As a Fatalist Thomas Hardy saw people as unable to escape their destiny; it was chance and circumstance that dictated their future according to his ideas. Very little could be gained by an individual’s desire and effort and what had a way of turning against them.
In this story, Fate brings Matthäus (a German Hussar) and Phyllis together – he by way of the army’s movements and she through her father’s reclusiveness. Equally, fate makes them love-starved – Matthäus homesick and Phyllis deprived of friendship. Their chance meeting is only the final stage in fate’s hidden preparations.
The one-act they do initiate – their escape together – rebounds upon them terribly. And, it is fate that controls this part of their story too. Phyllis is fated to overhear Humphrey Gould (she is brought up to behave properly), she thinks Humphrey has come back to be with her. It is Matthäus’ fate to row to Jersey and miss France.
Finally, their hopes defeated, they are broken: Matthäus willingly faces execution, and Phyllis, aware now of her tragic mistake and of the part she has played by her absence in Mattaus’ capture. She lives her many remaining years alone and in mourning.
There is a final irony in their lying at last together in the grave as Hardy grimly tells us at the end.
This is my view of the way Hardy viewed his story. Is it yours? Whether it is or not how do you see the characters?