not stalking us now that her husband is dead and trying to reclaim her natural-born child. It is totally coincidental. So . . . should I go tell her no, or should I pack up Dorothy's things and move her next door?


SIR ASHLEY: So, that's a no . . . ?

PHILIPPA: *death-glare*

SIR ASHLEY: Hey, honey, I just brought Dorothy back from the park and guess who we ran into, IN ANOTHER COINCIDENCE? Also, the Contessa is really rich and could keep Dorothy in better style than we could, poor landed gentry that we are.

DOROTHY: I love the Contessa! She's my most favorite playmate ever!

PHILIPPA: *facepalm*

SIR ASHLEY: Hey honey, the Contessa was babysitting our daughter today, despite how uncomfortable this makes you, and Dorothy was playing by a live construction site

ME: Wow, that Contessa is sooooome babysitter . . .

SIR ASHLEY: —and a wall that they're demolishing almost fell on top of Dorothy, but the Contessa saved her life! I think that merits an adoption, don't you?

PHILIPPA: I don't think you understand how parenthood works. When someone saves your child's life, you are grateful, but not grateful to the point where you GIVE THEM THE CHILD IN QUESTION.



PHILIPPA: *sigh* Dorothy, what would you like? I mean, clearly you have some sort of bond with this woman because she is your natural mother, but Sir Ashley is your father and I've been raising you as my own child for five years. What would make you happy?

DOROTHY: [direct quotation] "Mamma — you are not so pretty as the Contessa, are you? . . . I am sorry, mamma; I don't mean to be unkind; but I would rather live with her" (298).

PHILIPPA: Ouch. Right in the nuts.

DOROTHY: *goes to live with the Contessa*

PHILIPPA: I'm just going to go drown myself, okay?

SIR ASHLEY: *rescues*

PHILIPPA: *is understandably depressed*

CONTESSA: So . . . hey, guys . . . this this going to be a little bit awkward, but I've decided to get remarried, and my new husband isn't so keen on me having an adopted-daughter-love-child-thing, so . . . here's your daughter back.

DOROTHY: Mamma, I'm home!

PHILIPPA: Actually, kid, I'm finally pregnant, so you might not want to unpack your bags just yet.

DOROTHY: But but but–

PHILIPPA: Oh, hey, look at that, I have a son now. A legitimate boy is much better than an illegitimate girl. Plus, you made your bed when you said I wasn't as pretty as that skanky mother of yours. I know I almost killed myself over you when you left two pages ago, but I've changed my mind. So you can just fuck right off, seven-year-old. [Actually, the direct quote is: "I should prefer not to have the responsibility of Dorothy again. Her place is filled now" (302).]

SIR ASHLEY: I have a son, I don't really care about anyone else at this point. Get your ass back to that peasant woman's hovel from the beginning of the story.

SIR ASHLEY AND PHILIPPA: *live happily forever*

CONTESSA: *has other children, forgets Dorothy entirely*

DOROTHY: *leads a hard, brutal life on the farm, grows up to be a strong laborer, marries some guy, never sees her parents again*


So I guess Hardy is trying to tell us that the moral of the story is:

1.) Women only have the capacity to love their own flesh-and-blood children.
2.) Parents can only love one child at a time.
3.) Adopted children are ungrateful little assholes who will call you ugly and favor your nemesis.
4.) Rich people's hopes and dreams always come true

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