Under the Greenwood Tree

by Thomas Hardy

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Places Discussed

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Tranter Dewey’s cottage

Tranter Dewey’s cottage. This sociable and comfortable English home of Davy’s father, who works as a tranter, or a carter, is modeled on Hardy’s own long, low cottage with a hipped roof made of thatch. It is here the Mellstock choir readies for caroling on Christmas Eve and also where they discuss their imminent ouster from service at the local church. Later in the spring, they meet here to discuss strategy for a visit to the vicar. Readers watch as the members of the choir fortify themselves for the uncomfortable interview by eating a rasher of bacon and drinking cider.

Vicarage study

Vicarage study. Office of Mr. Maybold, the village vicar, that is the setting for the most comic scene of the novel. The men march to the vicar’s study to request a dignified farewell for their choir. Grandfather William exemplifies the country people’s discomfort with the unfamiliar as he is startled at discovering springs in the vicar’s chair seat. Tranter Dewey in his enthusiasm backs the vicar into a corner, and the scene is capped by a tableau of the other members of the choir, looking in at the door.

The vicar’s study is also the setting for the saddest scene in the story, in which Maybold watches from his window as a boy leaves to deliver his sad letter to Fancy Day, the new schoolmistress. With the vicar looking on, the boy fights briefly with another boy who coincidentally carries a similar letter to the vicar from Fancy. Such crisscrossing of messengers or letters is developed in later Hardy novels to illustrate the workings of fate.

Mellstock Church

Mellstock Church. Village church in which three scenes take place. First, the carolers stop at the church at midnight to fortify themselves with hot mead and bread and cheese. They sit in the gallery and wonder at Davy’s absence. They later find him under a tree by Fancy’s window.

The church’s gallery provides Christmas Day seating for the choir. In this early novel, Hardy practices the authorial bird’s-eye view that he frequently uses in his later works. From this vantage point, the members of the choir watch the clerk chewing tobacco, young women reading, lovers touching fingers through a knothole, and a farm wife counting her money. Later, after the choir is disbanded, readers observe their discomfort as they take seats with their wives in the nave of the church, out of their familiar place, feeling “abashed.” Hardy’s own father and grandfather had played stringed instruments in church and for local festivals, and he intended for his novels to capture this earlier time in the lives of country folk.


Schoolhouse. Village school in which Fancy Day is the new mistress. On Christmas Eve, Davy first sees Fancy, framed in an upper window of the schoolhouse. Although the building and the tree outside it provide the setting for his growing love for Fancy, it is in the open air, when they are riding together in his cart and while he is in the woods gathering hazelnuts, that he announces his love and she accepts.

Geoffrey Day’s house

Geoffrey Day’s house. Woodland cottage that is the home of Fancy’s father. The cottage provides rustic comedy in the introduction of an eccentric wife who has doubles of every piece of furniture and who fusses over the table settings. The cottage is also the backdrop for two tense developments: Mr. Day’s initial rejection of Davy, and rival farmer Shiner’s confident wooing of Fancy under Davy’s nose at the bee-smoking. However, in the final chapter, Fancy dresses here for her wedding...

(This entire section contains 696 words.)

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and then returns here for the outdoor feast under the enormous, ancient tree in her father’s yard. In this venerable tree, hundreds of birds have been born, rabbits have nibbled at its bark, and countless moles and earthworms have crept among its roots. This ageless and vital emblem of fertility now also embraces the wedding guests beneath its branches: oldsters telling stories, the young dancing and singing, the musicians, and Davy and Fancy, the happy newlyweds.


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Carpenter, Richard C. Thomas Hardy. New York: Twayne, 1964. Regards the Mellstock Quire as the first fully developed Wessex folk in Hardy’s novels. Argues that Hardy maintains the novel’s pastoral atmosphere throughout.

Gatrell, Simon. Thomas Hardy and the Proper Study of Mankind. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993. Notes that Under the Greenwood Tree asserts an air of social harmony, though with an odd, discordant voice. Concludes that the marriage of Fancy Day and Dick Dewy symbolizes a renewal of village life.

Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist. New York: Random House, 1971. Considers Under the Greenwood Tree to be a kind of woodland pastoral or novel of rural manners. Concludes that Hardy’s novel, though an idyll, contains many elements that are less than idyllic. Reprinted in Ronald Draper, ed., Thomas Hardy; Three Pastoral Novels: A Casebook. London: Macmillan, 1987.

Toliver, Harold E. “The Dance Under the Greenwood Tree: Hardy’s Bucolics.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 17, no. 1 (June, 1962): 57-68. Discusses the way in which Hardy in Under the Greenwood Tree examines the flaws of the old order, chief symbol of which is the Mellstock Choir. Their clumsiness and crudity, as much as their opposition of new ideas, cause the disintegration of their old ways.

Vigar, Penelope. The Novels of Thomas Hardy: Illusion and Reality. London: The Athlone Press, 1974. Argues that Under the Greenwood Tree is a light, often humorous, pastoral tale, one barely touched by extravagances of coincidence and melodrama and one that seldom strays into the realms of passion and tragedy.


Critical Essays