Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Hired Man

The Hired Man (1969) is a good read, a serious work of fiction by Melvyn Bragg. The first of the Cumbrian trilogy, it is set in Cumbria in 1898 when John Tallentire was one of the thousands of agricultural labourers looking for employment. John was still in his teens when he married Emily (his father, Joseph was married at twenty), and prepared himself to go the marketplace to get hired. “Is thou for hired, lad?” At twelve shillings, he got his first job as a hired man, a farm labourer. He later became a coal miner.

The story depicts the harsh lives of labourers such as John Tallentire. Intertwined in the story is the life of John and his wife, Emily; his family, especially John’s relationship with his father and brothers; the war that broke out which led to John, his brothers and his son, Harry going to war. The story also speaks of their children particularly May, their eldest daughter who had strength like steel, and how she cared for the family.

I would like to include the song "The Farmer’s Boy" extracted from the novel, as it paints a good picture:
The sun had set behind yon hills,
Across yon dreary moor,
Weary and lame, a boy came
Up to a farmer’s door.
‘Can you tell me if any there be
That will give me employ,
To plow and sow and reap and mow
And be a farmer’s boy?

‘My father is dead, and mother is left
With five children, great and small;
And what is worse for mother still,
I’m the oldest of them all.
Though little, I’ll work as hard as a Turk,
If you’ll give me employ.
To plow and sow and reap and mow
And be a farmer’s boy?

‘And if that you won’t me employ,
One favour I’ve to ask, --
Will you shelter me, till break of day,
From this cold winter’s blast?
At break of day, I’ll trudge away
Elsewhere to seek employ
To plow and sow and reap and mow
And be a farmer’s boy?

‘Come try the lad,’ the mistress said,
‘Let him no further seek.’
‘O, do, dear father,’ the daughter cried,
While tears ran down her cheek
He'd work if he could, so 'tis hard to want food
And wander for employ
Don't turn him away but let him stay
And be a farmer's boy!'

And when the lad became a man,
The good old farmer died,
And left the lad the farm he had,
And his daughter for his bride,
The lad that was the farm now has,
Oft smiles and thinks with joy
Of the lucky day he came that way,
To be a farmer's boy.

This novel is different from the ones I usually read. It makes me think about how blessed I am to be earning a good income, and to be living in a pleasant and comfortable environment. I don’t have to experience war, or the anguish of losing the people I love to war.

I am planning to re-read this one, and also considering to get the other two books in the trilogy: A Place in England and Kingdom Come.