Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

Last summer I went on a BBC/Masterpiece Theatre movie spree. I borrowed several of the films from our local library, one included Under the Greenwood Tree, which was loosely based off the novel by the same title. I say loosely because now having read the book I find little the same between the book and the film.

Under the Greenwood Tree follows the concerns of the Mellstock Quire and the romance between a young member of the choir, Richard "Dick" Dewy, and the beautiful new schoolmistress, Miss Fancy Day. Over the course of a year (divided into five parts within the book) Dick pursues Fancy... who also happens to be pursued by two other eligible men: a rich older farmer, Mr. Shiner, and the young vicar, Mr. Maybold.

That much, the framework of the story, is the same between the movie and the book, but when it comes to the details and specific scenes there is little the same. Until nearly the end of the movie you are left clueless as to how things will turn out -- who will win Fancy's love? Who will she choose, will it be the one she loves, or the one she's bound by duty to marry? The Mellstock Quire's story, a starring role at the beginning of the film and book, soon fades to a supporting role. The book is less surprising. Just a little past the half-way mark of the book a reader has a very good idea how it will end.

I found the book a pleasant and fairly quick read. It is only 198 pages and for the interested there are appendixes with notes regarding various statements or phrases or words used in the text that might be unfamiliar to readers today. Hardy's writing was easy to follow, though at times I felt some scenes with supporting characters seemed to drag on a little too long. The story is a glimpse of English country life in the 1800s, but it's not without its own humor. The text was ripe with quotes and I couldn't help jotting down a few of my favorites in my "Book of Books".

Comparing the movie and the book -- I did miss some of the scenes that the screenwriter created (by reading between the lines of the book text?) mostly because of the drama or intensity that they added to the story, but over all I still very much enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who is interested or has seen the movie. One might find watching the movie first a little helpful before reading the book, but not entirely necessary.

Surprisingly Thomas Hardy was once considered as famous an author as Charles Dickens, though in all honesty before seeing the Masterpiece film version of this book I'd never heard of the man or any of his works. Under the Greenwood Tree was originally published anonymously in 1872, but later as Hardy's writing became more prolific and popular he began using his real name. Though UTGT is considered by many as one of Hardy's more "gentle and pastoral" novels, Hardy himself struggled with his faith and views of Christianity. If I stumble across another of Hardy's novels I might include it in my "To read" list, but I think I've read his best in this book.

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