One of the most popular of Hardy’s novels, this charming pastoral idyll is a lightly humorous depiction of life in an early Victorian rural community. The story delicately balances the concerns of the Mellstock parish choir with a romance between a member of the choir and the village schoolmistress.
To dwellers in a wood almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature. At the passing of the breeze the fir–trees sob and moan no less distinctly than they rock; the holly whistles as it battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quiverings; the beech rustles while its flat boughs rise and fall. And winter, which modifies the note of such trees as shed their leaves, does not destroy its individuality.
On a cold and starry Christmas–eve within living memory a man was passing up a lane towards Mellstock Cross in the darkness of a plantation that whispered thus distinctively to his intelligence. All the evidences of his nature were those afforded by the spirit of his footsteps, which succeeded each other lightly and quickly, and by the liveliness of his voice as he sang in a rural cadence:
The lonely lane he was following connected one of the hamlets of Mellstock parish with Upper Mellstock and Lewgate, and to his eyes, casually glancing upward, the silver and black–stemmed birches with their characteristic tufts, the pale grey boughs of beech, the dark–creviced elm, all appeared now as black and flat outlines upon the sky, wherein the white stars twinkled so vehemently that their flickering seemed like the flapping of wings. Within the woody pass, at a level anything lower than the horizon, all was dark as the grave. The copse–wood forming the sides of the bower interlaced its branches so densely, even at this season of the year, that the draught from the north–east flew along the channel with scarcely an interruption from lateral breezes.