Tree and Machine: The Woodlanders

  • Mary Jacobus


Celebrating the Norse myth of Nature, Carlyle mourns the death of organicism. Igdrasil has become a fiction, the Tree of Existence displaced by a demythologised and mechanistic world: ‘The “Ma- chine of the Universe,” — alas, do but think of that in contrast!’ The same reduction of myth to machine haunts The Woodlatiders. Hardy laments a lost mythology as well as the rape of the woods by rootless predators from the modem world. The novel is pervaded by elegy for which the death of Giles Winterborne is the declared focus, and trees the silent mourners — ‘The whole wood seemed to be a house of death, pervaded by loss to its uttermost length and breadth. Winterborne was gone, and the copses seemed to show the want of him’ (xliii; pp. 393 – 4). To Grace’s imagination, Giles becomes a tutelary spirit (‘He rose upon her memory as the fruit-god and the wood-god in alternation’ [xxxvm; p. 33$]); but his death also signifies the depletion of Nature by an anatomising scientific vision. Subjected to a post-Romantic gaze, Nature reveals the same defects, the same crippling evolutionary struggle, as urban industrial society.


Critical Approach Transcendental Philosophy Literary Note Edinburgh Review Great Bird 
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  1. 1.
    The Works of Thomas Carlyle, ed. H. D. Traill (London: Chapman & Hall, 1896–99), V, 20 – 1.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Literary Notes of Thomas Hardy, Vol. 1, ed. Lennart A. Björk (Göteborg, Sweden: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 1974) 1, 160, item 1311; ellipsis mine.Google Scholar
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    Florence Emily Hardy, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840–1891 (London and New York: Macmillan, 1928) p. 230.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See David DeLaura, ‘ “The Ache of Modernism” in Hardy’s Later Novels’, ELH, xxxiv(1967) 384nGoogle Scholar
  5. 6.
    For a consideration of the novel’s generic relation to pastoral elegy, see David Lodge’s introduction to the New Wessex Edition of The Woodlanders (London: Macmillan, 1974) PP. 24–9 (paperback edition).Google Scholar
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    William Wallace, Academy, 9 April 1887, p. 252.Google Scholar
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    Hardy has in mind the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857; see Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist (London: The Bodley Head; New York: Random House, 1971) p. 246.Google Scholar
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    ‘A high-toned periodical’, in the words of the outraged vicar’s wife from Crewkerne who wrote to complain of The Woodlanders on the score that the story hinged on conjugal infidelity; see Letters to Macmillan, ed. Simon Nowell-Smith (London: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1967) p. 131.Google Scholar
  9. Hardy had already been warned by his editor, Mowbray Morris, ‘not to bring the fair Miss Suke to too open shame’ for fear of ‘pious Scottish souls’ (19 September 1886;)Google Scholar
  10. (given by Dale Kramer, ‘Revisions and Vision: Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders’, BNYPL, lxxv [1971]207).Google Scholar
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    ‘The Universe is to [Nietzsche] a perfect machine which only requires thorough handling to work wonders. He forgets that the universe is an imperfect machine’ (Florence Emily Hardy, The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 1892–1928 [London and New York: Macmillan, 1930], p. 160).Google Scholar
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    Symonds, Studies of the Greek Poets, Sccond Series (London: Smith, Elder, 1876) p. 398; see Hardy’s partial transcription in Literary Notes, 1, 67, item 638.Google Scholar
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    Early Life, p. 232; see also W. F. Wright, The Shaping of ‘ The Dynasts’ (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967) p. 7.Google Scholar
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© Mary Jacobus 1979

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  • Mary Jacobus

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