Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Woodlanders

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

The real star of The Woodlanders is, not surprisingly, the woods. The environment shapes the people who live within. Those who stray from its bounds or enter from the outside are in trouble. The book starts with an introduction to Marty South, the woman most attuned to nature in the novel. She stands on the periphery for most of the story, acting as a deux ex machina in a few situations. She is involved in the love quadrangle that is at the center of Hardy's novel.
The people in the quadrangle are: Grace Melbury, a native of Hintook who's left to gain a great education, Giles Winterbourne, a native of Hintook who is in sync with nature and the consummate good guy, Dr. Edred FitzPiers, a physician who moves to Hintook and the aforementioned Marty South. Grace's father drives the action, making dumb decision after dumb decision. Grace and Giles are destined to be married. They like each other and Grace's dad owes Giles's dead dad for messing with his girl in olden days. Both Grace and her father are seduced by FitzPiers and his powerful family name. They bail on poor Giles and Grace marries Edred. Lo and behold he turns out to be a jerk and cheats on her with the local party girl Sook Damson, and then with the woman who runs Hintook, Felice Charmand.
Well this crushes Grace and her father. He tries to get a divorce for his daughter who tries to rehookup with Giles. The divorce doesn't go through and she's stuck with an absent FitzPiers. she runs away to Giles. He's so honorable that he gives up his little hut and sleeps outside, even though he's very sick. One day he doesn't come to the house and Grace finds him dying. He dies despite the called in FitzPiers's efforts. Once again Grace is very sad.
Grace and Marty South, who's kind of had a working relationship with Giles, go to his grave every week. FitzPiers tries to get back with Grace and slowly succeeds. One night when they're supposed to meet they go on a walk and get far from town. They decide to stay in another small town together and they make up. Poor Marty waits forever for Grace to meet her to go to Giles's grave, but Grave doesn't show. Finally, Giles is Marty's.
Hardy's description of the woods are beautiful and haunting. They scare the hell out of Marty's dad, who dies of a hysterical fright of the tree outside his window. People get lost in the woods multiple times and life seems to follow the rhythm of the trees. Marty is the best and truest person in the book, it's a shame Giles couldn't get over the overrated Grace and see Marty for all her positive attributes.

Rating 9/10: One of the best endings to any book I've ever read. The action with the failed mantrap attempt and the rejoining of Grace and FitzPiers distract us from what's going on in Hintook. The novel ends with Marty, stood up by Grace, with a basket of flowers for her love, Giles. The transition from the joy of Grace and FitzPiers, who's a big punk ass, to the despondent yet jubilant Marty. Finally Giles is hers and hers alone.

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