[The following essay topics were created for Professor Allingham's English 394 course, which requires a term paper of 1500 to 3,000 words.]
1. After his initial venture into published fiction with Desperate Remedies Thomas Hardy followed his publisher's suggestions and wrote "a story of rural life," in which, said Hardy, an "attempt has been made to draw the characters humorously without caricature. . . ." He conceded that he "thought it just as well not to dabble in plot again." Agree or disagree with Hardy's own assessment of his preference for character over plot development in Under the Greenwood Tree.
2. In "Thomas Hardy's Ironic Vision," Mary Caroline Richards states that in Hardy's fiction "Two of the most indispensable henchmen of this force against man's felicity are Change and Chance." Discuss the influence of these agents upon the principal characters and actions of Under the Greenwood Tree.
3. Hardy once remarked that "A story must be exceptional enough to justify its telling. We tale-tellers are all Ancient Mariners, and none of us is warranted in stopping Weddings Guests . . . unless he has something more unusual to relate than the ordinary experiences of every average man and woman."
Apply Hardy's remarks about the writing of fiction toUnder the Greenwood Tree, elaborating on the 'out-of-the ordinary' elements in a story about a most "ordinary" young man's courtship.
4. While Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) predates Hardy's conception of his works as a series, "the Wessex Novels" (a term he coined in 1874), it does indeed emphasize what D. H. Lawrence called "the spirit of the place." Demonstrate to what extent this short, journeyman novel is regional in character and 'site specific'. Attempt to identify how Hardy provides a greater connection than mere commonality of setting to events and characters in the story.
5. In the preface to The Woodlanders Hardy hints that his continuing subject is "the immortal puzzle — given the man and woman, how to find a basis for their sexual relation." Demonstrate (and possibly, contrast) how Hardy dramatizes problems in romantic and marital relationships in Under the Greenwood Tree.
6. Under Under the Greenwood Tree has been described as a hybrid form, a pastoral novel. For example, the main title of the novel as a whole and the title of its final chapter are both taken from a line from a song in Shakespeare's pastoral comedy As You Like It: "Who doth ambition shun / And loves to live i' th' sun." There is, however, far more to Hardy's novel than a woodland setting. To what extent does the story conform to the conventions of the pastoral, and to what extent does it update the genre to make it relevant to the Industrial Age?
7. Whereas many Victorian novels are sentimental, Hardy's is in some ways rigorously realistic. However, written in the early 1870s, the work looks to a time in the past with nostalgia at the passing of the old ways and customs of an agrarian society. How is Under The Greenwood Tree both realistic and nostalgic?
8. The novel combines two plot lines, the demise of the local quire of musicians and Dick Dewy's courtship of the class-conscious Fancy Day, who represents the modern woman. How does Hardy fuse the two plotlines into a single story with a single theme?
9. If Fancy day represents the New Woman of the Seventies, how does Hardy use other female characters to contrast and reveal this new type? Both a man of Dorset and a Londoner, Hardy treats Fancy with both admiration and ironic humour. Explain how she is vain of her appearance, coquettish, and teasing, and yet a person with whom the younger generation of female readers can identify themselves.
10. Consider how Hardy's characterizations of Fancy and Dick are part of his analysis of marriage in the novel, paying special attention to Tranter Dewy and his wife on the one hand and gamekeeper Geoffrey Day and his second wife on the other. To what conclusions does the novelist lead the reader about the trajectory of the marriage of Dick and Fancy?
11. Anna Winchcombe in her introduction to the 1975 Macmillan text of the novel notes that shoes and boots have symbolic meaning in Under the Greenwood Tree as they are often "indications of people's characters and ways of life, so that Fancy Day appears at first . . . only as 'a small light, and prettily shaped boot' (19). Houses and buildings, too, have associative meanings amounting almost to symbolism in the story. Finally, "Bees are another symbol used here and elsewhere by Hardy with romantic connotations" (20). Select TWO of the three symbols proposed, and show how Hardy uses these to develop both character and theme.
12. Fancy is a subtly drawn character who gives, as Anna Winchcombe remarks, "clear indications of Hardy's attitudes to women at this stage of his life" (22); moreover, we see in Fancy's intelligent and wilful nature the initial lineaments of "a very Hardyish heroine, who . . . later in the novels develops into more complicated characters" (22). Compare Fancy as a dynamic character to another Hardy heroine, such as Sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure or Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd or Eustacia Vye in The Return of the Native.
Last modified 2 July 2014