Monday, January 24, 2011

Book Review: Under the Greenwood Tree

Title: Under the Greenwood Tree or The Mellstock Quire: A Rural Painting of the Dutch School
Author: Thomas Hardy
First Edition Published: 1872

Divided into five parts (Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Conclusion) Thomas Hardy's novel "Under the Greenwood Tree"revolves around the changing seasons, both in terms of weather and of gradual modernity, of a rural English seaside community. The first half of the book concerns itself with the principle men of the village of Mellstock who are proud members of the Mellstock quire. It is their job to provide vocal and instrumental accompaniment to the musical portion of Sunday services. However, the new vicar of Mellstock parish decides it is time for the hamlet to join the modern world and proposes to introduce into the church an organ, a fact which causes much consternation amongst the quire members.

The second half focuses it's attention on one of the quire's members young Dick Dewy, the tranter's son, and his sweetheart Miss Fancy Day, the schoolmistress. Their romantic road has many bumps the main one being Fancy's father who thinks Dick is not good enough for her. Mr. Day would rather see his daughter marry the wealthy farmer Mr. Shiner.

Overall, I must say I enjoyed the first half of the novel more than the second. I found the troubles of the village quire to be much more amusing than Dick and Fancy's rocky romance. Though I liked Dick, Fancy was not my idea of a model heroine. She was flirtatious, selfish and deceitful. I suppose she does, more or less, learn her lesson in the end but she still did not go on my list of literary favorites.

There were only a few points of possible concern in the story. An older woman remembers trying out a spell from a witch's book when she was younger (such instances were fairly common in the country at that time). Fancy consults a woman who is believed to be a witch (she has a pointy nose which is enough for the imaginative locals), but the woman's advice has nothing to do with magic. Both of these parts are short and can be easily skipped over. Dick and Fancy are secretly engaged for several months and they kiss several times. Overall though, their romance is pretty clean.

At times the book can be difficult to read as Hardy wrote the conversations in the accent of the county in which the story takes place but it is these conversations which give the novel it's charm.

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