The Woodlanders


Advanced Search

(1887)



The story takes place in a small woodland village called Little Hintock, and concerns the efforts of an honest woodsman, Giles Winterborne, to marry his childhood sweetheart, Grace Melbury.



The Woodlanders is a masterpiece and absolute joy to read for two reasons. Not the characters, who rarely rise above their stock roles - the decent, honourable heroine impossibly torn between passion and propriety; the manly, back-to-nature hero, who could come straight from Cold Comfort Farm; the impoverished aristocratic cad; his wealthy lover, the promiscuous bored ex-actress gold digger; the bumbling middle-class trader of lowly origins. What astonishes first is Hardy's plot, related by a weirdly troubling narrator, awesomely intricate in itself, but full of an almost Nabokovian sadism. Situations, desires, hopes are set up and cruelly dashed as the beautiful narrative machinations begin cranking - the man-trap scene had me literally sweating. This irony, however, also has an emotional effect, as it reveals characters trapped by the social, gender and psychological limits the plot symbolises, and forces them into a humanity beyond their stereotype. Mostly, though, this is a novel written by a poet, and in its animation of the sexually charged woods, the lanes, glades, fields, sunsets, dawns, storms, drizzles, winds, breezes, nature is the book's true hero, full of almost supernatural agency. Hardy's gifts of description, his unearthing the unearthly, the uncanny, the inexplicable beneath the surface, are unsurpassed in Victorian fiction; while his non-didactic anger at social injustice is so much more compelling than the more literal Dickens'. One significant point to be noted after reading this novel is that it largely deviates from Tess of the d'Ubervilles, The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge,and even Far From the Madding Crowd. I say Grace stands in poor comparison with Tess, Thomasin, Elizabeth and Bath Sheba. Hardy doesn't bestow upon Grace the bucolic elegance and glory typical of the Old Hintock. One must remember Clym Yeobright of The Return of the Native mightily amazed by the rustic grace as personified by Thomasin. Bath Sheba recaptures it through her union with Gabriel Oak. Tess, a mere vessel of emotions untinctured by experience, is always the daughter of the Hardy soil. With her departure from the Old Hintock as Mrs Fitzpiers Grace takes away the very status expected of a rural child. Luckily, Marty comes as a great consolation who retains the glory that the Old Hintock be as evidenced by her devoted act of showering flowers at the grave of her long lost love Giles Winterborne, another son of the soil.--Submitted by RJ SUNDAR


Fan of this book? Help us introduce it to others by writing a better introduction for it. It's quick and easy, click here.


Recent Forum Posts on The Woodlanders

Giles Winterbourne (The Woodlanders)

I have nearly finished the book, so watch out for spoilers. I wonder why Giles had to be such a saint. When Grace came to him for help, surely he should have told her that he was ill, rather than sleeping under some sort of wood shelter so that she could sleep in his hut. Surely his health was more important than her reputation. He might even have reasonably asked her for some help. As it was he died and stuck her with a bad conscience, which she in no way deserved. Actually, I wonder what disease it was that carried him off. It was a disease he made a partial recovery from but then caused a relapse. It didn't seem to be consumption for a change. Would proper nursing have made a difference? Had Giles not have been evicted from his house, his old family retainer, Robert Creedle would surely have been there to nurse him. Dr Fitzpiers gave Grace a phial of some drug that cured her of the disease, which she had caught by kissing Giles (I think). I suspect this drug is one of Hardy's own alchemical inventions, which existed in Wessex but not in the real world.


Divorce (The Woodlanders)

Poor Giles and Grace, having their hopes raised and then dashed because Grace could not get a divorce after all. Still, it seems a little strange to me that Giles and Grace are the only ones who are expected to behave entirely morally. Suke Dawson has sex outside marriage, first with her boyfriend and then with Fitzpiers. Mrs Charmond and Dr Fitzpiers are having an adulterous affair together. Why can't Giles and Grace? Mr Melbury wouldn't let them for a start, but they are both too moral anyway. I suppose it is partly because Fitzpiers and Mrs Charmond can just decamp when society's gossip gets too much, but Giles and Grace have to stay where they are. All the same, although Grace cannot divorce Fitzpiers because he has not been cruel enough to her, if news got back to Dr Fitzpiers that his wife was having affair with someone, mightn't he divorce her? There would be a lot of shame I suppose on all sides. I believe at the time, divorce required an act of parliament, so it was expensive. Also, the adulterous parties would be named, which would be quite shameful. For Fitzpiers, I suppose it would be even more shameful because he had married beneath him, and he would have to admit to being cuckolded by a humble yeoman; notwithstanding his own bad behaviour. Another stumbling block is that the church did not approve of divorcees re-marrying. Giles and Grace could not have married in church, although I suppose they could be married in a registry office.


Felice Charmond (The Woodlanders)

Felice Charmond amuses me. She's an upper class, vain, shallow, spoilt vamp. I can imagine her being acted by a young Maggie Smith or Vanessa Redgrave. She's a sort of stock, comedic character now, but maybe she wasn't when Hardy started writing her in 1885.


Marty South (The Woodlanders)

Marty South seems a more interesting character than I thought at first. She's very skilful, poorly paid and has to work very hard. Giles was surprised that she coud make wooden spars so well, because it was a skilled craft that she had served no apprenticeship for. She said it only took her a couple of hours to master. Incredibly she was able to make 1500 in a day and half an evening to earn two shillings and three pence. In chapter 19, Fitzpiers notes how skilfully she strips the bark from the upper branches of the felled oak trees. She says the men do not have the patience to strip the smaller branches because their time is more precious. I wondered what she meant. I thought she meant that she did not receive the same rate of pay as the men, so that is why she was allocated the smaller branches. Later in the chapter it was made clear that the work folk were paid by weight of bark they collected rather than by the time worked. So was Marty paid the same amount for a pound of oak bark as the men? Was the reason she had to strip the smaller branches because the men wouldn't let her strip the bigger branches? Marty occasionally earns money in other ways. She reluctantly sells her hair for two sovereigns at the start of the book. Chapter 18 mentions that Fitzpiers had been dissecting Mr South's brain. Did Marty sell her father's brain to Fitzpiers, and if so, how much for? Fitzpiers had previously paid Grammer 10 for the right to remove her brain on her death, but when she became ill, the idea started to weigh upon her mind. Did Fitzpiers pay Marty 10 for her father's brain? Presumably Marty owed him something when she called him out to treat her father, even though his advice was useless, and if anything hastened his death. Maybe he offered to take his brain in lieu of payment. Marty is admirable, but she is a bit mean sometimes. That was a cruel bit of graffitti that she wrote on Giles Winterbourne's wall when he had lost his inheritance.


Property rights in The Woodlanders

Property inheritance in The Woodlanders seems as convoluted as in Wuthering Heights. It seems copy-holders had the right to pass on their cottages to their heirs in perpetuity, although they still had to pay rent to the landlord. Unfortunately, some of the villagers exchanged their copy-hold for some sort of lease-hold, which would expire after the current tenants' grandsons died. After that, control of the cottages would revert to the landlord, who could evict his tenants if he (in this case, she) wants. Apparently the deal was that the landlord paid for the properties to be repaired and in exchange his heir received the properties three generations later. (This seems similar to the situation in Tess with John Durbeyfield). The terms of the lease must have been quite confusing, especially for simple peasant folk. First, for some reason, the tenants were paying rent to Giles Winterbourne rather than the landlord, Mrs Charmond. Second, Giles Winterboune receives rents for several cottages, but the leasehold on all of them expires when Mr South dies. That is odd: you would think that the leasehold would expire on each property individually. Third, I think chapter 15 said that Giles Winterbourne received the rents for these leases because his mother was from the South family, but you would think the properties would be passed down the male line. Why wouldn't Mr South inherit them? I can only think that Mr South's father was the younger brother of Giles' grandfather (which would make Giles Winterbourne and Marty South second cousins). Lastly, the contract gave Winterbourne the option of extending his leasehold, but he did not get around to doing it until too late. That seems like an odd clause. Why wouldn't anyone in his position not want to extend his lease, although there was a cost associated. I have to give some credit to Giles Winterbourne because I doubt I could understand a contract like that. OTOH, it was remiss of him to leave it so late to check the lease.


The Woodlanders - the first bit

I started reading this, because I saw a video clip of someone say it was one of his happier books (this charming, young Arizonan here). It is reputedly Hardy's favourite book. I don't know what to make of it so far. It's not hard to read. I only started it on Thursday night and I am already a quarter of the way through. I don't think it opens as well as Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and I don't think the characters are as well drawn. For instance, John and Joan Durbeyfield from Tess seemed like real people: feckless idiots, both of them, but real people. The characters in this book seem a little bit faded in comparison. There's a Fitzpiers character who is often alluded to, but who has not yet made his entrance. He sounds rather colourful, although not very plausible. The scene of the action is a hamlet called Little Hintock. It seems a limited, little, claustrophobic world. It is easy to see why anyone who has seen a bit of the world would not want to be stuck there. Class-consciousness, money-consciousness, and trying to make a good marriage in terms of love and money are familar 19th century themes. Characters from at least four different social strata are included in the story. Mrs Charmond is gentry, rich enough to live in a grand manor house and go touring around Europe. Mr Melbury is a timber merchant, who owing to some wise investments is also relatively rich, but of lower social standing than Mrs Charmond. Giles Winterbourne is a yeoman, who deals mainly in cider and apple trees. He is not entirely poor, but neither is he rich. Then there is Marty South, who is a peasant. The thing I don't quite buy is the premise that Mr Melbury has sworn to himself to see his daughter marry Giles Winterbourne to make amends for stealing Winterbourne's father's intended bride. That seems a rather unusual sentiment. It seems strange that his daughter is prepared to go along with the plan, although it is clear she does not want to. In other Victorian literature, women did not have much power but no one tried to force them to accept marriage proposals they did not want. Economic matters: Mr Melbury has invested in turnpikes. These are toll roads you have to pay to travel down. They were obviously a good investment. Marty South is paid eighteen pence for every thousand wooden spars that she makes. She can make 1500 working all day and half the night, earning two shillings and three pence. The peruquier offers her two gold sovereigns (which I am pretty sure is 2) for her hair so that Mrs Charmond can have a new wig. That is about eighteen days' pay. Mr Melbury has been paying 100 a year to have his daughter, Grace, educated at a posh school. The inheritance rights on the cottages are a bit unusual, although similar to the situation described with Tess's parents. Marty South's father is a copy-holder, which means he cannot be evicted from his cottage as long as he lives. While he lives, he pays rent to Giles Winterbourne, but when Mr South dies, ownership of the cottage reverts to Mrs Charmond.


the woodlanders.

hi i havent finished the book as yet but i am very interested in the characters and have taken them quiet to heart at the moment.what inriguing characters of the time.i have never seen a heroine as yet in hardys books myself.all i can see are people submerged in there own social ways and manners and morals etc.certainly marty south sounds like an interesting and solid hard worker,but that is her position in life and i dont think she has the means of her character to change that about her.grace is far to hesitant and is absolutely mixed in her feelings and morals and fancies about herself ,her father,her wants and needs and doesnt appear to know what she truly wants as she keeps changing her mind.if she had been born with an active open disposition and knew her own mind on the question of love and had loved fitzpiers she should have gone to felcites and had it be known she knew what was up and also she would have either left fitzpiers and like it or lump it live with giles and get on with it,sod the neighbours and lived some quality existence even for a short time after all felicite charmond did.she didnt appear to have a mind as to who she loved though and took to much notice of her poor father and his worn out feelings in the matter,such where the times maybe.?can not understand what is being a heroine in this matter ?there are none,the story is made up of characters who are tied to there notions and set in some ways and also they just cannot decide what they want.also if marty south was so much in love with giles why did she not at least tell him?unless you mean that on finding giles loved grace she kept quiete and lived in self denial of her feelings for fear it wiuld worry poor giles into marrying her.i believe they all suffered,perhaps marty a little less of the neurotic kind as the others.but no heroes here i dont think it was wwritten with that in mind.


No Subject

hardy's handling of charecters in this novel is indeed of great merit and deserve recognition


No Subject

From the very beginning it is to be seen clearly that GRACE MELBURY is not the "heroine" of the novel, though she is the female protagonist of the novel.She is not the woman of heroic achievements and qualities like MARTY SOUTH- a lonely maid.
At the very initial stages when Grace is being introduced by Hardy in "THE WOODLANDERS", we see her dwindling between two poles, two world, two choices-whether to accept Giles or not. She never openly professed her true love for Giles Winterbourne. before her marriage with Dr. Fitzpiers.
After the multifarious sacrifices of Giles, her affections naturally turn to him but only for a short period of eight months. When her husband comes back and exhibits his feelings of regret in front of her, she turns to him. Grace's father Melbury thinks:
" But let her bear in mind that the woman walks and laughs somewhere at this very moment whose neck he'll be coling next year as he does hers to-night; and as he did Felice Charmond last year, and Suke Damson's the year afore!...."
Only Marty is a genuine "heroine" with a profound courage and a superior calibre. As the play ends:
" Now, my own, own love,....If ever I forget your name let me forget home and heaven!....But no, no, my love, I never can forget'ee for you was a good man, and did good things!"


No Subject

From the very beginning it is to be seen clearly that GRACE MELBURY is not the "heroine" of the novel, though she is the female protagonist of the novel.She is not the woman of heroic achievements and qualities like MARTY SOUTH- a lonely maid.
At the very initial stages when Grace is being introduced by Hardy in "THE WOODLANDERS", we see her dwindling between two poles, two world, two choices-whether to accept Giles or not. She never openly professed her true love for Giles Winterbourne. before her marriage with Dr. Fitzpiers.
After the multifarious sacrifices of Giles, her affections naturally turn to him but only for a short period of eight months. When her husband comes back and exhibits his feelings of regret in front of her, she turns to him. Grace's father Melbury thinks:
" But let her bear in mind that the woman walks and laughs somewhere at this very moment whose neck he'll be coling next year as he does hers to-night; and as he did Felice Charmond last year, and Suke Damson's the year afore!...."
Only Marty is a genuine "heroine" with a profound courage and a superior calibre. As the play ends:
" Now, my own, own love,....If ever I forget your name let me forget home and heaven!....But no, no, my love, I never can forget'ee for you was a good man, and did good things!"


Post a New Comment/Question on The Woodlanders





Related links for Thomas Hardy

Here is where you find links to related content on this site or other sites, possibly including full books or essays about Thomas Hardy written by other authors featured on this site.




Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Email:
Sonnet-a-Day Newsletter
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.
Email: