14 April 2008

Book Review: Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

888 Challenge #8

Under the Greenwood Tree In the church at Mellstock, the music has long been provided by the Mellstock Quire - a motley assortment of local workmen and their instruments. But new vicar Mr. Maybold is a fan of progress, and has given the Quire a firm expiration date. Together with the alderman, Mr. Shinar, he wants to see a brand-new organ installed in the church - and new schoolteacher Fancy Day at the keys. The impending dissolution of the Quire is a particular blow to Reuben Dewy, for whom Quire membership is a family tradition, and he attempts to fight the decision. Reuben’s son Dick, however, is less interested in music than in Fancy. Can a mere tranter’s son hope to win the hand of someone who could do so much better; and can he be sure of her when she’s as capricious as Fancy is?

At little more then 150 pages this is the shortest book I’ve read in ages. Being so short, not much happens - just the demise of the Quire and one uncertain courtship. But it’s still an enjoyable read, and worth it to witness that rare thing - a (mostly) happy ending instead of the usual Hardian doom and gloom. The outside world intrudes very little upon Mellstock, and the villagers are used to following their own ways and customs (as shown by their dislike of Maybold, an ‘nterfering’ kind of churchman who’s always visiting his parishioners rather than letting them alone). As such it’s all very idyllic and well-suited to a tale of romance that ends with a wedding and not a funeral.

Yet the story’s sunlight is not without shadows, and it’s not quite so straightforward as it was in the movie. All the other women are poor and tired, settled into dull if comfortable lives alongside their husbands (well, except for Fancy’s stepmother, who’s ... not quite all there). It makes it impossible not to wonder whether Dick’s plans for the business will succeed, or whether he and Fancy will end up like all the rest. And the last sentence throws up all kinds of questions without any hope of answers. It turns out to be a more thought-provoking read than it at first appears.

Rating: B


Tia Nevitt said...

I'll have to pick this one up. The only Hardy novel I've read is Tess. Have you ever read Return of the Native? I've tried twice, but have not managed to get through it. If you think it's worth the effort, maybe I'll give it another shot.

I really love reading your reviews of the classics!

StuckInABook said...

It's been a while since I read anything Victorian, let alone anything short and Victorian... my Hardy ground to a halt with Tess, half of Jude and half of Casterbridge. Must try again, as he's one of my Dad's favourite authors.

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