Classified by Hardy as a romance and fantasy and now regarded as one of his minor works. The book is one of the Wessex novels, set in a parallel version of late Victorian Dorset.
On an early winter afternoon, clear but not cold, when the vegetable world was a weird multitude of skeletons through whose ribs the sun shone freely, a gleaming landau came to a pause on the crest of a hill in Wessex. The spot was where the old Melchester Road, which the carriage had hitherto followed, was joined by a drive that led round into a park at no great distance off. The footman alighted, and went to the occupant of the carriage, a lady about eight– or nine–and–twenty. She was looking through the opening afforded by a field–gate at the undulating stretch of country beyond. In pursuance of some remark from her the servant looked in the same direction. The central feature of the middle distance, as they beheld it, was a circular isolated hill, of no great elevation, which placed itself in strong chromatic contrast with a wide acreage of surrounding arable by being covered with fir–trees. The trees were all of one size and age, so that their tips assumed the precise curve of the hill they grew upon. This pine–clad protuberance was yet further marked out from the general landscape by having on its summit a tower in the form of a classical column, which, though partly immersed in the plantation, rose above the tree–tops to a considerable height. Upon this object the eyes of lady and servant were bent.