In the tales, Hardy writes using the pastoral voice. By separating the time period of his readers from his character's lives, Hardy creates a fictional world. The stories collected in Wessex Tales portray the hierarchy of shepherds and artisans, unlike the aristocratic literature of the Victorian era. To create these stories, Hardy studied Dorset's old newspapers, parish records, and spoke with older people of the town. Kristin Brady links Hardy's studying of people to the creation of his narrative voice: "The stories are all firmly grounded in Dorset life and folklore during the mid-nineteenth century and are drawn together by a unique narrative perspective, the pastoral voice". Revealing the humorous and affectionate observations of rustic life, the stories provide the foundation for Hardy's Wessex, which is further defined in his novels. The tales include The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion, The Withered Arm, The Distracted Preacher, The Son's veto, Tony Kytes the arch-deceiver and Absent-mindedness in a Parish choir.
Through them, Thomas Hardy talks about nineteenth century marriage, grammar, class status, how men and women were viewed and medical diseases. (and more)
Three of the short stories were adapted as television dramas by the BBC as part of an anthology series called Wessex Tales: