The Withered Arm by Thomas Hardy is like much of Hardy's writing - about life in rural England in the 19th century. Find out about the main characters in the short story.
Rhoda is presented by Hardy as
"a thin, fading woman of thirty" who is desperately poor and working on a farm as a milkmaid. She was once youthful and beautiful but working outdoors has made her weatherworn and tanned. Rhoda is an unhappy woman who has had a son by a rich local farmer called Lodge. He has provided her with a poor, tiny cottage on a lonely heath in exchange for secrecy about their past relationship. The gossips have blamed Rhoda for her pregnancy; she is said to have bewitched the wealthy farmer.
Rhoda is a good mother to her son, but she is consumed with jealousy and resentment when Lodge marries the young, beautiful Gertrude. Rhoda believes she is
"visited" in her dreams by the evil spirit of Gertrude, come to mock her. Rhoda also believes she is responsible for the eventual withering of young Gertrude's arm. She is filled with guilt as Gertrude's health deteriorates.