Marty South, ‘The Woodlanders’ minor character who leaves me with an indescribable satisfaction



Had Thomas Hardy not ended ‘The Woodlanders’ with the fate of Marty South, I would be hugely disappointed. Marty South, though she plays a role in the broken relationship of between Edred Fitzpiers and Felice Charmond, is the only female character in the novel who upholds the meaning of faithfulness.

I am almost forced to accept the anti-climax of the book as what I read, up to the last two pages of the novel, is the reunion of Grace Melbury and Edred Fitzpiers. Unfortunately, their union is not the ultimate ending of the novel. This is the first time ever Thomas Hardy deceives me. In a good way. He ends the novel with the scene of Marty South visiting the graveyard of Giles Winterborne all by herself. After eight months going there together with Grace, Marty is alone. She learns the news that Grace returns to the arms of Edred, leaving Marty with full happiness because Giles solely belongs to her.

The reason on why I would curse Hardy had he finished the wonderful book by the reunion of Grace and Edred is because I don’t appreciate the major characters. I would like to define Grace as a wishy-washy person. At some points, somehow I would like to label her as a selfish lover. She lets her father controls her future. Even when she realizes she loves Giles after he is homeless, Grace does not do anything to save her love life. One moment that makes her name deserves applause is when she stands quiet while ignoring her unfaithful husband. I salute this kind of act for this successfully puts Edred into a great shame when he comes back to amend his sins. However, I completely do not understand her manners when she involves Giles in her departure to Exonbury in a bid to avoid meeting her husband. I call this as a stupidity because she knows pretty well that she and Giles are not allowed to meet by law although they love each other. When she knows that Giles opt to stay out of door for the sake of her safety and purity, Grace should go on her own way to her friends’ house in Exonbury. Rather, she keeps staying in Giles’ hut until she finds it too late that Giles dies, partly because of his staying outside the hut.

When Grace determines to repair her marriage with Edred I feel satisfied. For I think this only assures me that she is indeed not faithful. Or you may call her final decision as being realistic; that it is completely unfair to judge a person’s faithfulness based on his/her willingness not to get married after her beloved one passes away. But looking at Grace’s changing minds from the beginning until the end of the novel somehow frustrates me.

While for Edred.. despite his profesional skill and light-handedly manner, I, at the beginning, already dislikes him. His infidelity already emerges long before he marries Grace and meets Felice Charmond again. The way he pays back his mistakes by coming to Grace again is a good turning point anyway.

So, there remains two only loyal characters; Giles and Marty. Their sacrifice, though brings no happy ending, is what makes the novel really teaches us about true love. Giles finally dies for Grace, whom won’t ever be his wife by legal means. While Marty, who supports Giles in good and hard times, can finally find joy and remain faithful although her love is unrequited.

Even though the novel does not run in the way I want, I somehow feel satisfied. The presence of Marty South at the start and ending of the novel is a magic factor that makes the novel is different with Hardy’s novels. This is the kind of plot that makes me falls in love with Hardy even more. It feels like Hardy knows the best plot for his readers, that despite the sad ending, his readers can feel their minds and hearts are fully occupied with contentment.

‘The Woodlanders’ by Thomas Hardy

the woodlanders-picture source

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Marty South can’t help refusing an offer from barber Percomb to sell her beautiful hair. She desperately needs the money from Felice Charmond to cover medical cost of her ageing, ill father. After a few days of interval, she visits the barber’s workshop to get her hair cut and obtain the money. Felice Charmond, who only meets her once, falls in love with the hair and with her wealth she asks the barber to seek the girl. Now Charmond gets what she wants.

South earns little money by working to Mr. George Melbury, a respected man in Little Hintock. Melbury who has only a daughter, Grace Melbury, lives with his second wife Mrs Melbury. In his old days, he begins to get worried over the future of her sole daughter. He understands very well that he has betrothed Grace with Giles Winterborne to pay back his past great sin. He deeply regrets he has cheated Giles’ late father to get Grace’s deceased mother. Giles doesn’t know about this story. For, he adores Grace and looks forward on the day they tie the knot.

After Grace completes her study, Melbury realizes his initial purpose of uniting her daughter and Giles is a wrong idea. Although he knows Giles is a very good man, he is penniless. The thought of marrying Grace with someone rich comes up in his mind partly due to the fact that he has invested so much money in her expensive education. Grace is powerless against her persistent father on this matter. Although she likes Giles, she has no words to even decide her own future. Giles, on the other hands, gradually realizes that he and Grace slowly becomes apart despite the short distance between the two. When the Melbury family pays a visit to his home in a Christmas’ eve out of their pity, Giles doesn’t feel any sense of mercy at all.

Day by day, Grace somewhat obeys her father’s decision of canceling their engagement. She later tells Giles about this, a statement that she regrets later on as she instead starts loving Giles when he loses his house. When she wants to annul her previous decision it is too late. Giles has sent a notification that grants her wishes to Mr. Melbury and from that day on, they only remain good friends. During his hardship, Giles builds a hut and lives alone. It is Marty South who always stands by his side, helping him with his job. Her pure feeling unfortunately falls blind in Giles’ eyes for he only has his heart for Grace. Despite this, Marty South does not show her jealousy and remain kind to Grace.

When Giles is away from Little Hintock, Edred Fitzpiers, a young doctor, declares his affection to Grace. Although at first Grace opposes his offer, she accepts his marriage proposal after listening to her father’s reasoning. Definitely, for Mr. Melbury, Edred is worth way above Giles who is currently homeless and impoverished.

Their marriage lasts for only a few months when Edred’s infidelity is revealed. Felice Charmond is none other than Edred’s long lost to-be girlfriend. Destiny brings the two at the village. Prior to the reunion, Felice loses her husband who later inherits a mansion in the village. She has no children and spends most of her time by inhabiting the house and travelling overseas. Edred comes to Felice’s house to cure her sickness. That is when the old love starts blooming again.

After a series of the so-called regular health checkups, both can’t help admitting they fall in love again. They try not to listen to other people’ gossips but the rumor reaches the ears of the Melburys. When Felice tries to tame the gossip by going out of the town, Edred forces his way to meet her there. The reactions that come from the Melbury family, especially from Grace, are a bit surprising. She doesn’t question her husband. It is her father who is deeply disappointed. Not only he is sad over the quality of his own choice for Grace but also he curses himself for separating Grace from Giles.

As her daughter opts for silent treatment, Melbury chooses a more aggressive action. He almost kills Edred by intentionally dropping him from a horse they share together in a homecoming trip. At that time, Edred is so ill that he can’t rescue himself. As the rumour of the death of her husband is at large, Grace and Felice are somehow united. They set aside their shared love for Edred and instead put more focus on the safety of Edred. A few days have passed and no news about Edred is known. When Felice arrives home, she is shocked to have found Edred is at her house full of wounds. They then decide to flee from the village then take a very long journey. Edred sends a letter to Grace, saying that their marriage comes to an end.

As a matter of fact, the wrecked marriage comes as a chance for Grace to repair her love with Giles. For Melbury, it also serves as a second opportunity to mend his past mistake. He vows to legalize the divorce then prepares Giles as Grace’s second husband.

Giles is such a pure heart. When Melbury confesses on his truest intention of marrying him with Grace Giles isn’t mad at all. When he knows Melbury wants to fix their broken love he gladly welcomes the idea. Giles and Grace’s back-to-back romance is unfortunately short-lived. The existing law can’t legalize their divorce. Giles is so devastated after learning this news.

Grace and Giles then decide to be friends (for the second time). While Grace mourns over her disastrous marriage, Giles resumes his job despite the fact his health starts deteriorating. After some time, a shocking fact occurs. Edred sends a letter telling his sorry over his unfaithfulness. He even wishes he can return to the house in the Little Hintock. It is known that Edred has a fight with Felice that later separates the two. When Felice is about to catch him, her past lover shoots her to death.

A few hours prior to his homecoming, Grace decides to flee. She leaves a note saying that she will visit her friends in Exonbury. Instead, she comes at One-Chimney Hut belonging to Giles then asks for a drive. When they are in the middle of the journey, heavy rain starts pouring down. They are forced to get back to the Giles’ house and she remains there for a few days later. Giles chooses to stay out of the house while Grace occupies it all alone. This condition lasts for several days until Grace hears a cough she believes it comes from Giles. When she discovers him in a cold night, it is too late. Giles’s condition is already fatal. Grace calls her husband to examine Giles but not long after Edred’s treatment, Giles passes away. A few months of gloomy mood circulates in the Melbury house and of course Marty South. Regularly, Grace and Marty visits Giles’s graveyard and put flowers there. On the other hand, Edred, who realizes the love between Grace and Giles, determines to pursue medical career somewhere else. Although he is far from the Little Hintock, Edred always looks forward to fix his marriage. As such, he writes some letters asking for Grace’s agreement to join him in his current place. After several attempts, Grace, who at first sticks her heart to Giles, eventually approves his offer.

After eight months of Giles’ death, Marty now finds herself being all alone coming to his graveyard. She learns that Grace is with someone else and now is the time Marty can finally have Giles for herself…