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Desperate Remedies: A Summary of Thomas Hardy’s Novel

Desperate Remedies: A Summary of Thomas Hardy’s Novel

Thomas Hardy’s novel “Desperate Remedies” is a tale of love, betrayal, and desperation. Set in the mid-19th century, it follows the lives of two cousins, Cytherea Graye and Owen Graye, as they navigate the complexities of Victorian society. The novel explores themes of class, gender, and power, while also delving into the darker aspects of human nature. In this article, we will provide a summary of the plot and characters of “Desperate Remedies”, highlighting the key themes and motifs that make it a classic of English literature.

Background Information

Thomas Hardy’s novel, Desperate Remedies, was first published in 1871. It was his first published novel and was initially released anonymously. The novel is set in the fictional town of Budmouth, which is based on the real town of Weymouth in Dorset, England. Desperate Remedies is a sensational novel that explores themes of love, betrayal, and revenge. It is also notable for its use of multiple narrators and its intricate plot. The novel was not initially well-received by critics, but it has since become recognized as an important work in Hardy’s oeuvre.

The Characters

The characters in Thomas Hardy’s novel, Desperate Remedies, are complex and multi-dimensional. The protagonist, Cytherea Graye, is a young woman who is forced to work as a governess after her father’s death. She is intelligent, resourceful, and determined to make a better life for herself. However, she is also vulnerable and easily manipulated by those around her.

The other main character in the novel is Edward Springrove, a young architect who falls in love with Cytherea. He is kind, loyal, and devoted to her, but he is also indecisive and easily swayed by the opinions of others.

Other notable characters in the novel include Aeneas Manston, a wealthy landowner who becomes obsessed with Cytherea, and Owen Graye, Cytherea’s brother who is haunted by a dark secret from his past.

Overall, the characters in Desperate Remedies are flawed and human, making them relatable and engaging to readers. Hardy’s skillful characterization adds depth and complexity to the novel, making it a timeless classic of English literature.

The Plot

The plot of Thomas Hardy’s novel, Desperate Remedies, revolves around the lives of two cousins, Cytherea Graye and Edward Springrove. Cytherea, a former governess, is hired by the wealthy Mrs. Aldclyffe as her personal assistant. Edward, on the other hand, is a young architect who falls in love with Cytherea at first sight. However, their love story is complicated by the presence of Mrs. Aldclyffe, who also has feelings for Edward. As the story progresses, secrets are revealed, and the characters’ lives become intertwined in unexpected ways. The plot is full of twists and turns, making it a thrilling read for fans of Victorian literature.


The setting of Thomas Hardy’s novel, Desperate Remedies, is primarily in the fictional town of Budmouth, located on the south coast of England. The town is described as a bustling port with a mix of wealthy and working-class residents. The novel also takes place in London and the surrounding countryside. The time period is the mid-19th century, a time of great social and economic change in England. The setting plays an important role in the novel, as it reflects the societal norms and expectations of the time, and provides a backdrop for the characters’ struggles and desires.


One of the main themes in Thomas Hardy’s novel, Desperate Remedies, is the idea of fate and destiny. Throughout the novel, the characters are constantly struggling with the idea that their lives are predetermined and that they have little control over their own futures. This is particularly evident in the character of Cytherea, who is constantly torn between her desire for independence and her belief that her fate is already set in stone. Another important theme in the novel is the idea of social class and the ways in which it can limit or define a person’s opportunities and choices. This is exemplified in the character of Edward Springrove, who is unable to pursue a relationship with Cytherea due to the social expectations of the time. Overall, Desperate Remedies is a complex and thought-provoking novel that explores a wide range of themes and issues, making it a fascinating read for anyone interested in Victorian literature.


Symbolism plays a significant role in Thomas Hardy’s novel, “Desperate Remedies.” Throughout the story, various objects and events are used to represent deeper meanings and themes. One example of this is the recurring image of the moon. The moon is often used to symbolize the characters’ emotions and desires, particularly those of the female protagonist, Cytherea. The moon is also used to represent the passage of time and the cyclical nature of life. Another symbol in the novel is the garden, which represents both the beauty and the danger of love. The garden is a place of refuge for the characters, but it is also a place where they are vulnerable to the dangers of passion and betrayal. These symbols, along with others in the novel, add depth and complexity to the story, and help to convey the themes of love, betrayal, and the human condition.

The Role of Gender

In Thomas Hardy’s novel, “Desperate Remedies,” the role of gender plays a significant role in shaping the lives of the characters. The societal expectations placed on men and women during the Victorian era are evident throughout the novel, as the male characters are expected to be strong and dominant, while the female characters are expected to be submissive and obedient. This gender divide is particularly evident in the character of Cytherea Graye, who is forced to navigate the patriarchal society in which she lives in order to secure her future. Despite the challenges she faces, Cytherea is a strong and determined character who refuses to be defined by her gender. Through her struggles, Hardy highlights the limitations placed on women during this time period and the need for societal change.

The Use of Irony

In Thomas Hardy’s novel, “Desperate Remedies,” the use of irony is prevalent throughout the story. Irony is a literary device that involves the use of words or situations to convey a meaning that is opposite of what is expected. In the novel, the characters often find themselves in ironic situations that highlight the themes of fate and chance. For example, the character of Cytherea Graye, who is a governess, is hired by a man named Aeneas Manston. However, it is later revealed that Manston is actually her long-lost brother, which is an ironic twist of fate. The use of irony in “Desperate Remedies” adds depth and complexity to the story, and it is a testament to Hardy’s skill as a writer.

The Writing Style

Thomas Hardy’s writing style in “Desperate Remedies” is characterized by its vivid descriptions and attention to detail. He paints a picture of the Victorian era with its societal norms and expectations, while also delving into the inner thoughts and emotions of his characters. Hardy’s use of symbolism and foreshadowing adds depth to the story and keeps the reader engaged. The language is often poetic and lyrical, but also realistic and gritty when depicting the harsh realities of life. Overall, Hardy’s writing style in “Desperate Remedies” is a masterful blend of realism and romanticism that captures the essence of the time period and the human experience.

Comparisons to Other Hardy Novels

Desperate Remedies is often compared to other novels by Thomas Hardy, such as Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. While all three novels explore themes of love, class, and societal expectations, Desperate Remedies stands out for its intricate plot and unconventional structure. Unlike the linear narratives of Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Desperate Remedies employs a non-linear structure that jumps back and forth in time, making it a challenging read for some. However, this structure also allows for a more complex exploration of the characters’ motivations and relationships. Additionally, Desperate Remedies is unique in its use of Gothic elements, such as mysterious deaths and hidden identities, which add a layer of suspense and intrigue to the story. Overall, while Desperate Remedies shares some similarities with Hardy’s other novels, its unconventional structure and Gothic elements make it a standout work in his oeuvre.

The Reception of Desperate Remedies

The reception of Desperate Remedies was mixed upon its initial publication in 1871. Some critics praised Hardy’s innovative use of multiple narrators and his exploration of the darker aspects of human nature. However, others found the novel to be too sensational and lacking in moral clarity. Despite the mixed reviews, Desperate Remedies helped establish Hardy as a rising literary talent and paved the way for his later, more celebrated works. Today, the novel is still read and studied for its unique narrative structure and its insights into Victorian society.

The Significance of the Title

The title of a novel is often the first thing that catches a reader’s attention. In the case of Thomas Hardy’s “Desperate Remedies,” the title holds significant meaning for the story. The word “desperate” suggests a sense of urgency and desperation, which is reflected in the actions of the characters throughout the novel. The word “remedies” implies that the characters are seeking solutions to their problems, but these solutions may not always be the best or most ethical. The title sets the tone for the novel and foreshadows the desperate and often misguided actions of the characters. Overall, the title of “Desperate Remedies” is a fitting and significant choice for Hardy’s novel.

The Role of Chance and Fate

In Thomas Hardy’s novel, “Desperate Remedies,” the role of chance and fate plays a significant role in the lives of the characters. The novel explores the idea that events in our lives are not always within our control and that sometimes, fate intervenes in unexpected ways. The characters in the novel are often at the mercy of chance, and their lives are shaped by the unpredictable twists and turns of fate. From the chance encounter that brings Cytherea and Edward together to the unexpected death of Mrs. Aldclyffe, the novel is full of examples of how chance and fate can shape our lives in ways we never imagined. Ultimately, “Desperate Remedies” is a powerful reminder that while we may try to control our destinies, sometimes, it is the hand of fate that guides us on our journey.

The Social Commentary

In Thomas Hardy’s novel, “Desperate Remedies,” the author provides a scathing commentary on the societal norms and expectations of Victorian England. Through the characters and their actions, Hardy highlights the hypocrisy and double standards that existed in this era. The novel also explores the themes of class, gender, and morality, and how they intersected in the lives of the characters. Overall, “Desperate Remedies” serves as a powerful critique of the oppressive social structures of the time, and a reminder of the importance of individual agency and autonomy.

The Tragic Elements

The tragic elements in Thomas Hardy’s novel, Desperate Remedies, are evident throughout the story. From the beginning, the reader is introduced to the main character, Cytherea Graye, who is struggling to make ends meet after the death of her father. Her desperation leads her to take a job as a governess for the wealthy Mrs. Aldclyffe, who becomes obsessed with Cytherea and tries to control her life.

As the story progresses, the tragic elements become more pronounced. Cytherea falls in love with Edward Springrove, but their relationship is doomed from the start due to the interference of Mrs. Aldclyffe. Edward is engaged to another woman, and Cytherea is forced to watch as he marries someone else.

The tragic elements continue to mount as the novel progresses. Mrs. Aldclyffe’s obsession with Cytherea leads to her downfall, and she dies alone and unhappy. Edward’s marriage is unhappy, and he eventually dies in a tragic accident. Cytherea is left alone and destitute, with no hope for a happy future.

Overall, the tragic elements in Desperate Remedies serve to highlight the harsh realities of life in Victorian England. Hardy’s novel is a powerful commentary on the social and economic inequalities of the time, and the tragic fates of the characters serve as a reminder of the harsh realities of life for many people during this period.

The Portrayal of Love

In Thomas Hardy’s novel, “Desperate Remedies,” the portrayal of love is complex and often fraught with tension. The novel explores various types of love, including romantic love, familial love, and even obsessive love. The characters’ relationships are often marked by misunderstandings, miscommunications, and unrequited feelings. Hardy’s portrayal of love is not idealized or romanticized; instead, it is depicted as messy and complicated, reflecting the realities of human relationships. The novel also explores the societal expectations and constraints that can impact love, particularly for women. Overall, “Desperate Remedies” offers a nuanced and thought-provoking portrayal of love that challenges traditional notions of romance and relationships.

The Exploration of Morality

In Thomas Hardy’s novel, “Desperate Remedies,” the exploration of morality is a central theme. The characters are faced with difficult decisions that challenge their moral compasses and force them to question their values. The novel raises questions about the nature of morality and whether it is absolute or relative. Is it possible to make moral judgments without considering the context in which they are made? These are the questions that Hardy’s characters grapple with as they navigate the complex world of Victorian society. Through their struggles, the novel offers a nuanced exploration of morality that is both thought-provoking and relevant to contemporary readers.

The Critique of Society

In Thomas Hardy’s novel “Desperate Remedies,” the author offers a critique of society through the lens of his characters’ experiences. The novel is set in Victorian England, a time when social norms and expectations were rigidly enforced. Hardy’s characters struggle to navigate these constraints, often resorting to desperate measures in order to achieve their goals. Through their stories, Hardy exposes the flaws and injustices of the society in which they live. He highlights the ways in which class, gender, and social status limit individuals’ opportunities and shape their lives. At the same time, he also shows how individuals can resist and challenge these limitations, even if it means going against the norms of society. Overall, “Desperate Remedies” is a powerful critique of Victorian society, one that still resonates today as we continue to grapple with issues of inequality and social injustice.

The Legacy of Desperate Remedies

The legacy of Desperate Remedies is one that has endured for over a century. Thomas Hardy’s novel, published in 1871, was his first published work of fiction and set the tone for his later, more famous novels. The novel’s themes of love, betrayal, and deception are still relevant today, and its characters are still remembered by readers. Desperate Remedies is also notable for its experimental narrative structure, which includes multiple narrators and a non-linear timeline. This structure was ahead of its time and influenced other writers, such as Virginia Woolf. Overall, the legacy of Desperate Remedies is one of innovation and enduring relevance.