Thomas Hardy has shown interest in the Social Class system in a large number of his stories and regularly makes comment on this issue.
At his time of writing the country of England is split into two definite bands of wealth. The richer sides of the spectrum are usually employers who either own land or exploit their workers to make themselves richer. Small proportions of the population occupy this wealth and are often referred to as the upper class. The lower classes usually work for the upper class for a low wage. It proves unusual for these two classes to spend time together as it is often believed that the upper class ‘look down’ upon the other, less fortunate people:
“In those days unequal marriages regarded rather as a violation of the laws of nature than as a mere infringement of convention.”
The main topic of discussion in ‘The Sons Veto’ is class. There is a perfect example of how people allow the class system to affect them. Mr Twycott is aware that if he weds the domestic servant, Sophy that he would become ostracised from the social elite that he would have associated with before:
“Mr Twycott knew perfectly well that he had committed social suicide by this step.”
I believe that Hardy feels that people are shallow to the extent that they will remove people from their social circle because of who they are wed to.
Upon reading Hardy’s stories it always feels as if the main problem is the upper class ‘looking down’ on the lower class. As is illustrated, Mr Twycott, although he weds Sophy still worries about the effect this will have on his position with friends.
Class can even change families’ views of each other. In ‘The Sons Veto’ Sophys’ son is selfish to the extent that he sacrifices his mother’s happiness so that he can be happy with his rich circle of friends. After Mr Twycott died he bequeathed a large sum of money for Randolphs education. The condition is that Sophy cannot marry again or they will not be eligible for money at all. Randolph knows that if he does not have money then his group of friends may no longer like him. Randolph shows his views in a moment of weakness:
“I am ashamed of you! You will ruin me… It will degrade me in the eyes of all the men in England!”
At the start of the book Randolph is young and you can dismiss his actions as immature and selfish, but by the end of the book he is over 20 years old and is well educated. At that age there is no excuse, he is fully aware of the consequences of his actions. At the end of the book Randolph is watching his mother’s funeral procession from the stature of a priest. He is left wondering whether it was all worthwhile.
Hardy portrays this as a very powerful image. In my opinion the son uses his father to better his own position, possibly because his father placed these ideas into his mind. Even the title is selfish the word ‘Veto’ to stop or ban something in this case for his or even his dads dreams.
This issue of selfishness linked with class is not only true for ‘The Sons Veto’. In ‘The Withered Arm’, the wealthy landowner Farmer Lodge chooses not to wed Rhoda Brook because of class issues. She is only a milkmaid and he is a respected farmer. Farmer Lodge had a child Rhoda Brook, at that time; the honourable thing to do would be to marry Rhoda to avoid a bastard son. He takes the coward’s way out by leaving Rhoda to bring up the child on her own.
Class is also connected with male dominance. The submissive female characters demonstrate this. Gertrude Lodge feels the need to ensure that she is beautiful for her husband. This is because she is seen as an item for Farmer Lodge. Farmer Lodge, as a respected man, needs to feel that his greatness and achievements are mirrored in his wife. After presenting Gertrude to the people in the church Lodge was extremely pleased with himself, but as Gertrude’s looks fade with her arm and her imperfections becoming apparent, Lodge decides he loves her no more. As people are no longer jealous of Gertrude their marriage fails:
“Half a dozen years passed away, and Mr and Mrs Lodges married experience sank into prosiness and worse.”
The only female in any of the stories who does not conform to the submissive style of the times is Mrs Newberry this, however, is for all the wrong reasons. Mrs Newberry has to be a strong independent woman in order to break the law.
Class distinction has a tremendous influential effect upon people. It prevented two marriages and ruined one. It has stopped happiness and prevented equality, because of this influence Hardy noted the class system in his stories. It is my opinion, that Hardy did not approve of the prevalent social economic class system, as there are a number of instances where this becomes a focal point and integral part of his stories.