Written between The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), this novel, with its plot full of melodramatic excess, is neither strict tragedy nor comedy, nor does it have the depth or majesty of Thomas Hardy’s later works. Rather, in its efforts to combine realism and sensationalism, it exhibits affinities with such earlier novels as Desperate Remedies (1871).
The oppressively enclosed society of Hintock, where the woodlanders dwell, is one of contrasting sets of individuals, both rural and urban. Giles Winterborne, Marty South, George Melbury, and the workers are opposed to the exotic Felice Charmond of Hintock Manor and Edgar Fitzpiers, the new doctor. Grace Melbury vacillates between the two groups, finally committing herself, after the death of Giles, presumably to life with Fitzpiers in another area; Hardy leaves the end of the novel rather ambiguous.
The story revolves not only around Grace’s decisions and indecisions but also around those of Fitzpiers, who is trapped in marriage with Grace at the same time he is having an affair with Felice; around those of Mr. Melbury, who cannot make up his mind whether to marry his daughter to the apple grower or to the doctor; and around those of Felice, who cannot settle on one lover.
Most events in the novel take place in dense woods, on forest paths, or in remote huts almost hidden by foliage. Trees and undergrowth are so...
(The entire section is 501 words.)