Around 400 pages
I have a theory that it is nearly impossible to dislike a story with a character named Giles Winterborne. Throw in Edred Fitzpiers and the novel just writes itself.
Grace Melbury was given the finest education, because her father didn't understand a literary reference once and it really embarrassed him. She returns to Little Hintock and expects to marry her childhood sweetheart, the aforementioned Giles. However, both she and her father start to feel like Giles would be beneath her (I mean, she got furnish polisher on her dress during a party at his house for goodness sake). Her father thinks a better match would be Fitzpiers, a handsome doctor with a wandering eye. Well...it's a Hardy novel, so you can tell this isn't going to end well.
Hardy's novels are all pretty similar. There is the "good" woman who is almost or sometimes completely "ruined" by a bad man. There is the "bad" woman who is somewhat free with their affections, let's say. And there is the hardworking yeoman who we all know should get the girl, but has to defeat some foppish dandy first. Despite the formula, I really enjoyed this. He's a gentle writer who lays the groundwork for twists and turns with enough subtlety that you don't realize what's going to happen.
It's always interesting to observe the absolute mania during this time over who is sleeping with whom and what impact that would have on your marriage prospects, with the marriages themselves being essentially life sentences. Our lives really get better once men butt out of our choices, don't they?
Anyway, another delightful Hardy novel and the last one for me, since I've already read Jude the Obscure and Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Definitely recommended.
Hardy considered this his best novel.
Trailer from YouTube. Minor spoilers so beware, but it might enhance your reading experience to picture this guy as Giles:
UP NEXT: The People of Hemso by August Strindberg. Oh no, not this guy again.