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
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.
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. The slightly curved cut-and-thrust blade in use from 1845 to 1892 would have been used for exercises of this kind during the period in which Far From the Madding Crowd is set.
The Infantry Sword Exercise diagram shows seven cuts, each proceeding from the outside of the circle that indicates the target – effectively the enemy’s body (the faint lines show the defence positions to hold a sword to stop the cuts. Troy does indeed say ‘Infantry cuts and guards are more interesting than ours, to my mind; but they are not so swashing. They have seven cuts and three thrusts'. The thrusts are described on pages 18–19.
- 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.