Hardy, T. (1996). The Woodlanders. Wordsworth Editions Limited: Hertfordshire, London.
Full of multiple romance triangles and natural splendors, The Woodlanders marks the beginning of controversy in Thomas Hardy’s novels and remained as one of his personal favorites throughout his lifetime (Wikipedia article). Set in a small woodland village called Little Hintock, the novel chronicles the mismatched marriage between Grace Melbury and the urbane doctor, Edred Fitzpiers. Although Grace was intended to marry her childhood sweetheart, Giles Winterborne, her father had illusions about Grace’s future status and strongly encouraged her to marry Fitzpiers. This marriage – needless to say – ends badly and leaves the reader with “immoral conclusions” over the actions of each character (Wikipedia article).
For me, the story was most strongly a moral tale against the problems arising from ambition, deceit, and arrogance. Mrs. Charmond, who Thomas Hardy naturally portrays as the fake and jaded counterpart to Grace Melbury’s country-bred purity and innocence, acts as catalyst and role model for these problems. I followed joyfully along with Grace’s development as a character; she moved from being abstractedly educated above the so-called “station” of her home community, but through the disaster of her marriage renounced any such elevation in stature – as she grandly proclaims here:
“I wish I had never got into it. I wish you had never, never thought of educating me. I wish I worked in the woods like Marty South! I hate genteel life! and I want to be no better than she [sic]!” – Grace Melbury, page 185 of Wordsworth Edition
The work is decidedly a tragedy in its portrayal of romantic love within the confines of 19th century social classes. As befitting an emotionally turbulent story, the novel was eventually turned into a movie of the same name (though the critics seem to like the film, I get the sense that it’s a little dry in the suspense and adventure categories). You can also hear the fully narrated version of the book on LibriVox here. Whether you decide to read, watch, or hear the story, I hope that you find it to be an interesting tale!