Elfride finds herself caught in a battle between her heart, her mind and the expectations of her parents and society. The novel is notable for the strong parallels to Hardy and his first wife Emma Gifford. When Elfride's father finds that his guest and candidate for his daughter's hand, architect's assistant Stephen Smith, is the son of a mason, he immediately orders him to leave. This was the third of Hardy's novels to be published and the first to bear his name. (source: Wikipedia)
Elfride Swancourt was a girl whose emotions lay very near the surface. Their nature more precisely, and as modified by the creeping hours of time, was known only to those who watched the circumstances of her history. Personally, she was the combination of very interesting particulars, whose rarity, however, lay in the combination itself rather than in the individual elements combined. As a matter of fact, you did not see the form and substance of her features when conversing with her; and this charming power of preventing a material study of her lineaments by an interlocutor, originated not in the cloaking effect of a well–formed manner (for her manner was childish and scarcely formed), but in the attractive crudeness of the remarks themselves. She had lived all her life in retirement—the monstrari gigito of idle men had not flattered her, and at the age of nineteen or twenty she was no further on in social consciousness than an urban young lady of fifteen. One point in her, however, you did notice: that was her eyes. In them was seen a sublimation of all of her; it was not necessary to look further: there she lived.