Thomas Hardy is one of the great English novelists, but he also wrote more than 50 short stories, originally published in various periodicals and then assembled into four volumes. He was modest about all his work and particularly about his stories, but his strong sense of imagery is the ideal background for his compelling and sometimes fantastic tales.
We begin with one of Hardy's best regarded stories, 'The Fiddler of the Reels'. Here Hardy exposes a supernatural and demonic theme, against a realistic and historical background of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the first trains. A typical Wessex girl is gripped by the power of music and dance when a lone fiddler casts his spell on her, causing her cloying but plain suitor to leave suddenly for London.
Hardy's recurring theme of loveless marriage is brought up again in our second story, 'For Conscience Sake', with the title relaying his opinion in no uncertain terms. Mr Milborne thinks back to his youth in Wessex with guilt as he remembers his broken promise of marriage. To relive his heavy conscience, he decides to venture back west and honour his 20-year commitment, turning Leonora Frankland's life upside down once again.
These stories are read for you by RADA trained Nigel Lambert, a member of the National Theatre who has made numerous appearances for the BBC in fields as varied as classic drama and children's television, and Eve Karpf, who trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. She is widely experienced both as a reader of audiobooks and as a BBC radio actress.