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Under the Greenwood Tree – Thomas Hardy

11 Jul

UtGTCentring on the quaint rural village of Mellstock, set deep within Hardy’s imagined and picturesque county of Wessex, the novel revolves around a double plot of the hopeful love story of Dick Dewey and Fancy Day and the tragic demise of the Mellstock Choir, and what the crumbling of long-held traditions means to the local community. The arrival of Mr Maybold, a new vicar with newfangled ideas, unsettles the local community with ideas of revolutionary change, in which the church and its generations-old choir are an anchor.

Feasting my eyes on the cover of this book just makes me want to go and sit under a tree and idly while away the hours betwixt reading and observing nature. I didn’t get around to indulging in any of the above but nevertheless enjoyed what I read.

Hardy has given us a short novel that is timeless, not only in the feel of the language but also in the story told.  The way it’s written almost encourages the reader to take the time to stop and relish all the little features that the mind’s eye conjures up.  I frequently caught myself peering at trees and enjoying the small and quite beleaguered nature that my abode is situated near.

The breeze had gone down, and the rustle of their feet and tones of their speech echoed with an alert rebound from every post, boundary-stone and ancient wall they passed, even where the distance of the echoes origin was less than a few yards.

The story centres around change, from the yearly seasons to the advent of modernity in varying and ever more intrusive ways. The slower more traditional way of life struggles valiantly against this ‘progress’ and brings home how much the innocent and rural life seems so much more preferable in these days of sensory overload and needless stress.  Perhaps I am being overly romantic but I would prefer a life that felt poetic to a life with a job that means nothing and another night of bad television.

As far as plot goes, neither of the two threads are in any way dramatic, they have a gentle way of working themselves out, a bit like the traditional country way of things. The lighthearted nature of the story is replete with such gems as the obsessive scrutiny of any encounter with a potential love match and all the drama of bee keeping.

The Christmas section is a stand out for the gloriously festive feel but each season has its beauty brought to the fore, it is all very amiable and downright pleasant.  Mellstock feels like its own isolated world, something akin to Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, both of which are books I could hide in months.

I refuse (as far as possible) to give anything away, however the character of Fancy Day did start to grate on me after a while.  Although none of the characters are explored to any great depth, they are honest what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of folk.   Miss Day on the other hand comes across as shallow and vain and that became almost jarring when compared with the rest of the cast, however she is an outsider to the community and has her ideas about what is the ‘done thing’ so this is excusable but it does remain the one gripe I had with this book.

There is one plot point that bewildered me a little though and that was the ending which in many ways has a predictable conclusion which is also a little ambiguous but also one I find strangely fitting.  For those of you that struggle with local colloquialisms there is a dialect glossary which will help with some of the more bewildering words that come up but It is a nice insight into local slang and the etymology of such words.

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28 Comments

Posted by on 11/07/2014 in Classics

 

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28 responses to “Under the Greenwood Tree – Thomas Hardy

  1. Morgan

    11/07/2014 at 16:04

    NOW You’ve entirely lured me in 🙂 I will be finding this in the Local Library this weekend to fill my musings with quiet country living for a week or three. The more slowly I read it, the Longer I will be able to enjoy its soothingly slow pace 🙂

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    • Ste J

      11/07/2014 at 16:11

      I somehow thought that this book may be one you would enjoy, it seems my American readership is partial to a bit of British literature and I am happy to feed the habit. You can enjoy such words as mumbudgeting and find out what it means which is always a treat for the weekend.

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      • Morgan

        11/07/2014 at 17:03

        I find myself drawn to stories that are slower paced; that allow me to immerse myself in the words and phrases that create such idyllic places. Its an escape, but thats what books and stories are for, right? 🙂

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        • Ste J

          11/07/2014 at 18:06

          It is indeed, if you can’t escape in a book, then you are probably doomed to a live in the prison of reality and everybody needs a get out clause.

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          • Morgan

            11/07/2014 at 18:28

            After the week or so I’ve had, yes, I really do.

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  2. writersideup

    11/07/2014 at 16:25

    Just poppin’ in to say I love this title! 😀 I’m avoiding following comments ’cause I will inevitably get caught up in conversation! lol As you know, I’m “sort of” practicing blog avoidance for a bit : /

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    • Ste J

      11/07/2014 at 16:33

      Avoid away my friend, although not for too long! II like trees, they are so versatile, you can lean on them, sit under them, heck the opportunities are endless.

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  3. Tom Gething

    11/07/2014 at 16:43

    Good old Hardy! His poet’s eye is evident in the details he captures in his novels as well. And he did have a thing for feisty/frivolous heroines, didn’t he. Eustacia Vye in The Return of the Native is another. But they do make the plots churn.

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    • Ste J

      11/07/2014 at 16:50

      This was my first Hardy book, although there are others around the house and I covet The Woodlanders mostly though. I am happy with feisty ladies in my books but shallow women, I have no time for. It’s like real life really but he writes his book so well that it would be criminal to put them down for that reason.

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  4. heavenali

    11/07/2014 at 17:45

    Lovely. I am a massive Hardy fan, I have read all his fiction more than once and Under the Greenwood Tree is a firm favourite. I am thinking of reading it again this Christmas for that lovely Christmassy section.

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    • Ste J

      11/07/2014 at 18:05

      I shall definitely be picking more of his books after finishing this one. As a ‘method reader (details in a post of yesteryear) I may read it again with the seasons, just to be topical and stretch out the awesomeness.

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  5. Lyn

    11/07/2014 at 22:13

    Being a common colonial, I’ve never read Hardy, but your review has made me check the funds in my internet debit card to see if I’ve got enough to buy it. I think I might. It would be a nice read when I go on holidays next month. We can always depend on you, Ste, to provide us with a book review that gives just enough to whet our reading appetite 🙂

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    • Ste J

      13/07/2014 at 13:12

      I do try and give just enough to entice people (or not, in some cases!), I am one day hoping to turn it into an art form. Why use the internet, do you not have a gloriously socked second hand bookshop near you, that is always much better!

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  6. cricketmuse

    11/07/2014 at 23:44

    It’s a lovely little movie as we’ll–quite humorous in places.

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    • Ste J

      13/07/2014 at 13:05

      I wasn’t aware it was a film, I will have a look see one of these days.

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  7. gargoylebruce

    11/07/2014 at 23:59

    Sounds like a book filled with shady goings on. Geddit? Shady? *wipes away tears of mirth* Actually it sounds like the sort of gentle perfeck-shon found in the Darling Buds of May.

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    • Ste J

      13/07/2014 at 13:13

      Haha, I would write that down were it not on here for posterity. I have never seen that show before but I suppose now it is time for me to turn over a new leaf and do so.

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      • gargoylebruce

        13/07/2014 at 23:37

        It’s surprisingly good. Well, not surprisingly actually.

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  8. Christina ~

    12/07/2014 at 04:44

    You always do write tempting reviews, most especially when you’re speaking of days long ago when the pace of life was so much slower, the language far more exquisite, and the characters all ways memorable…you had me at ‘amiable’ and ‘etymology’. But then, I’m thinking you already knew that!

    I’ve not, as of yet, read any of Mr. Hardy…but I am indeed looking forward to it–even more so now. Currently I am happily enjoying my sojourn in Middlemarch… so this post seems to be similar with a community orientated storyline which offers a chance to meet all the neighbors…share some tea and definitely a good rousing game of whist. Oh yes, I could quite happily add Mellstock to my itinerary…which I may very well do after my stay in Middlemarch…

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    • Ste J

      13/07/2014 at 13:16

      I think a book swap will be due at some point so we can enjoy the fine works of life and share our thoughts over a nice beverage, preferably one that is of an interesting concoction hehe. I do love to tempt you into so many new books and worlds and just as a little hint to what I am reading next, it is the opposite in all ways to the books we are now reading.

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  9. Sherri

    14/07/2014 at 17:50

    I adore the cover of this book and also Thomas Hardy. Not read this one though. You have sold me with your line: ‘Mellstock feels like its own isolated world, something akin to Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, both of which are books I could hide for months.’ That’s all I need to know. I live where the willows live, where small animals live underground and go boating in the summer with wicker hampers and bottles of ginger bee and sit by cosy fires in the winter, safe from the evil, wedge-faced weasels. If Mellstock gives off this same air of isolation and freedom from the cacophony of this harsh world then I’m moving there…right now.
    Another great review Ste, thank you 🙂

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    • Ste J

      14/07/2014 at 18:36

      That special atmosphere always makes me feel happy, there are few books that do that on an utterly immersive (apparently not a word according to the automatic spellchecker) scale so I tend to delightedly burrow into them when I find them. I think a town for bloggers would be the same thing…I have discussed this with another blogger before, it would be like Twin Peaks but without the murder.

      The front cover is timeless and just gives you all you need to know about the feeling of said tome.

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      • Sherri

        15/07/2014 at 15:15

        Oh I agree! Love that, Twin Peaks without the murder! What a wonderful concept.
        Now, I don’t know if you ‘do’ awards or not Ste, but I wanted to give you the Butterfly Light Award. It’s very shimmery and lovely and I wanted to show my appreciation of your wonderful blog and to thank you for all your visits to mine. No obligation, just know the sentiment in which I send it your way…congratulations my friend 🙂 http://sherrimatthewsblog.com/2014/07/15/the-butterfly-light-award/

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        • Ste J

          15/07/2014 at 18:27

          I tend not to do awards but I will paw at this one with my sticky mitts, which in an ideal world would already contain a lollipop for added stickiness. It is always nice when people say nice things and I appreciate it. I enjoy perusing your words, they always make me think and are endlessly entertaining.

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          • Sherri

            16/07/2014 at 14:46

            Haha! Nothing like a sticky lollipop for sticky mitts! Don’t worry Ste, I understand and don’t feel obliged. I was just happy to let you know I was thinking of you and that you deserve them 🙂 That’s nice to think I bring some entertainment and pause for thought, I love the idea of that. I feel the same way about your words too…and the way you use them. Utterly fascinating 🙂

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  10. thejerseygal®™

    18/08/2014 at 01:22

    Dear kiddo, you sure have a way with words. Your use of vocabulary is impressive!
    Kudos for the book having a dialect glossary. The English major that is me loves etymology.

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    • Ste J

      18/08/2014 at 16:20

      Etymology is great, I have learnt and then forgotten so much about words all around the world, great stuff! I must confess though, I stole my words out of a dictionary…I feel so ashamed.

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