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.