Friday, December 06, 2013
The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy (1887)
For heaven's sake, how could you not just love Thomas Hardy to pieces. Hardy's The Woodlanders (1887) is my next selection from Harold Bloom's Western Canon list, and while I had to get myself over a hump of deciding to start it (why is it so hard to get started on a 19th century novel?), once I did I couldn't stop.
This is the story of the tragic romance of Giles Winterborne and Grace Melbury. They grew up together in the small village of Little Hintock and for a complicated but good-intentioned reason, Grace's father, one of the most well-to-do in the village, had planned for the two of them to marry, even though Giles was a little rough around the edges. After sending Grace away to school and seeing how refined and urban she seemed when she got home, however, Mr. Melbury decides she shouldn't marry beneath her and instead plots for her to marry the new doctor in town, Edred Fitzpiers, a learned man with a good name and not that much money of his own. Grace is sweet and smart, but also very obedient, and does just what her father says. Unfortunately, Fitzpiers is not that constant of a husband and starts an affair with a wealthy widow, Mrs. Charmond, that tears his young household apart.
Like any good tragedy, there are plenty of misunderstandings, missed opportunities, misinterpretations, and ultimately, death. There is also quite a bit of humor, some amazing descriptions of the woods and their rustic inhabitants, and a surprising amount of candid talk about sex and adultery. This one is less well-known than Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd or Tess of the D'Ubrervilles, but it is a rewarding and entertaining read and worth a second look.
[Read the whole thing for free as an e-book here. Yay for the public domain!]