Although one does not have the benefit of any illustrations in the original 1886-1887 serial or the Macmillan triple-decker of 1887, Hardy's descriptions of the setting of The Woodlanders, Little Hintock, although imaginary, are effective in themselves as they represent a composite of the villages of Hermitage, Middlemarsh, Lyons-Gate, Revels Inn, Holnest, and Melbury Bubb (Thomas Hardy, May 1926). Great Hintock in the novel F. B. Pinion specifically identifies as Melbury Osmond, and Hintock House as Turnworth House, near Blandford Forum (p. 569). Nearby Wynard's Gap is one of the settings for Hardy's tragic ballad "The Trampwoman's Tragedy." The beauty of the woodlands contrasts the suffering of Hardy's hero, Giles Winterbourne, and the guilefulness of the antagonist, Dr. Edred Fitzpiers: "he was a pleasure-seeking dilettante, in every way the antithesis of Giles Winterborne" (Pinion, 332). 1896. 8.6 cm high by 12.6 cm wide, framed, in Hardy's 1887 Wessex novel The Woodlanders, volume seven of the Osgood, McIlvaine Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels, in seventeen volumes (1895-1897). Subsequently, the elegant line drawings of the Scottish illustrator Henry Macbeth-Raeburn (1860-1947) were replaced in the Macmillan edition of the Wessex Novels (1912 onward) with photographs, depriving later readers of experiencing this atmospheric key-note. However idyllic Hardy's descriptions of the natural setting of the Wessex Novels may make this countryside seem, it is not an unspoiled, Rousseauian world, without malice, pettiness, and heartache; as Susanne John Flynn remarks, "The paradise of Wessex has more than a few snakes lurking about."

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  • Title-page in the Harper & Bros. edition
  • Text associated with the Half-Title and Title-Pages in the Osgood, McIlvaine edition

    The country of "The Woodlanders"
    Drawn on the spot.

    The rambler who . . . should trace
    the forsaken coach-road running
    . . . from Bristol to the south shore
    of England, would find himself
    during the latter half of his journey
    in the vicinity of some extensive
    woodlands. — Page 1.

    Passage Illustrated

    The rambler who, for old association or other reasons, should trace the forsaken coach-road running almost in a meridional line from Bristol to the south shore of England, would find himself during the latter half of his journey in the vicinity of some extensive woodlands, interspersed with apple-orchards. Here the trees, timber or fruit-bearing, as the case may be, make the wayside hedges ragged by their drip and shade, stretching over the road with easeful horizontality, as if they found the unsubstantial air an adequate support for their limbs. At one place, where a hill is crossed, the largest of the woods shows itself bisected by the high-way, as the head of thick hair is bisected by the white line of its parting. The spot is lonely.

    The physiognomy of a deserted highway expresses solitude to a degree that is not reached by mere dales or downs, and bespeaks a tomb-like stillness more emphatic than that of glades and pools. The contrast of what is with what might be probably accounts for this. To step, for instance, at the place under notice, from the hedge of the plantation into the adjoining pale thoroughfare, and pause amid its emptiness for a moment, was to exchange by the act of a single stride the simple absence of human companionship for an incubus of the forlorn.

    At this spot, on the lowering evening of a by-gone winter’s day, there stood a man who had entered upon the scene much in the aforesaid manner. Alighting into the road from a stile hard by, he, though by no means a "chosen vessel" for impressions, was temporarily influenced by some such feeling of being suddenly more alone than before he had emerged upon the highway. — Chapter 1, pp. 1-2.

    Commentary

    The forestlands of the novel which Hardy knew so well as a child appear again in Hermann Lea's black-and-white photograph for the Macmillan Wessex Edition, 1912-31 (24 vols.), but the effect is less atmospheric and more realistic. In that later collected edition Hardy placed The Woodlanders (originally published serially in Macmillan's Magazine from May 1886 to April 1887, without illustration) as the sixth volume under the heading "I. Novels of Character and Environment." The Osgood, McIlvaine volume, in fact, was the first edition to have any sort of illustration as 1887 Macmillan triple-decker in dark green buckram-grain cloth was also without any illustrations, as was its single-volume edition of 4,000 copies (September 1887). Hardy wrote a new preface, dated September 1895, for the Osgood, McIlvaine edition, in which he lauds the beauty of the physical setting:

    The stretch of country visible from the heights adjoining the nook herein described under the name of Little Hintock, cannot be regarded as inferior to any inland scenery of the sort in the west of England, or perhaps anywhere in the kingdom. It is singular to find that a world-wide repute in some cases, and an absolute famelessness in others, attach to spots of equal beauty and equal accessibility. The neighbourhood of High-Stoy (I give, as elsewhere, the real names to natural features), Bubb-Down Hill, and the glades westward to Montacute; of Bulbarrow, Hambledon Hill, and the slopes eastward to Shaston, Windy Green, and Stour Head, teams with landscapes which, by a mere accident of iteration, might have been numbered among the scenic celebrities of the English shires.

    Hardy's biographer and second wife, Florence Emily Hardy, recorded that in 1874 Hardy "put aside a woodland story", which ten years later evolved into The Woodlanders. It was intended to be the successor to his 1874 pastoral novel Far from the Madding Crowd, but he had set the manuscript aside for almost ten years, absorbed by a series of projects that included his interest in the "New Woman" — evident in The Hand of Ethelberta and A Laodicean, and his tragic vision of personal ambition frustrated by sexuality in The Return of the Native. Hardy eventually decided to return to his "woodland story" after the editor of Macmillan's Magazine expressed in October 1884 the hope that Hardy might have material for a new serial.

    The story takes place in a small woodland village called Little Hintock, and concerns the efforts of an industrious, morally-upright woodlander, Giles Winterbourne, to marry his childhood sweetheart, Grace Melbury. Although it is not now one of Hardy's most frequently novels, it stands up in comparison with his better known novels, especially The Return of the Native. The 1887 novel marks the a turning point in Hardy's career as a novelist since his candour of sexuality, muted somewhat in The Mayor of Casterbridge now found fuller expression, engendering considerable public controversy. The plot ingredients of The Woodlanders, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure include such unsavoury materials as marital infidelity, divorce, and a veering away from the happy-ending trajectory of the Victorian novel may stem from Hardy's being, after 1886, sufficiently established and financially secure to address controversial social relationships in unconventional plot gambits and resolutions.

    In the illustration Macbeth-Raeburn prepares the reader for the arrival of Mrs. Dollery's carrier van as the wayfarer asks the geographically knowledgeable driver about a short-cut to Little Hintock, as distinct from Great Hintock and Hintock House. The lost traveller proves to be the barber, Mr. Percomb, who intends to pay a call at the cottage of Marty South. He offers to buy her hair to make a wig for the wealthy widow Felice Charmond, owner of the nearby Hintock estate.

    Bibliography

    Hardy, Thomas. The Woodlanders. Macmillan's Magazine. May 1886—April 1887.

    Hardy, Thomas. The Woodlanders. Harper's Bazar. 15 May 1886—9 April 1887.

    Hardy, Thomas. The Woodlanders. Illustrated by Henry Macbeth-Raeburn. Volume Seven in the Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels. London: Osgood, McIlvaine; New York: Harper & Bros., 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.

    Robinson, Denys K. The Landscape of Thomas Hardy.Exeter: Webb & Bower, 1984.

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

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

    Vann, J. Don. "The Woodlanders in Macmillan's Magazine, May 1886—April 1887." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: Modern Language Association, 1985. Page 88.

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


    Last modified 5 February 2017