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Under the Greenwood Tree is Thomas Hardy’s one and only rural idyll, a startling contrast to his other Wessex tales. In Mellstock, its surrounding farms and woodlands, the story interweaves the lingering courtship of Dick Dewy and sweet Fancy Day with the battle for survival of the old Mellstock String Choir – the last in the county – against the mechanical church organ of the new vicar, the Reverend Maybold.
Under the Greenwood Tree appears to be pastoral romance at its most sunlit and good humoured, and has been called the ‘most nearly flawless of Hardy’s novels’. Yet, as Tim Dolin shows in his Introduction, there is a darker side to this paradise, seen particularly in the conflicts arising over anachronistic customs and rituals, and the ambiguities surrounding Fancy’s forthcoming marriage. For Hardy, who drew out the associations with his own childhood in later revisions, the novel came to epitomize a past that had been forever lost to him and to England.
This new Penguin Classics edition, based on the two-volume first edition of 1872, includes Appendices which reflect the unique textual history of the novel.
Edited with an_Introduction_and Notes by Tim Dolin