OWL Magazine Korea

Thomas Hardy’s “To Please His Wife”

Thomas Hardy’s “To Please His Wife” is a work written in 1893. Although written long ago, it remains a thought-provoking piece even when read today.

At one point, there was a popular drama genre in Korea known as “makjang dramas.” Among these, “Temptation of Wife” stands out as a representative work.

While makjang dramas gained popularity relatively recently in Korea, Thomas Hardy’s work from the late 1800s also contains many elements reminiscent of makjang dramas. The protagonist’s ambition for social ascent, greed for money, jealousy, and rivalry are evident in this work.

“A Tragedy Brought by a Woman’s Envious Desire”

This work revolves around a woman’s envious desire driven by “desire.” All key events in the story can be attributed to the woman’s jealousy and rivalry. The plot unfolds as follows:

The story begins with Sadrach Joliffe returning from a voyage and offering a prayer of thanksgiving at church. Joliffe meets Emily Hanning and Joanna Phippard on the street, and soon falls in love with Emily. However, Joliffe grows closer to Joanna, and they promise to marry. Hearing of Emily’s deep sorrow over their engagement, Joanna attempts to break off her engagement with Joliffe. However, while visiting Emily, Joanna witnesses Emily and Joliffe confirming their love, and consumed by jealousy, Joanna decides to marry Joliffe.

Emily accepts a proposal from a wealthy man named Lester and marries him. Subsequently, Emily becomes increasingly wealthy while Joanna becomes poorer. As Joanna envies Emily’s newfound wealth, Joliffe suggests going to sea to earn money. With Joanna’s consent, Joliffe embarks on his first voyage and successfully earns a considerable sum of money for Joanna. However, Joanna is dissatisfied with the money Joliffe brings home compared to Emily’s “wealth.”

Ultimately, Joliffe sets sail again, this time with the condition that he must take their two sons with him. After much hesitation, Joanna reluctantly agrees and sends them off to sea. However, Joliffe and the two sons do not return even after a longer time than expected. Left alone, Joanna struggles to make ends meet, and despite Emily’s pity, Joanna eventually moves in with her to survive. As Joanna waits endlessly for her family, she gradually deteriorates, and the story concludes.

“I Am Not a Pessimist or a Cynic.”

The phrase above is an inseparable “slogan” of Thomas Hardy. Hardy stated that he was not a pessimist or a cynic. While he believed that efforts toward social reform could create a better world, effecting social change was not easy.

Perhaps Hardy indirectly criticized the wrongs of society through his works. Especially during the Victorian era in which he lived, Britain was hailed as the “land where the sun never sets,” achieving material prosperity but also being a time of hypocrisy and vanity. It is speculated that he projected such social criticism into his works, fueling his determination for social reform.

“Thomas Hardy’s novels are ‘Novels of Characters and Environments.’”

Thomas Hardy’s novels are sometimes referred to as novels of characters and environments. This term is mainly used in novels classified as “naturalism.” Thus, this work fits well with naturalism.

The characteristic of naturalistic works is the deterministic view that “human destiny is determined by heredity and environment.”

Ultimately, human character is determined by genetics, and the environment presented by chance is also an environmental factor. As there is no room for human will to intervene in this aspect, most naturalistic literature has tragic endings. Therefore, people do not like naturalistic literature, and such literature has become rare.

Hardy believed that both the inherent nature of human compassion and the environment were the result of an “immortal will.” Ultimately, he believed that the environment is controlled by the inherent will that dominates the universe, depicted as a godlike entity indifferent to human tragedy.

“Wisdom to Control Desires is Needed.”

Ultimately, the main theme explored in this work is “uncontrolled desire.” Uncontrolled desire ultimately brings about anger and even leads to one’s own downfall.

In the story, the personification of desire is depicted through “Joanna.” However, when applied to reality, Joanna could be any one of us.

In fact, after visiting Korea, bestselling author Mark Manson described it as the most depressed country, portraying it as a country full of flaws in Confucianism and capitalism. Each regime and culture’s strengths were not preserved, and only the flaws were brought into the regime.

In the context of living in such modern society, Thomas Hardy’s work “To Please His Wife” provides us, living in the present, with many insights.

“To Please His Wife”

  • Author: Thomas Hardy
  • Publication Date: 1893