It's time once more for a recap of a stupid Thomas Hardy short story from his collection A Group of Noble Dames. Dames the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh can be found here. No need to read those seven before you read this one. As always, this crazy can stand on its own. Only two more to go after this recap!
"Dame the Eighth: the Lady Penelope"
Once upon a time there was Lady Penelope. Thomas Hardy rhapsodizes over her for a bit because she was “a lady of noble family and extraordinary beauty. She was of the purest descent; ah, there’s seldom such blood nowadays as hers!” (330). Yeah, that's creepy to get all hot and bothered about her blood. Ew.
Because she was "all that and a bag of potato chips", she had three suitors who got increasingly violent amongst themselves if they perceived that one had gotten any closer to winning her over. She gets sick of their squabbling and fisticuffs, so she tells them that the next one to break the peace amongst them, for whatever reason, will be the one that she will refuse to see ever again. Take that, raging testosterone!
This works okay for a while, but then she soon realizes that they have to be aggressive somehow because they're menfolk who are apparently slaves to their surging man-docity and man-fulness: if they can't fight with each other, they can turn on her and get increasingly threatening about her finally choosing one of them. So one day they all turn up to woo her and it rapidly descends into, "PENELOPE PICK ONE OF US, JESUS CHRIST, RAAAAAAAAWR!"
She gets so flustered and overwhelmed that she accidentally screams, “’Have patience, have patience, you foolish men! Only bide your time quietly, and, in faith, I will marry you all in turn’” (331).
This makes them all laugh and they find it so endearing that they tell EVERYONE! All the servants and local people are giggling at her because isn't she just adorable? Silly little woman! Awwww, badgered and harassed into saying something silly!
She eventually decides to marry Sir George Drenkhard, whose name is full of foreshadowing. When she marries him, she immediately realizes that she actually likes the suitor named Sir William best, and probably should have married him instead. Thankfully, after a few months, Sir George Drenkhard “died of his convivialities (as if, indeed, to bear out his name) “ (332). So suitor number one is down and out of the way! Simple enough. She thinks, "This is my chance to be with the one I really love!"
Unfortunately, Sir William had been so depressed when she married Sir George that he left for a foreign court. He doesn't come home immediately after her husband died, so she thinks, "Oh no, he must not like me anymore. Well, I guess I should marry the other guy I don't really like at all, because that's pretty much my only option. Nothing could go wrong with this plan."
She agrees to marry Sir John. By this point, Sir William smartens up, realizes, "Oh, wait, she likes me! I better get home to England!" But by the time he gets back, the wedding has already happened. He goes, "FUCK. THIS. SHIT," and goes abroad again.
Sir John turns out to be a real piece of work and "showed a disposition to retaliate upon her for the trouble and delay she had put him to" (332). Nothing says "I love you" like psychological warfare. It's all "Baby, baby I love you SO much that I have to punish you because you made me suffer. So now I'm going to act like I hate you. Because I love you."
He is distant and emotionally abusive for a while, but thankfully he gets sick and dies without too much fuss. As soon as his ass his buried, she goes, "Now where in the world in Sir William . . . ?" because, after that last icy marriage, mama's all pent up and needs to get her freak on. Sir William comes home and she says, "I'm fresh out of suitors, so I haven't married anyone else yet!" And he says, "HOORAY!" and they get married.
They have a perfectly fine and dandy marriage for about a year, until one day Sir William goes for a walk and overhears some of the locals speculating on Lady Penelope's revolving door of marriage. They say, "Hey, remember that time she was all cute and stupid, and said that she would marry all three of them in turn? Well, that's exactly what happened! So clearly she must not have been cute and stupid: she must have been cruel and cunning, and planned to marry and kill them off one at a time."
Sir William hears this and goes, "MY GOD. THEY MUST BE RIGHT," completely forgetting the whole "motive" part of planning a murder–a motive that she didn't have. She was already rich and titled. There was no real reason for her to plan to marry and kill any of them. I think he thinks she did it for fun? Look, just SHUSH. Don't let logic or realistic thought patterns impede with the story, okay?
So he walks immediately home and says, "I'm going abroad." Lady Penelope goes, "Oooh, fun! Can I come?" And he says, "No. Bye." And she goes, *WHIPLASH*. And he leaves her, HIS PREGNANT WIFE, without explaining why, or looking for evidence, or basically doing anything but taking the word of two gossips who have never even MET his wife and know nothing about her personal life whatsoever.
She eventually finds out why he left
and had those two peasants SKINNED ALIVE and it upsets her so much that she starts pining away for him. She doesn't eat or sleep, and gives birth to a stillborn child that has clearly died because she was so upset. Yeah. Hardy gets dark.
Eventually he comes home when he hears that she's dying. As soon as he shows up, she swears to him that she's innocent, lies down, and DIES (I'm not sure exactly what she dies from. Possibly starvation or general exhaustion. More than likely she dies from that most horrible of all literary diseases, Plot Convenience).
Sir William goes, "Gee, okay. I guess I could investigate this whole matter now, if you tell me to." Why he's now trusting the word of a woman he just had to move to another country to escape, I'm sure I don't know. So he contacts her first husband's physician who says, "Nope, he definitely drank himself to death. No question." Then he contacts her second husband's physician who exhumes the body, looks it over, and says, "No, he definitely died of natural causes."
And he goes, "HONEY THAT'S GREAT! WE CAN BE HAPPY AGAIN, BECAUSE–honey? Honey? Oh, crap. I forgot. You're dead. You died because I'm an asshole who doesn't do his due diligence."
Then Thomas Hardy ends it on this SUPER cheerful note:
"there were some severe enough to say–and these [were] not unjust persons in other respects–that though unquestionably innocent of the crime imputed to her, she had shown unseemly wantonness in contracting three marriages in such rapid succession; that the untrue suspicion might have been ordered by Providence [aka, God] (who often works indirectly) as a punishment for her self-indulgence. Upon that point I have no opinion to offer" (338).
So the moral of the story is, if you are a woman, you WILL be badgered into marriages you don't even want, and that's okay because boys will be boys and they can do literally whatever they feel like doing; however, you WILL be punished for whatever they do because FUCK YOU, YOU'RE A WOMAN.
I actually think this story would be a great allegorical tale to use for the Twitter age: you make one poorly-worded quip in your youth and you will suffer for it for the rest of your life because people cannot let that stuff go.
Oh, the OTHER moral of the story is that "Unseemly Wantonness" is the name of my new garage band.