Chess in Thomas Hardy's writings

Chess in Thomas Hardy's writings

Dec 1, 2009, 12:14 PM |

In my readings this week I came across an article that discussed Folklore in Thomas Hardy's works. One reference related to Chess and I looked that book up.

For those of you not familiar with Thomas Hardy visit the Thomas Hardy Resource Library

Below are the exerpts from his novel "A pair of Blue Eyes" compare the games between Elfride Swancourt and Stephen Smith in Chapter 7 and her games against Henry Knight in chapter 18. The comments about Elfride's play are very common for that time period. In chapter 20 it seems that each game effected the feeling of each man towards Elfride.

I hope you enjoy this and if you have other such items please post links to them.

Chapter 7

...a game of chess was proposed between them.

The game had its value in helping on the developments of their future.

Elfride soon perceived that her opponent was but a learner. She next noticed that he had a very odd way of handling the pieces when castling or taking a man. Antecedently she would have supposed that the same performance must be gone through by all players in the same manner; she was taught by his differing action that all ordinary players, who learn the game by sight, unconsciously touch the men in a stereotyped way. This impression of indescribable oddness in Stephen's touch culminated in speech when she saw him, at the taking of one of her bishops, push it aside with the taking man instead of lifting it as a preliminary to the move.

'How strangely you handle the men, Mr. Smith!'

'Do I? I am sorry for that.'

'Oh no--don't be sorry; it is not a matter great enough for sorrow. But who taught you to play?'

'Nobody, Miss Swancourt,' he said. 'I learnt from a book lent me by my friend Mr. Knight, the noblest man in the world.'

'But you have seen people play?'

'I have never seen the playing of a single game. This is the first time I ever had the opportunity of playing with a living opponent. I have worked out many games from books, and studied the reasons of the different moves, but that is all.'

This was a full explanation of his mannerism; but the fact that a man with the desire for chess should have grown up without being able to see or engage in a game astonished her not a little. She pondered on the circumstance for some time, looking into vacancy and hindering the play.

Mr. Swancourt was sitting with his eyes fixed on the board, but apparently thinking of other things. Half to himself he said, pending the move of Elfride:

'"Quae finis aut quod me manet stipendium?"'

Stephen replied instantly:

'"Effare: jussas cum fide poenas luam."'...

The game proceeded. Elfride played by rote; Stephen by thought. It was the cruellest thing to checkmate him after so much labour, she considered. What was she dishonest enough to do in her compassion? To let him checkmate her. A second game followed; and being herself absolutely indifferent as to the result (her playing was above the average among women, and she knew it), she allowed him to give checkmate again. A final game, in which she adopted the Muzio gambit as her opening, was terminated by Elfride's victory at the twelfth move.

Stephen looked up suspiciously. His heart was throbbing even more excitedly than was hers, which itself had quickened when she seriously set to work on this last occasion. Mr. Swancourt had left the room.

'You have been trifling with me till now!' he exclaimed, his face flushing. 'You did not play your best in the first two games?'

Elfride's guilt showed in her face. Stephen became the picture of vexation and sadness, which, relishable for a moment, caused her the next instant to regret the mistake she had made.

'Mr. Smith, forgive me!' she said sweetly. 'I see now, though I did not at first, that what I have done seems like contempt for your skill. But, indeed, I did not mean it in that sense. I could not, upon my conscience, win a victory in those first and second games over one who fought at such a disadvantage and so manfully.'

He drew a long breath, and murmured bitterly, 'Ah, you are cleverer than I. You can do everything--I can do nothing! O Miss Swancourt!' he burst out wildly, his heart swelling in his throat, 'I must tell you how I love you! All these months of my absence I have worshipped you.'

Chapter 18

... In the drawing-room, after having been exclusively engaged with Mr. and Mrs. Swancourt through the intervening hour, Knight again found himself thrown with Elfride. She had been looking over a chess problem in one of the illustrated periodicals.

'You like chess, Miss Swancourt?'

'Yes. It is my favourite scientific game; indeed, excludes every other. Do you play?'

'I have played; though not lately.'

'Challenge him, Elfride,' said the vicar heartily. 'She plays very well for a lady, Mr. Knight.'

'Shall we play?' asked Elfride tentatively.

'Oh, certainly. I shall be delighted.'

The game began. Mr. Swancourt had forgotten a similar performance with Stephen Smith the year before. Elfride had not; but she had begun to take for her maxim the undoubted truth that the necessity of continuing faithful to Stephen, without suspicion, dictated a fickle behaviour almost as imperatively as fickleness itself; a fact, however, which would give a startling advantage to the latter quality should it ever appear.

Knight, by one of those inexcusable oversights which will sometimes afflict the best of players, placed his rook in the arms of one of her pawns. It was her first advantage. She looked triumphant--even ruthless.

'By George! what was I thinking of?' said Knight quietly; and then dismissed all concern at his accident.

'Club laws we'll have, won't we, Mr. Knight?' said Elfride suasively.

'Oh yes, certainly,' said Mr. Knight, a thought, however, just occurring to his mind, that he had two or three times allowed her to replace a man on her religiously assuring him that such a move was an absolute blunder.

She immediately took up the unfortunate rook and the contest proceeded, Elfride having now rather the better of the game. Then he won the exchange, regained his position, and began to press her hard. Elfride grew flurried, and placed her queen on his remaining rook's file.

'There--how stupid! Upon my word, I did not see your rook. Of course nobody but a fool would have put a queen there knowingly!'

She spoke excitedly, half expecting her antagonist to give her back the move.

'Nobody, of course,' said Knight serenely, and stretched out his hand towards his royal victim.

'It is not very pleasant to have it taken advantage of, then,' she said with some vexation.

'Club laws, I think you said?' returned Knight blandly, and mercilessly appropriating the queen.

She was on the brink of pouting, but was ashamed to show it; tears almost stood in her eyes. She had been trying so hard--so very hard--thinking and thinking till her brain was in a whirl; and it seemed so heartless of him to treat her so, after all.

'I think it is----' she began.


--'Unkind to take advantage of a pure mistake I make in that way.'

'I lost my rook by even a purer mistake,' said the enemy in an inexorable tone, without lifting his eyes.

'Yes, but----' However, as his logic was absolutely unanswerable, she merely registered a protest. 'I cannot endure those cold- blooded ways of clubs and professional players, like Staunton and Morphy. Just as if it really mattered whether you have raised your fingers from a man or no!'

Knight smiled as pitilessly as before, and they went on in silence.

'Checkmate,' said Knight.

'Another game,' said Elfride peremptorily, and looking very warm.

'With all my heart,' said Knight.

'Checkmate,' said Knight again at the end of forty minutes.

'Another game,' she returned resolutely.

'I'll give you the odds of a bishop,' Knight said to her kindly.

'No, thank you,' Elfride replied in a tone intended for courteous indifference; but, as a fact, very cavalier indeed.

'Checkmate,' said her opponent without the least emotion.

Oh, the difference between Elfride's condition of mind now, and when she purposely made blunders that Stephen Smith might win!

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