I am still avidly reading, which is good in most respects. TLYW awards Books points for reading, plus there are the themed Brownie Badges that I’m working on. I decided that I might as well start working towards a Level 2 Reader badge, which means reading five more books that have some literary merit and are not just books about diets, written by celebrities. To that end, I’ve just finished The Woodlanders, by Thomas Hardy, 1887. People whose opinions I trust have recommended it to me over the years and I thought it was time I got around to it. I’ve read Tess of the D’Urbervilles, so I knew it was going to be good.
The Woodlanders concerns the marital and romantic misadventures of Grace Melbury. She comes from humble origins in the tiny village of Little Hintock, but she is the great hope of the family and her dad has had her expensively educated and her tastes and manners expensively refined so that she can make a good marriage and make some social progress. Thus it comes to pass that Grace has to awkwardly break off her engagement to her childhood sweetheart, who is a poor woodsman who lives in a one-room hut and makes a living doing seasonal work such as pressing cider, and she eventually is palmed off on the new doctor, a handsome man of pretty good social standing who is more or less manoeuvred into marrying Grace by her father, and is rendered susceptible by his own willingness to be carried away in the thrill of the moment. His name is Fitzpiers. Here he is, having just met Grace for the first time. As you can see, he suddenly desires her very much, for her intelligence and not just her beauty, but making an honest woman of her is far from his mind. Despite the selfish and superficial nature of his attraction to her, he fully dramatises it and enjoys all the thrills of a budding romance that is both enhanced and hindered by being unofficial and covert. We know someone like that, don’t we, readers.
One habit of Fitzpiers’s–commoner in dreamers of more advanced age than in men of his years–was that of talking to himself. He paced round his room with a selective tread upon the more prominent blooms of the carpet, and murmured, “This phenomenal girl will be the light of my life while I am at Hintock; and the special beauty of the situation is that our attitude and relations to each other will be purely spiritual. Socially we can never be intimate. Anything like matrimonial intentions towards her, charming as she is, would be absurd. They would spoil the ethereal character of my regard. And, indeed, I have other aims on the practical side of my life.”
Fitzpiers bestowed a regulation thought on the advantageous marriage he was bound to make with a woman of family as good as his own, and of purse much longer. But as an object of contemplation for the present, as objective spirit rather than corporeal presence, Grace Melbury would serve to keep his soul alive, and to relieve the monotony of his days.
His first notion–acquired from the mere sight of her without converse–that of an idle and vulgar flirtation with a timber-merchant’s pretty daughter, grated painfully upon him now that he had found what Grace intrinsically was. Personal intercourse with such as she could take no lower form than intellectual communion, and mutual explorations of the world of thought. Since he could not call at her father’s, having no practical views, cursory encounters in the lane, in the wood, coming and going to and from church, or in passing her dwelling, were what the acquaintance would have to feed on.
Such anticipated glimpses of her now and then realized themselves in the event. Rencounters of not more than a minute’s duration, frequently repeated, will build up mutual interest, even an intimacy, in a lonely place. Theirs grew as imperceptibly as the tree-twigs budded. There never was a particular moment at which it could be said they became friends; yet a delicate understanding now existed between two who in the winter had been strangers.
Chapter 19, The Woodlanders.
If you are wondering what happens – well there are plot twists and turns, innocent people die, people with sincere hearts are shunned, Grace spends a lot of time in a state of uncertainty about who she is and should be married to, Mr Melbury despairs and the evil Fitzpiers eventually allows himself to be tamed and is loved more than he deserves, not before having an affair with an actress and another affair with a village girl whose husband is not happy to find his new bride hiding in a hedge, hoping for a glimpse of the doctor, and so on, and so on, in the style of all good 19th century novels.
“The special beauty of the situation is that our attitude and relations to each other will be purely spiritual”, this made me roll my eyes so much, the Honcho would have been great in the 19th century, I could hear those exact words coming out of his mouth. Tut. 1 Books point.