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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My new favourite Hardy
The other Hardy novels I've read, Return of the Native and Tess of the d'Urbervilles, centre around exotic, sensual women who stand out like a sore thumb in their community. Grace Melbury is no such heroine - she's more real. Instead of heaping superlatives on her, Hardy tells us early on that she looks completely unremarkable and that "what people therefore saw of her...
Published on 29 July 2008 by Morena

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An exploration of social status and marriage
In 'The Woodlanders', Hardy explores the tensions between the rural working class and the educated middle class through the character of Grace Melbury, the local timber merchant's daughter. The story follows Grace's struggles to fit into a society where she is rejected by the class into which she has been educated, on account of her lowly birth. This is symbolised by...
Published on 12 Mar 2001 by amy.cox@comet.co.uk


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My new favourite Hardy, 29 July 2008
By 
Morena - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
The other Hardy novels I've read, Return of the Native and Tess of the d'Urbervilles, centre around exotic, sensual women who stand out like a sore thumb in their community. Grace Melbury is no such heroine - she's more real. Instead of heaping superlatives on her, Hardy tells us early on that she looks completely unremarkable and that "what people therefore saw of her in a cursory view was very little; in truth, mainly something that was not she". She's a cautious, intelligent but sometimes naive girl, who's been alienated from her rustic roots through the faraway education and travels that her proud father insisted upon for his only, adored child. There's nothing innately special about Grace, but she bears her unwanted position gracefully. Then suddenly, she finds herself in a situation where resignation and grace are not enough. She takes responsibility for her actions, rebels and finds her passions. And then, in the end, she makes the best of her lot in an unexpected way. She's no idol, but a woman we can sympathise with, who finds she has to make tough choices and sacrifices as she grows up.

Typically, there is no neat happy ending. The book is filled with images of unilateral taking and longing. Each character aspires to someone 'superior'. Felice Charmond, the lady of the manor at the top of the scale, doesn't even know what she wants, as long as it will stave off her boredom for a few hours. She lives a rootless, vain life, involving herself in Little Hintock only to exploit it. Nobody has much to call their own - it's life for rent. Marty's hair, the life-hold cottages which must revert back to Mrs. Charmond, even the villager's own dying bodies which Fitzpiers tries to buy for scientific experiments. For me, it underlined the unfair lot of those who are tied to the land and held in contempt by their so-called betters. Considering the ill effects of Grace's 'over-education', Mrs. Charmond's ennui and Fitzpier's dissatisfaction and dilletantism in abstract philiosophy, I think Hardy felt that closeness to nature and a simple, focused life were the best way to happiness and integrity.

I also found The Woodlanders quite daring in its relative openness about sex and divorce. However, the more dramatic, emotional parts of the novel only really kick in after half-way through. I would still reccommend sticking with it in the slow first half, and absorbing the overlooked sadness of Marty South and the hapless, noble Giles, as well as the woodland atmosphere.

The witty side of this book needs to be spoken up for, too. It really isn't a misery-fest - several times I laughed, and not just in compartmentalised "rustic" parts, either. Unlike perhaps in Return of the Native, the main characters are not godly creatures living out their destiny on a superior plane, but are gently poked fun at every now and again. Giles' party and the man-trap incident spring to mind.

It is also beautifully written and I found it a little more immediately accessible than 'Native' and 'Tess'. It's not too long either, at 305 pages. I would definitely recommend it for somebody wishing to try Hardy out - after all, it was his own favourite!
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For lovers of words and rural England, 7 Mar 2007
This was the first Hardy novel I read - I chose it after hearing it was his favourite.

An enthralling account of the countryside of 1880's Dorset; Hardy's descriptions - which clearly show his love for the area - have stayed with me. It focuses on a tiny community reliant on the surrounding New Forest, into which comes a young doctor. Soon discontented with the "backwardness" of the woodlanders' lives, he becomes involved in a love triangle with tragic consequences.

Any lover of the English countryside, romantic fiction or those with a passion for words, will enjoy this book, particularly if you enjoy being prompted to consider arguments such as whether education makes us more or less happy and who knows better - the modern urbanites or the settled countryfolk.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An exploration of social status and marriage, 12 Mar 2001
In 'The Woodlanders', Hardy explores the tensions between the rural working class and the educated middle class through the character of Grace Melbury, the local timber merchant's daughter. The story follows Grace's struggles to fit into a society where she is rejected by the class into which she has been educated, on account of her lowly birth. This is symbolised by her vacillations between her two suitors, the educated and intelligent Dr. Edred Fitzpiers and the simple and kind-hearted Giles Winterborne.
The woodland setting which dominates the lives of the characters is beautifully evoked by Hardy's richly detailed prose, and Hardy's sympathies clearly lie with the rural characters, in contrast with the middle classes characters of Fitzpiers and Mrs. Charmond who are often rather one-dimensional.
Grace herself is not a compelling heroine, lacking emotional depth at times and the story misses the power and emotional insight of some of Hardy's other works which tackle similar issues. However, I would still recommend it as a balanced and involving story of the interwoven lives of a remote rural community of the kind that Hardy understands as well as any other English writer.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars my favourite Hardy!, 12 Aug 2007
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This never gets rated as one of Hardy's 'great' novels (Tess, Jude, Native, Crowd) but it's always been my favourite. Something about the characters and their interactions just speaks to me.

As it is Hardy, expect melodrama, coicidences, and gut-wrenching emotions, but unlike so many books written today this is packed full of real characters, real emotion and a real plot.

If you've never read Hardy before, this probably isn't an ideal place to start (try Tess, or for a lighter Hardy Far from the Madding Crowd), but then come back to this. I have read and re-read repeatedly and still cry - a sign of a superlative writer and story-teller.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for Hardy fans - and everyone else!, 14 April 2001
By A Customer
Why do there seem to be so many underrated novels? Perhaps in this case it is because Hardy has written so many great novels. In my opinion, "The Woodlaners," "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" and "Far from the Madding Crowd" are is chef-d'oeuvres.
Although the genesis of the novel may seem quite difficult, it soon becomes an absolute pleasure to read. In portraying the life Grace Melbury and Giles utter devotion for her Hardy surely produces a novel of tragic proportions - even worth of the tragedy of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." Hardy succeeds in creating characters whom we loathe and whom we love by weaving a complex mood where passion, money , ambition and love are principal themes. His descriptive power is hypnotic and he is surely one of the best writers ever.
"The Woodlanders" was the first Thomas Hardy that I read and I would recommend it highly to anyone who has not read Hardy before.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's My Favorite Hardy Too!, 21 Oct 2007
Thomas Hardy is my favorite prose writer and The Woodlanders is my favorite of his novels. No one writes like Thomas Hardy. The Woodlanders is special-beautifully written and classic. I highly recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Society in 19th Century Rural Dorset, 22 May 2008
By 
C. Calisgil "Leyla" (Somerset, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I have to agree with other reviewers - this, too, is my favourite Hardy novel. Although Thomas Hardy's stories are always fatalistic, he gives us a wonderful insight into 19th Century rural life and, as I love Dorset, I can really immerse myself into his tales. Although primarily a love story, The Woodlanders also deals with the subject of educating women to a high level; particularly educating them in order to obtain a better chance of marrying 'well'. As Hardy observes, this can lead to estrangement from the lifestyle of a girl's childhood and a difficulty in understanding where she now belongs. Although the social climate has changed a lot since this novel was first published in 1887, love and all its idiosyncrasies remain the same. And many of Hardy's observations still hold true today. eg., speaking of one of the main characters in the novel (Grace), he says: 'Nothing ever had brought home to her with such force as this death how little acquirements and culture weigh beside sterling personal character." As always, a most enjoyable and very thought provoking novel.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best, 27 Feb 2008
Hardy must rate as one of the best authors that can effortlessly project the life and times through every part of his book, allowing you to feel you know the place intimately, breath the atmosphere and understand the social structure of the untouched and unchanged Victorian country folk he depicts. This is one of his best stories that will have you experiencing many different feelings right through to tears. Excellent and in my top ten reads of all time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tragic fate, 21 Dec 2009
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This, I think, is my favourite Hardy novel. While it doesn't have the depth of the later books such as Return of the Native or Jude the Obscure, something about the sadness of all these lives really appeals to me.

Hardy is a masterful plotter and here, especially, we can see the strands winding together to create an organic whole which puts some contemporary writers who are known for their plots to shame.

But the characters, too, are utterly alive: Grace who has been educated beyond her station in life; Marti who loves a man who will never love her; Giles whose life takes a downward turn through no fault of his own, and Dr Fitzpiers, the outsider who upsets the rural life of Sherborne.

Hardy is never an upbeat read, but for a glorious wallow in tragedy and fate he really can't be beaten.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Hardy to start, 29 April 2001
By A Customer
There are several writers like Hardy, whose hard, yet ultimately humane, eye is not for everyone. They last, but they don't pick up too many honours in their own lifetimes and they never have the mass popularity of either Dickens or Austin. Both those geniuses also had the knack of appealing to a broad audience without frightening it. Hardy frightens you. He certainly discomforts you and refuses to let you suck your thumb. The only element of escapism in him, really, is the scenery itself! And that's an escape we all make, given the chance, from time to time. He keeps his eye on the subject. He tells you things you might not otherwise want to know and he tells a powerful version of the truth. All 'lads' should read Hardy so that they know what a realistic, 'hard-edged' writer is really like. Hardy despaired after the failure of Jude and happily for us went back to writing poetry, but, like George Meredith or George Gissing or today's DeLillo or Moorcock, Hardy is just too unsentimental for the average reader. The opposite of sentimentality is not swagger and aggression or a catalogue of terrors, but this -- a good-hearted, wise man with a wonderful eye who really can tell the wood from the trees! And to push the comparison harder than Hardy would ever have done, if you don't know Hardy, this is a very smooth entry into the dark, sometimes dramatically bright, forest that is Hardy's genius and a place where all lovers can come. And where they will always learn something to their advantage.
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