Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 779
Thomas Hardy’s story “The Son’s Veto” opens by describing a decently attractive woman sitting in a wheelchair at a local outdoor concert in a suburb of London. She is accompanied by her young son, who apparently has just become a teenager. He is dressed in the uniform of a “public” (that is, private and prestigious) English school. As the boy pushes his mother home from the concert, she alludes, using poor grammar, to the illness of her husband, the boy’s father. The boy impatiently corrects his mother’s speech and she responds meekly. Perhaps she was thinking back on her youth and wondering if she had made the right choices. She had been born and raised in a rural village forty miles from London. At age 19, she had been employed as a domestic worker in the home of her husband, a minister, when his first wife was still living. The first wife, however, had died.
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As a girl, the woman—whose name, readers learn, is Sophy—had attracted the romantic attentions of a local youth named Sam, who wanted her to marry him when he had better established himself. Sophy, speaking in the local country dialect, had not encouraged his attentions, thinking that he was too forward. Eventually the minister (or vicar) decided that he should reduce the number of his servants. Sophy, partly to protect the jobs of her co-workers, went to him and announced that she would be leaving her job as maid in order to accept Sam Hobson’s proposal of marriage, even though she was not especially enthusiastic about marrying just then. Ultimately she stayed on as a worker, and once, when tending to the ill vicar, she accidentally slipped on the stairway, twisting her foot and permanently damaging it. Incapable of working any longer as a maid, she contemplated leaving the house to work as a seamstress. But the vicar, Mr. Twycott, surprisingly asked her to marry him. She accepted his proposal, partly because of her great respect for him. A very quiet and inconspicuous wedding took place. Then, because having a former maid as a wife would damage the vicar’s social standing in the village, the two quickly moved to London, where the vicar had found a new position.
As a wife, Sophy was superb, but even fourteen years of marriage in London had not removed all traces of her rural background and her unsophisticated upbringing. Her teenaged son, Randolph, was now old enough to realize his mother’s shortcomings, especially in her grammar, and had irritably begun to point them out to her. Her husband’s illness led soon enough to her husband’s death. He made sure, however, that his son would be brought up properly and sent the best schools and university to prepare Randolph for his own career in the ministry. Randolph became increasingly uncomfortable with his mother’s social shortcomings, especially since his chief concern was now to fit into the upper classes himself. Nevertheless, she loved him deeply, even though she had begun to wish that she could somehow return to her old home in the village.
One day, looking out from her house, she thought she saw someone she recognized driving a wagon full of vegetables in her street. He seemed to be looking at her house. It turned out to be Sam Hobson, now working in London, who had long ago wanted to marry her. As he went by again one morning, she called out to him. Apparently, he knew that she lived in the area. As they talked, it emerged that each still had feelings for the other and that each hoped to return someday to their old village. As they became more and more reacquainted during the passing weeks and months, Sam eventually proposed that she marry him and that they move back to the village, where Sam hoped to start a business. Sophy was intrigued but suspected that her son would not approve. Ultimately, however, she did raise the issue with Randolph, who did indeed strongly disapprove. He felt that her marriage to Sam would disgrace not only her but especially himself. Each time his mother raised the issue, over a period of several years, Randolph objected. On one occasion he made her vow, on her knees and before a cross, that she would never marry Sam Hobson. Sophy did make this vow, hoping that when he graduates from college and finally becomes a minister, he would relent.
Four years later, Sam, standing in front of his successful business in the village, watches a funeral procession go by, and notices a young minister staring at him with contempt.