Study Guide

The Woodlanders

by Thomas Hardy

The Woodlanders Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The timber merchant George Melbury spares no expense in educating his only daughter, Grace. She was away from home for one year, and he is eagerly awaiting her return. Giles Winterborne, a traveling farmer and apple grower, also looks forward to Grace’s homecoming. Mr. Melbury wronged Giles’s father many years before; to atone for this, he half promises Giles that he should have Grace for his wife.

When Grace returns, it is immediately evident that she is much too cultured and refined for the ways of a simple farmer. However, Grace knows that her father promised her to Giles, and she means to go through with it even though she shrinks a little from his plainness. Mr. Melbury is the most concerned. He is an honorable man and likes Giles, but he loves his only child above everything else. He cannot bear to see her throw herself away when she can marry better.

Giles agrees that he is not worthy of Grace, and so the three vacillate, no one wanting to make a decision. Then through a series of unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances, Giles loses the houses that ensured his livelihood. His loss decides the matter. Although Mr. Melbury can easily support them both, it is unthinkable that such a lady as Grace should be tied to a man without a steady income. However, when her father tells her that she must forget Giles, Grace finds herself for the first time thinking of her would-be lover with real affection.

The local doctor, Edgar Fitzpiers, is the descendant of a formerly fine family and in his own right a brilliant and charming man. The local folk thinks he consorts with the devil, for he performs many unusual experiments. From the first time that Edgar sees Grace, he is enchanted with her beauty and her bearing. At first, he thinks she must be the lady of the manor, Mrs. Charmond, for he cannot believe that the daughter of a merchant can be so well-educated and charming. Before long, the two young people meet, and Edgar asks Grace’s father for her hand. Mr. Melbury gladly gives his permission, for Edgar is far above Grace in position. Despite his sorrow at disappointing Giles and at failing to keep his pledge, Mr. Melbury encourages Grace to accept Edgar. She always obeys her father in all things, so she accepts Edgar even as she realizes that she is growing fonder of Giles by the day.

When the young couple return from a long honeymoon, they settle in a newly decorated wing of her father’s house. Edgar continues his practice. It grows alarmingly smaller, however, for the country folk who once looked up to him now consider him one of their own. He decides that perhaps he should accept a practice in a neighboring town.

Before he can make a final decision on this question, Mrs. Felice Charmond enters the picture. The lady of the manor is well known for her many love affairs and for her questionable reputation. When she has a slight accident and sends for Edgar, he is attracted to her immediately. The few scratches she suffers...

(The entire section is 1220 words.)