Soldiers in the 19th century were taught specific moves to maximise their impact in combat. Given the high stress and unpredictability associated with fighting, there was much to be gained from learning sword manoeuvres that could be carried out accurately and almost instinctively.
The sword exercise in Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd
Bathsheba makes a special request to Troy to show her the sword exercise, with a real sword. The exercise has a reputation:
Men and boys who had peeped through chinks or over walls into the barrack-yard returned with accounts of its being the most flashing affair conceivable; accoutrements and weapons glistening like stars – here, there, around – yet all by rule and compass.
Thomas Hardy owned a copy of this book and it seems likely it inspired his description of Troy’s performance of the sword exercise. Troy says he is going to do both the cavalry and infantry sword exercise around Bathsheba, which is curious as Troy is a sergeant of cavalry only. He describes four cuts:
“Our cut one is as if you were sowing your corn – so.” Bathsheba saw a sort of rainbow, upside down in the air, and Troy’s arm was still again. “Cut two, as if you were hedging – so. Three, as if you were reaping – so.” Four, as if you were threshing – in that way.
These are repeated ‘the same on the left’.
- Article by:
- Greg Buzwell
- Fin de siècle
Greg Buzwell considers how Hardy's last novel exposes the hypocrisy of conventional late-Victorian society, taking on topics such as education and class, marriage and the New Woman.