Melstock Church, frontispiece for Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree (1872). Since illustrator Henry Macbeth-Raeburn had little to go on in Hardy's text, the present illustration is very much "Drawn on the spot," namely Stinsford parish church and vicarage, the first of three "Mellstocks": "the second, 'Lower Mellstock', with the school and post-office, more than half a mile to the east; the third, 'Upper Mellstock', a mile to the north-east of the church. These correspond to Stinsford, Lower Bockhampton, and Higher Bockhampton" (F. B. Pinion, 410). In other words, Hardy has used the most familiar locations from his boyhood as the basis for the locale of the novel Under The Greenwood Tree, or, The Mellstock Quire: A Rural Painting of the Dutch School​(1872), the sixteenth and originally the final volume of the Osgood, McIlvaine Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels (1896). 8.6 cm high by 12.4 cm wide, framed.

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

The illustrations for Under the Greenwood Tree, The Hand of Ethelberta: A comedy in chapters, Wessex Tales, and A Laodicean: A story of to-day appear courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Passage Illustrated

Mellstock was a parish of considerable acreage, the hamlets composing it lying at a much greater distance from each other than is ordinarily the case. Hence several hours were consumed in playing and singing within hearing of every family, even if but a single air were bestowed on each. There was Lower Mellstock, the main village; half a mile from this were the church and vicarage, and a few other houses, the spot being rather lonely now, though in past centuries it had been the most thickly-populated quarter of the parish. A mile north-east lay the hamlet of Upper Mellstock, where the tranter lived; and at other points knots of cottages, besides solitary farmsteads and dairies. — Part the First, "Winter," Chapter 4, "Going the Rounds."

Commentary

Focussing on the cast of characters rather than the rural settings, R. Knight's 1878 "Christmas"-themed illustrations for the novella position the engraving of "Mellstock" parish church, The Knot There is No Untying (308), towards the end of the narrative-pictorial sequence in order to emphasize the "happily-ever-after" ending of the on-again/off-again romance of Dick Dewey and Fancy Day, even though Hardy opens with the church quire. The Mellstock​church tower and the general disposition of the building, grounds, and entrance in Knight's illustration correspond to those of Hardy's own parish church at Stinsford in Dorset, so it is not unreasonable to conclude that Knight may have visited the site or received a sketch of it from Hardy. The 1896 frontispiece is more directly associated with Stinsford as Hardy showed Macbeth-Raeburn a number of actual "Wessex" scenes​for the Osgood, McIlvaine frontispieces, and undoubtedly drove him from Dorchester to Stinsford a short distance down the hill.

The 1896 Osgood, McIlvaine edition of the 1872 novel, which Hardy scrupulously revised as to distances and place names, reflects his concern that all his stories be "Wessex" novels with consistent nomenclature, "bringing its 'Wessex' place-names into line with those of the later Wessex novels, and adding quite a lot of small topographical detail" (David Wright, 233). The "Mellstock" of Under the Greenwood Tree. A Rural Painting of the Dutch School​ (1872) Hardy probably based on a number of parishes, although the picture at the beginning of the 1896​volume is certainly consistent with the parish church at Stinsford, at which Hardy was later buried beside his first and second wives. However, during the course of the novel Hardy offers very few particulars, other than that it is one of the social centres of the community, the focal point of the activities of the local musicians, and the site of Dick and Fancy's climactic marriage (which Hardy skips over entirely).

The reader encounters Dick Dewy and his fellow "quire" members in the wooded lane in the opening chapter, the musicians being surrounded by a variety of tree and avian species. F. B. Pinion notes that "Mellstock" is Hardy's name for the parish of Stinsford and the villages collectively known as the Bockhamptons.

The road which runs in a northerly direction beyond the 'hamlet' of Lower Bockhampton and towards Dorchester [the "Casterbridge" of the Wessex Novels] — Puddletown (Casterbridge — Weatherbury) road is Bockhampton Lane. At Bockhampton Cross (Mellstock Cross) it intersects the Stinsford — Tincleton road (which runs east below 'Egdon Heath'); farther north it is known as Cuckoo Lane. . . . .

Dick Dewy had been for a run down the to the eweleaze and up Hollow Hill to Mellstock Cross when he was hailed by members of the choir on their way to his father's, before starting on their Christmas round of carol-singing. — F. B. Pinion, 410.

Sarah Bird Wright notes that the place name "Mellstock" occurs elsewhere is Hardy's fiction, including Far From the Madding Crowd, Jude The Obscure, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and The Mayor of Casterbridge, as well as in such lyrics as "The Dead Quire."

Other Views of Mellstock, Lower Mellstock, and Upper Mellstock

Bibliography

Gatrell, Simon. Hardy the Creator: A Textual Biography. Oxford: Clarendon, 1988.

Hardy, Thomas. Under The Greenwood Tree. A Rural Painting of the Dutch School​(1872). Illustrated by​R. Knight. London: Chatto and Windus, 1878.

Hardy, Thomas. Under The Greenwood Tree, or, The Mellstock Quire: A Rural Painting of the Dutch School​​(1872). Intro. and notes by David Wright. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985.

Hardy, Thomas. A Group of Noble Dames. Illustrated by Henry Macbeth-Raeburn. Volume Fifteen in the Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels. London: Osgood, McIlvaine, 1896.

Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 2004.

Pinion, F. B. A Hardy Companion. Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Macmillan, 1968.

Purdy, Richard L. Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study. Oxford: Clarendon, 1954, rpt. 1978.

Ray, Martin. Thomas Hardy: A Textual Study of the Short Stories. London: Ashgate, 1988.

Seymour-Smith, Martin. Hardy. London: Bloomsbury, 1994.

Turner, Paul. The Life of Thomas Hardy. A Critical Biography. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

Wright, Sarah Bird. Thomas Hardy A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 2002.


Last modified 7 February 2017