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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

Here is Rufus Sewell in the 1997 film of The Woodlanders- he is playing Giles Winterborne

Book Review
The Woodlanders
 by Thomas Hardy
p. 1887

  I should have read The Mayor of Casterbridge (also by Thomas Hardy) first, because it was published in 1886, and The Woodlanders, while serialized in 1886, was published in book form in 1887, and that is the controlling publication date as far as I'm concerned.

Emily Woof as Grace Melbury

 I'm honestly surprised that Hardy serialized his work, it must be a reflection of the market for literature in the UK in the 1880s because his prose lacks many of the characteristics that are the hallmark of serialized 19th century literature.  To whit, there aren't pages and pages of minor characters, location descriptions, digressive minor plots that bear little or no meaning to the central plot, etc.  In fact, despite his setting (almost?) all of his books in the past, it is easy to see that in terms of prose style and plot development Hardy is a thoroughly contemporary writer who simply chooses to place his books in the not-so-distant past.

 For example, The Woodlanders take place in semi-rural England in 1857.  The reader knows this because a major plot point concerns the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, which allowed civil, non religious divorce for the first time.

  The plot of The Woodlanders is a more-or-less standard marriage plot involving Grace Melbury, raised by her yeoman father to think of finer things.  She is married to the educated but deeply flawed Edred Fitzpiers.  In order to do so, Melbury breaks the heart of her neighbor, to whom she has been promised by her father because the father stole HIS wife from the neighbor's father.  Following?  The neighbor in question is Giles Winterborne.

  No sooner are they married (Melbury/Fitzpiers) then Fitzpiers takes up with the wealthy widow Mrs. Charmond.   I couldn't put it better then wikipedia itself:

The novel reflects common Hardyan themes: a rustic, evocative setting, poorly chosen marriage partners, unrequited love, social class mobility, and an unhappy ending to the plot. (WIKIPEDIA)
    I imagine that the readership must have had nostalgia for this time period similar to the way we look nostalgically back at the 50s, 60s and 70s.  At the same time that he minds the near past for his material, Hardy is nothing like the novelists of the 1840s/50s.  Specifically he shows an adept grasp of the plot mechanics and pacing of the Novel that make his work enjoyable to read despite the rural scenery and repetitive plots.

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