Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

Fiction — eBook. Project Gutenberg, 2010. Originally published 1872. 243 pgs. Free download.

Dare I say an optimistic tale from Thomas Hardy? I must be dreaming. Alas, I’m not! Hardy’s novel subtitled “The Mellstock Quire: A Rural Painting of the Dutch School”, which really should have been its official name, covers the concerns of the local parish choir about the relationship between the new schoolmistress, Miss Fancy Day, and a member of the choir, Dick Dewey.

Fancy, of course, captures the attention of three separate men and her father desperately wishes that she will marry the richer of the three so that she has a better life than what he has been able to provide for her. The local parish choir is also not pleased by Dick Dewey following in love with Fancy at first sight because the vicar, Mr. Maybold, has informed the choir that he intends Fancy, an accomplished organ player, to replace their traditional musical accompaniment to Sunday services.

I expected so much more angst and drama within this book, but the book presents a quaint depiction of life in an early Victorian rural community that is not only optimistic but humorous to boot. However, while I appreciated the depiction and world that Hardy presented within his tale, I just had higher expectations of this novel. The heroine, Fancy, comes across as a bit vapid and silly whereas the heroine in another book by Hardy that I’ve read and loved was a strong character who continued to grow despite her problems.

Admittedly, the book does end on a skeptical note that I’ve come to associate with Hardy, but it is still much gentler than I anticipated. Worth reading for his portrayal of nineteenth century rural life, but certainly not my favorite of those that I’ve read. I’ve seen people recommend to start reading Hardy’s work with this particular novel and I can understand why this would be the case — short, idyllic, and a bit romantic. However, I think this book is missing the parts of Hardy that I love so I was ultimately disappointed with the tale.

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