What a fine encapsulation of a summer morning to read on a cold winter night — and what a fantastic little book! I had to read something short and sweet before I tackle another big book, and I’m glad I found this one! It came highly recommended by a good friend of mine, so I ordered a copy and had recently added it to the tower of TBR books on my desk—one of the towers (plural that, I do have a lot of books to read!) Anyway—
A lovely, light-hearted story from a simpler time and place — little as it is, it is still chockfull of larger themes about life, love, society, morals, the passage of time, and progress. Young Dick Dewy and his fixation on Miss Fancy Day is the centerpiece attraction (and distraction) — oy, she’s special, ain’t she? (I do love the names Hardy chooses — he really puts a good deal of thought in names and the personality of the character he’s christening.) Fancy Day lives up to her name, she’s so vain, and although she acts as if vaguely aware of her power to stop men in their tracks, she’s more enamored with her clothes and hair than with the fellows once she’s gotten their attention—she becomes so rattled it’s laughable. Fancy and Dick don’t even have to kiss to become bothered, sharing a basin to wash their hands is quite steamy for the time. “Really, I hardly know which are my own hands and which are yours, they have got so mixed up together,” (Fancy). This is as erotic as it’s going to get — so innocent in our time, but wickedly scandalous back then.
As for young Richard Dewy, “I’m afraid Dick’s a lost man.” His father says along the way. I feel bad for the poor lad who is smitten with her and root for him to win her over, but I also feared for him, I’d hate to see the poor fellow wounded by this darn damsel because of her flirty wiles and her father’s objection. (Naturally, if they went along nicely without drama, there wouldn’t be a story, right?) Looking over his shoulder, Dick notes how the married elders have become so blind to romance, as if realizing for the first time that they must’ve gone through the emotional upheaval of passion once upon a time — but to see them undemonstrative and so dreadfully practical seems to distress him — he can’t imagine himself being so dull should he marry Fancy Day. Oy, he’s such a nice bloke, a hard-working, solid sort of fellow who was a fine catch for any lass to latch onto, they’d consider themselves lucky to have him—seriously, a fellow who walks a mile out of his way in the rain just to see her for a precious few minutes is a dear thing, to be sure! (My mother knew when my Fred was carrying the big bag of kitty litter home from the grocery store that it was “serious”.) Fellows don’t do such foolish things without a good reason — or perhaps, their good reason has left them, they’re just bewildered and can’t help it — a little of both, perhaps.
But it isn’t just about these two — it’s much more than that. I laughed a lot through this book — it’s natural sense of humor winking as the elders watch and nudge one another about the youthful courtship of Fancy and Dick, reminisce, and then go about their business. I adore Hardy and his language, his beautiful descriptions of his fictional Wessex, and the undeniable lamenting of the loss of the old ways of doing things at the hands of the young as their modern ideas and instruments emerge to turn out the old-fashioned traditions of the elders. Honestly, the Mellstock Quire sounded like a fun bunch, more in line with the community than the contemporary contraption of an organ; but as things go, the elders will eventually die off and the younger may not fill in the gaps — it is how it goes.
In spite of its place in time, Under the Greenwood Tree is timely and timeless as a good bit of literature should be. At my current age of 51, I have seen a good deal of change take place and have concerns that the younger generations coming up are not going to care about preserving the things that I hold dear — my work in an art collection especially makes me keenly aware of this. Nothing makes this awareness come home more than when your parents pass on and you are left to clear out their house — especially when it’s the house you grew up in where the relics of childhood remain and the relics of relatives long dead. The old photographs are stunning, their depiction of simple pleasures and quiet existence in a small town documented — the wonders they must have witnessed, the progress that influenced their lives. I can only imagine how appalled my grandparents and parents were of changes that happened during their time, as not all progress treats everyone equal; changes that made them feel less able to keep up and feeling brushed aside as the youthful growth of society ran rough-shod over the simpler times.
Just last weekend, I acquired a mink coat that belonged to my mother; her initials are monogramed on the lining. We never saw her wear it, nor did we know the thing existed until I opened the garment bag that contained it. I’m assuming that her mother and father bought it for her, I can’t imagine my father having that kind of money to buy it — and in spite of her beauty queen ambitions as a teenager, I don’t think it was her taste. For what it is, it’s beautiful, in perfect condition, it’s as if she didn’t wear it (I haven’t found pictures of her wearing it.) These days, it’s an object so vilified for what it is — as an animal lover, I have personal objections to the process that created it. It is a relic from another time.
Time changes everything.
|Mom's mink coat, c. 1950|
|Monogram on lining|
|detail where collar meets shoulder|
Just a reminder...books are powerful.