Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Wessex. Fictional region of England in which Thomas Hardy set most of his major novels. It is situated east of the Cornish coast, between the River Thames and the English Channel. At the time in which this story is set it is still very much a rural setting.

Little Hintock

Little Hintock. Wessex village so closely intertwined with the forest surrounding it that a traveler from a nearby town cannot locate it without the help of locals. In some spots the foliage is so dense that it obscures the road to the village, cutting it off from the outside world. The majority of Little Hintock’s residents live in harmony with their natural setting. Many cut timber in the forests owned by George Melbury or help Giles Winterbourne press cider in the apple orchards. These are trades that villagers have plied for centuries, and Hardy depicts the village as largely untouched by the present and the many changes transforming the English countryside in the nineteenth century. The townspeople still follow many of the old customs and traditions, including a primitive Midsummer’s Eve ritual, in which the unmarried village women try to use enchantments to conjure glimpses of their future husbands.

The village’s isolation contributes to its simple, tranquil character. Little Hintock is what Hardy calls a sequestered spot “outside the gates of the world” where meditation is more common than action, and listlessness more common than meditation. However, even so harmonious a setting is not without its problems. The village is a place where grand and even Sophoclean dramas unfold because of the concentrated passions and...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Boumelha, Penny. Thomas Hardy and Women: Sexual Ideology and Narrative Form. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1982. Comparison of contemporary notions of women with Hardy’s view. Includes a chapter on The Woodlanders, which notes elements of disparate genres and treats the novel’s self-consciousness and its echoes of pastoral elegy. Also points out the realistic treatment of sex and marriage.

Brooks, Jean R. Thomas Hardy: The Poetic Structure. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1971. Includes a chapter on The Woodlanders, which emphasizes the organic connection between plot and place. Stresses social hierarchies in comparison with natural environment. Lucid explication of characters and themes and of the interconnections of natural, human, and cosmic themes.

Kramer, Dale, and Nancy Marck, eds. Critical Essays on Thomas Hardy: The Novels. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. Helpful overview. Includes a chapter on The Woodlanders that synthesizes earlier criticism and analyzes divisions in characters that reflect Hardy’s conflicts. Stresses a strand of “secret humor” that keeps the novel realistic.

Moore, Kevin Z. The Descent of the Imagination: Postromantic Culture in the Later Novels of Thomas Hardy. New York: New York University Press, 1990. Approaches Hardy’s relationship to and departure from Romanticism. Concludes that The Woodlanders represents William Wordsworth’s crossroads of British culture, where choices are forced between the culturally antithetical railway and the woodland.

Sumner, Rosemary. Thomas Hardy: Psychological Novelist. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981. Analyzes the character of Grace Melbury as a divided woman, an educated woman in a static village. Points out that Hardy drew Grace with clinical precision. Also treats the “modern” elements of The Woodlanders and notes that surface conflicts reflect deeper divisions.