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Date Added: 2002-10-31

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By jp on December 7, 2004

The Woodlanders (1887) is one of Thomas Hardy's less well known novels. However, it is a gripping story with all the brash reality and brilliant characterisation of more famous books such as Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd.

For ease of reading this op is divided into a brief outline of the characters and an introduction to the plot - just enough to get you interested, I'm not giving anything away!

The Characters

--- Grace Melbury ---

The educated daughter of George Melbury (a timber merchant). Now feels alienated from her childhood home and friends since her time away at school.

--- Giles Winterborne ---

An employee of Mr Melbury and connected to the Melbury family in various ways. Has been in love with Grace for years.

--- Marty South ---

A poor villager who has to resort to selling her hair to make money. Desperately in love with Giles.

--- Edred Fitzpiers ---

An ambitious young doctor who moves into the woodland village of Little Hintock. Catches the eye of many of the village's young girls.

--- Mrs Charmond ---

The upper class lady of the district, lives on her own in Hintock House and is forced to look to the woodland villagers for company.

A Brief Taste of the Plot.....

The story begins when Grace returns home to Little Hintock from school. Her furture had been decided long before - she was to marry Giles. Her father had arranged this years earlier to make up for an injustice he had caused Giles' father. Grace and Giles had been very happy with this arrangement but Grace finds a growing disatisfaction within herself upon her return. Having seen more of the world she begins to resent the prospect of settling down in such a small place. Her father is torn between the promise he made in the past and the feeling that now he has educated Grace she deserves better in life than Giles can offer.

It is with the begin nings of a sense of ambition that Grace meets Edred Fitzpiers. The young doctor seems to have an air of mystery surrounding him and Grace is not the only girl to fall for his charms.

Meanwhile, things are looking worse for Giles. He is evicted from his home after unintentionally annoying Mrs Charmond, the house's owner. As the young man's finances start to dwindle, George Melbury is becoming convinced that Giles is not suitable for his daughter.

Edred and Giles both begin to court Grace, who has a difficult decision to make. This decision is not helped by the rumours she hears about one of her suitor's possible indiscretions. Is this just malicious gossip or does Grace have friends she never knew of?

So What Next...

Does Grace choose Edred or Giles? What becomes of Marty South's pursuit of Giles? Is anyone unfaithful and if so with who? Does Mrs Charmond carry out her plan to leave for the continent taking one of the villagers with her?

Throughout the book Hardy is posing questions to ensure that you continue reading. The story is unpredictable and the magnificent characterisation makes it certain that you'll want to find out the ending (which comes as a great surprise)

The Woodlanders is a beautifully written tale of social obligation and self discovery, themes which run through so much of Hardy's work. Grace Melbury is almost reminiscent of Michael Henchard (The Mayor of Casterbridge) in that the book takes us through her journey on the way to discover what is important in life. There are also echoes of Hardy's other work (namely Two on A Tower and Jude the Obscure) in the way in which the reader is made to see how restrictive and debilitating social structures can be. This is shown wonderfully here in the oppressive feel of the woodland.

As with many Hardy novels, The Woodlanders is not exactly a 'light' read. It deals with love, betrayal, disappointment, so cial failure and death. However, it is definitley worth the effort and shouldn't be missed.