“The Distracted Preacher” by Thomas Hardy

Young Mr. Robert Stockdale is appointed to fill up a temporary position left vacant by a Wesleyan minister in an unknown village nearby Nether-Moynton district. His tasks are providing sermons to Methodist followers in the church in the village.

This tall, lovable preacher soon wins the hearts of so many women residing in the village, including a beautiful widow Mrs. Lizzy Newberry who rents one of her rooms to him. In fact, it is the landlord who frankly expresses her interest as uttered by her servant, Martha Sarah. So, it can be said that Lizzy is the one who makes the first moves creating their love story.

Everything seems smooth for Stockdale during the first days of his staying in the house. Lizzy provides him well, pays attention to his needs, even helps him when he is sick. Things start becoming weird when one night she invites the minister to get a liquor that is hidden in the house as a cure for his fever. The fact that his fever is subsided does relieve Stockdale but Lizzy’s confession that she takes part in smuggling liquor from France with her cousin, Owlett, and some men, shocks him.

After the incident, things becoming more complicated. Stockdale doesn’t often see her during the daylight as before. When he asks for this strange schedule, Lizzy admits she sometimes stays up till late at night thus gets up in the afternoon.

Another fact that adds to the minister’s curiosity is the presence of two men and a mysterious greatcoat which lays on his bed. Lizzy has always answers for his suspicions. She says that the men are part of the smuggling group while the greatcoat belongs to her late husband. Martha Sarah wrongly places it to the bed instead of to the laundry room. Yet one fact remains a big question mark to him is the mud that adheres to the greatcoat.

One evening before he goes to bed, Stockdale hears a movement. He decides to investigate this oddity. He is so shocked after discovering that the movement is done by Lizzy while wearing her late husband’s greatcoat!

He decides to follow what she does that night. She walks out her home and goes forward to meet some men, a few of whom are who are involved in the illegal trade. When Stockdale finds this out, Lizzy seems cold. She doesn’t follow Stockdale’s suggestion to stop the trade because she says she only ‘has a share in the run’ and the trade is on only during wintertime.

To sum it up, Stockdale follows her the night after that. Once again he persuades her to leave the risky business but she refuses to do so. It happens one night after the barrel displacement that both witness officer Latimer and Customs-men search her garden to get the smuggled liquor but to no avail.

They are safe, for now and the night after that when the officers eventually find the tubs that are hidden in the church gallery. Stockdale, who even hides in the church while witnessing the seizure of the tubs, remains silent all this time. He finally has to make a stance after he frees Latimer and other officers who are tied up in a tree by the smuggler not long after the tubs are confiscated.

Stockdale persuades Lizzy, again. This time he affirms his intention to marry her, fulfill her needs and her mother’s yet the answer remains the same. Lizzy insists to resume the business, leaving Stockdale with no choice other than giving up their relationship and moving out.

So, they part. Two years pass by. Stockdale is seen taking a van then dropping by at his former lodging. Lizzy,w ho must have seen him from the house’s window, invites him to go inside. There, she tells what occurs after he leaves the place. The officer finds it all, Owlett gets shot but remain alive and is now in America. Lizzy is fortunate to have got through it safe and sound. Her mother has passed away and she is now poor.

The finale of the story is the wedding between the two in a neighboring town. Lizzy enjoys the life as a minister’s wife and becomes a good writer by composing a good tract called ‘Render unto Caesar’ or ‘The Repentant Villagers’ in which her smuggling story becomes the introductory part of it.



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