With The Woodlanders, I’ll skip the classic bad Hardy sentences, having made any point I might have back when I wrote about Tess of the d’Urbervilles, except for this wonderful specimen:
But to give the lie to her assertion she was seized with lachrymose twitches, that soon produced a dribbling face. (Ch. 45)
Isn’t that something? It is like a riddle. I can see how a good Hardy reader develops a taste for these. I may have developed a taste for them.
The descriptive passages in The Woodlanders have a strong flavor. The narrator can sound nuts:
There was now a distinct manifestation of morning in the air, and presently the bleared white visage of a sunless winter day emerged like a dead-born child… Owls that had been catching mice in the outhouses, rabbits that had been eating the winter-greens in the gardens, and stoats that had been sucking the blood of the rabbits, discerning that their human neighbours were on the move discreetly withdrew from publicity, and were seen and heard no more from nightfall. (Ch. 4)
The novel has barely begun, and the sun is rising like a dead baby. Nothing in the story, at this early point, matches the bleak imagery of the narrator, nor is this specific foreshadowing. It is the narrator seeing something that his characters cannot see. His paganism is les explicit than in The Return of the Native, less attached to the characters, however much one resembles a fruit-god, but is often present in the descriptions:
… slimy streams of green moisture, exuding from decayed holes caused by old amputations, ran down the bark of the oaks and elms, the rind below being coated with a lichenous wash as green as emerald. They were stout-trunked trees, that never rocked their stems in the fiercest gale, responding to it entirely by crooking their limbs. Wrinkled like an old crone's face, and antlered with dead branches that rose above the foliage of their summits, they were nevertheless still green – though yellow had invaded the leaves of other trees. (Ch. 27)
The trees are consistently interesting and strange. Two exhausted women are lost in the woods at night, cold, so that they “clasped each other closely.” Overhead, “the funereal tress rocked and chanted dirges unceasingly” (Ch. 33). Again, the trees seem to know something that the characters do not.
It is not just the forest that is fun. Look at these old playing cards
that had been lying by in a drawer ever since the time that Giles’s grandmother was alive. Each card had a great stain in the middle of its back, produced by the touch of generations of damp and excited thumbs now fleshless in the grave; and the kings and queens wore a decayed expression of feature, as if they were rather an impecunious dethroned dynasty hiding in obscure slums than real regal characters. (Ch. 10)
Which I suppose is closer to what they are. Yes, yesterday I quoted a different passage invoked “a city slum.” They are the only two in the novel. I do not understand how they might be connected, and am puzzled by every mention of the city in this profoundly rural and sylvan novel, where the characters, plot, imagery, and language are all tangled in the depths of forest.