Top critical review
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An exploration of social status and marriage
on 12 March 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.