I embarked upon my fourth Hardy novel in the wake of another viewing of the wonderful Far from the Madding Crowd, hoping there might be a little happiness in it for its characters – praying for more Bathsheba than Tess.
The Woodlanders is marvellously Hardy-esque and in that there is something comfortable and familiar. There is the usual pastoral setting, the same mixed feelings towards the protagonists (come on Grace, I’m looking at you), and there was the same fear that the resolution could go either way.
Grace Melbury is a heroine to simultaneously loathe and support. She is too easily swayed and too willing to listen to her father, even when she is aware of his flaws and the ignorance in what he says. She does have her moments though, and towards the end she even begins to briefly come into her own, the end notwithstanding.
In the land of the woodlanders, how apt it is that Grace’s Father, Mr Melbury, is a timber dealer set on cutting down and profiting from the rural. There can be no doubt that he wants the best for his daughter, but to continually elevate her above everyone else in her environment is what ultimately leads to her woes.
Is it wrong, then, that I actually rooted for pragmatic and pitiful Marty South to have Giles Winterborne right from the start? They were a well-matched pair, as Grace eventually realises, but Hardy, as usual, does not always give us what we want, and in that there is undoubtedly a lesson.
“He Looked and smelt like Autumn’s very brother, his face being sunburnt to wheat-colour, his eyes blue as corn-flowers, his sleeves and leggings dyed with fruit-stains, his hands clammy with the sweet juice of apples, his hat sprinkled with pips, and everywhere about him the sweet atmosphere of cider which at its first return each season has such an indescribable fascination for those who have been born and bred among the orchards.”