Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

October 7, 2011

Plot summary (from the publisher): The arrival of two newcomers in the quiet village of Mellstock arouses a bitter feud and leaves a convoluted love affair in its wake. While the Reverend Maybold creates a furore among the village’s musicians with his decision to abolish the church’s traditional ‘string choir’ and replace it with a modern mechanical organ, the new schoolteacher, Fancy Day, causes an upheaval of a more romantic nature, winning the hearts of three very different men – a local farmer, a church musician and Maybold himself. “Under the Greenwood Tree” follows the ensuing maze of intrigue and passion with gentle humour and sympathy, deftly evoking the richness of village life, yet tinged with melancholy for a rural world that Hardy saw fast disappearing.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Hey, am I just imagining things, or was that a happy ending?!!! Well, even though Dick and Fancy can’t be said to be living in perfect bliss, this is as close as it will ever get with Hardy!
  • I couldn’t help but look at Fancy Day as a precursor to other Hardy heroines. It was interesting to see how this character had some similar features to Tess, Sue Bridehead, Batsheba Everdene, et al. For instance, she was highly aware of her sexuality and used it to get the man she wanted, just as future Hardy women do. I believe this was Hardy’s first published novel, so it was cool to see his prototypical heroine taking shape.

Disliked:

  • Meh, a book about a group of country musicians wasn’t really my cup of tea. Sure, the romance between Dick and Fancy took center stage eventually, but there was quite a bit of description about general life in Mellstock that I found rather dull.
  • The dialect was kind of hard to get through. I understand the desire for authenticity, but it certainly would have been a lot easier to read standard English!
  • The book was so short that the characters barely seemed to be developed at all — not even Dick Dewy and Fancy. Maybe I would have cared about their outcome more if I had known more about them.

Rating:

Thomas Hardy is one of my favorite writers of all time, but Under the Greenwood Tree is clearly not on the same level as his other works of fiction. This book is interesting mostly because it contains hints of the author’s great talent, but as a standalone, it doesn’t have much merit. I give it 2 stars out of 5.

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