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The Bard

The Woodlanders

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I've just finished reading The Woodlanders , which I hadn't re-read since the ice age, and I was somewhat surprised at how ponderous I found Hardy's style in the novel. Very long-winded, more circumlocutions than you can shake a stick at! They struck me as particularly inappropriate given the elemental nature of much that Hardy is writing about. However, I was interested to come across the passages concerning the 1857 Divorce and Matrimonial Act, on which, of course the last part of the plot hinges. I had forgotten all about that, but shouldn't have since I use extracts from the Act as a contextual document in my edition of Pinero's The Second Mrs Tanqueray which I've mentioned in another thread. The Act is but background for the play, but quite crucial for Hardy's novel.

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I read The Woodlanders when I was a boy and was most impressed. I think it was my first Hardy novel and I can still remember being much moved by the predicament of Giles Winterbourne.

 

Hardy's style has been called 'clod-hopping' and when, within the last 10 years I've been obliged to read him, I've found the style irritatingly long-winded and pedantic. Something to do with Hardy's pride in being a self-taught literate no doubt.

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I started reading this book this afternoon after a recommendation to do so by my daughter. It is many years since I read a novel by Thomas Hardy and as I had already downloaded the novel to my Kindle I thought that I might as well give it ago. Have no idea whatsoever what the book is about but having read the first couple of chapters I am sure that I am going to enjoy. Love the descriptions of the setting and language used.

 

I have not read the two previous comments as I do not wish to spoil the book in any way. As it is a fairly long novel and as from past experience I find that novels by Thomas Hardy are often pretty involved I will probably make comments as I go along as I have done with other novels.

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I am about a quarter of the way through this book and loving it. The language used is just lovely. At times I have even bored RG stiff by reading out short passages of the book to make him marvel along with me at the beautiful descriptions, observations made and charming turns of phrase used.

 

The story so far seems to be a fairly gentle one when compared with other novels that I have read by Thomas Hardy. No great waves of misery so far just a charming picture of country life. The main story surrounds the timber merchant, a Mr Melbury, and his daughter Grace who he has had educated far beyond the stages of those around her. She has now returned from years at school and traveling to the small country village of her birth. Her father has promised a local apple tree farmer, Giles Winterbourne, that he may marry Grace to put right an old wrong that he feels he inflicted on the father of Giles. However, upon the return of Grace he feels that the education he has provided for his daughter will be wasted on such a man!

 

One thing I love about books by writers such as Hardy, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, Elizabeth Gaskel and many others is the ability they had to enter into the minds of their characters. The descriptions of the thought processes that takes place in the minds of characters such as Mr Melbury are truly wonderful to read. Such characters seem almost to convince themselevs that black is white just by little words dropped here and odd occurances that nobody but themselves have even noted! I have no real idea where this story is going or even if there is a story of any great sort but that does not really seem to matter. I am just loving the language used and the character development portrayed.

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The more I read of this book the more and more Giles Winterbourne reminds me of Gabriel Oak, one of my favourite literary characters of all time. He is the same type of good man as Gabriel. In this day and age he would probably be described as "the strong silent type!"

 

In this book, as in many that I have read either set in or written in the same era, I am always amazed how one or two small seemingly unimportant incidents can change the course of a story completely. This seems to be a theme that runs through many similar books. For instance, in Middlemarch Dr Lydgate made an unplanned visit on Romamund at the request of another the result of which was a proposal of marriage. Before the visit Dr Lydgate had no intention of marrying for some time. The marriage changed his life for ever in many unforseen ways and he was forced to live a very different life to that he had planned for himself. In the woodlanders a few small occurances have changed Giles life completely much as the loss of his sheep changed the course of the life of Gabriel Oak. Although in some ways the reader could almost predict these happenings the fact that they are so transparant does not detract from the story in any way.

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I am a good three quarters of the way through this book and am still thoroughly enjoying it. Unlike most books there has not really been any part of the book which I have felt I needed to plod through to get on with the story. It has held my attention almost completely all the way through. With most books, even if for just a short time, I seem to hit a period of less interest than the rest of the book. A book without dips of this sort is rare and so far I would have to say that The Woodlanders is one of those rarities.

 

As the book has progressed I have noticed many similarities with Far From The Madding Crowd and although I would not wish to give the story away at the moment I would have to say that it seems like a gentler version of the more well known novel. Although it is a story in its'own right many similar themes run through both books.

 

Although I am hoping for a happy finish to this story I have no real idea where the story will take me. I suspect that the characters have more twists and turns to cope with before I reach the end.

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On a thread in another place similarities in The Archers' story lines to Hardy novels was being proposed and developed, and someone posted a spoiler to an occurrence in The Woodlanders. I remonstrated, saying I was hoping to read it soon, and the response I got was that we (that particular group) were probably too old to read The Woodlanders for the first time, no longer being 17yr old girls.

Well, I can't deny I'm beyond that age, but too old for The Woodlanders? What do you think?

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On a thread in another place similarities in The Archers' story lines to Hardy novels was being proposed and developed, and someone posted a spoiler to an occurrence in The Woodlanders. I remonstrated, saying I was hoping to read it soon, and the response I got was that we (that particular group) were probably too old to read The Woodlanders for the first time, no longer being 17yr old girls.

Well, I can't deny I'm beyond that age, but too old for The Woodlanders? What do you think?

 

 Some may not enjoy the style or storyline but to use age suitability and virtually label a classic YA seems very strange to me.  I would be interested to hear the justification.

 

Hardy novels, or indeed any classics, can be read at any time of life and can be appreciated or enjoyed for what they illustrate of the times, including their particular writing style. They need to be read within the perspective of the time they were written and sometimes in recognition of the author's social message, such as Dickens.  I get very frustrated about a lack of understanding of the need to read classics from this point of view. To look at them with a modern perspective so often brings unfair criticism, unless they are doing some kind of assessment or evaluation using comparative criteria.

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Grasshopper I totally agree with you and not just about Hardy's novels or the classics in general. I have been known to read YA literature in recent years even though I am in my fifties. Our daughter, who teaches English, has often lent me either books she has studied in the past or books she has been teaching just because they are good books no matter what age they are aimd at. I have always read them, as with all literature, with an open mind. I approached The Woodlanders in the same way.

 

Having now finished the novel I would have to say that it was more entertaining than anything. The end of the book bore no similarities to Far From The Madding Crowd and although The Woodlanders was an enjoyable read I can understand why the more well known novel occupies its' place. Compared with other Hardy novels that I have read in the past I would suggest that this novel has slightly less depth. Giles Winterbourne was probably my favourite character although Marty South who played a much smaller role within the novel than Grace Melbury proved to be the stronger of the two women. In the grand scheme of things probably not one of Hardy's strongest stories but an enjoyable read.

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I would be interested to hear the justification.

I shan't ask for one - the actual thread is too lighthearted to attempt serious literary criticism.

I have re-visited several books in later life that I had read in my youth and have, naturally, had a different perspective on them. Sometimes reading with a more worldly adult eye spoils the memory of a book originally enjoyed in romantic adolescence. Maybe that has been her experience.

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I have re-read many books first read in my teens, especially classics, most of which I feel that I have got more out of as an older reader then as a younger one simply because I am sure that many aspects of the books past me by as a younger reader. However I re-read Lucky Jim by kingsley Amis recently which I first read in my teens and have to admit to being a bit disappointed. When I read it as a teenager I found it to be a sophisticated, funny book. However when I re-read I thought it was just rather dated.

 

As to The Woodlanders I do not feel that it matters what age the reader is. As Grasshopper has said, it is a classic and must be read as a classic. I do not feel that I would have enjoyed it any more if I had read it as a teenager than I have reading it in my fifties.

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I shan't ask for one - the actual thread is too lighthearted to attempt serious literary criticism.

I have re-visited several books in later life that I had read in my youth and have, naturally, had a different perspective on them. Sometimes reading with a more worldly adult eye spoils the memory of a book originally enjoyed in romantic adolescence. Maybe that has been her experience.

 

I didn't realise it was in a lighthearted context, meg, and can understand that now. 

 

 

I have re-read many books first read in my teens, especially classics, most of which I feel that I have got more out of as an older reader then as a younger one simply because I am sure that many aspects of the books past me by as a younger reader. However I re-read Lucky Jim by kingsley Amis recently which I first read in my teens and have to admit to being a bit disappointed. When I read it as a teenager I found it to be a sophisticated, funny book. However when I re-read I thought it was just rather dated.

 

 

I agree with you both, meg and cp, you do change your perspective when reading in later life and as meg puts so perfectly  "with a more adult worldly eye". I shall store that up for future use. ;)   

 

It is good to do so though because as cp said you often get more of interest from the book and also more insight into the characters and their interrelationships.  I suspect this is why I re-read some classics so often as they are long and complex and have multiple characters and threads in each story. Always seems there is  more to explore and discover.  BGO has weaned me away to newer and more modern books and I have certainly enjoyed most of them, but there are not so many that I will read  again.  The difference between a single film and a six part series, perhaps?

 

Slightly off topic I know, meg, but  you mentioned reading Mary Webb again and I wondered if you ever saw that 1957 BBC production of Precious Bane with a much younger and good looking  Patrick Troughton as Gideon Sarn?  He was most impressive at the time. :D

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Slightly off topic I know, meg, but  you mentioned reading Mary Webb again and I wondered if you ever saw that 1957 BBC production of Precious Bane with a much younger and good looking  Patrick Troughton as Gideon Sarn?  He was most impressive at the time. :D

No I didn't see that series. It would have been at least another three or four years before that would appeal to me, and even then my parents wouldn't have rather watched a game show.

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