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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the best ever book about nature.
Hardy is my favourite poet, but I've always found the novels hard-going, too determinedly grim, too schematically fatalistic. For the first third of this novel, I felt the samme way, dutifully admiring the prose, but not really enjoying. Then I left it for a few months, read Proust, and came back to it. I started kicking myself.
It's a masterpiece, an absolute...
Published on May 25, 2000 by darragh o'donoghue

versus
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sweet Forest Novel
I found this a lovely escape from contemporary urban life, traveling back to a dreamy distant culture, and to the forest and people who live there in their various financial situations. The characters and story was engaging, and the descriptions created a definite emotional atmosphere, which I took with me throughout my day. There were interesting observations on human...
Published on November 12, 2011 by Frances Dumare


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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the best ever book about nature., May 25, 2000
Hardy is my favourite poet, but I've always found the novels hard-going, too determinedly grim, too schematically fatalistic. For the first third of this novel, I felt the samme way, dutifully admiring the prose, but not really enjoying. Then I left it for a few months, read Proust, and came back to it. I started kicking myself.
It's a masterpiece, an absolute joy for two reasons. Not the characters, who rarely rise above their stock roles - the decent, honourable heroine impossibly torn between passion and propriety; the manly, back-to-nature hero, who could come straight from COLD COMFORT FARM); the impoverished aristocratic cad; his wealthy lover, the promiscuous bored ex-actress golddigger; the bumbling middle-class trader of lowly origins.
What astonishes first is Hardy's plot, related by a weirdly troubling narrator, awesomely intricate in itself, but full of an almost Nabokovian sadism. Situations, desires, hopes are set up and cruelly dashed as the beautiful narrative machinations begin cranking - the man-trap scene had me literally sweating. This irony, however, also has an emotional effect, as it reveals characters trapped by the social, gender and psychological limits the plot symbolises, and forces them into a humanity beyond their stereotype.
Mostly, though, this is a novel written by a poet, and in its animation of the sexually charged woods, the lanes, glades, fields, sunsets, dawns, storms, drizzles, winds, breezes, nature is the book's true hero, full of almost supernatural agency. Hardy's gifts of description, his unearthing the unearthly, the uncanny, the inexplicable beneath the surface, are unsurpassed in Victorian fiction; while his non-didactic anger at social injustice is so much more compelling than the more literal Dickens'.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly lovely, January 15, 2000
This is one of my favourite Hardy novels. As some others have noted, it's not one of the "big 5" but certainly worth reading. Hardy's descriptions of the woodlands are beautiful, and I found the ending to be one of his most unpredictable. I wouldn't recommend reading it if you are feeling down, as the ending is sooooo wonderfully tragic (hehe), or if you're not a fan of Hardy's prose style, but otherwise it's a wonderful read. Very personal as well. I got the feeling it was written just for me :)
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 4.75 Stars -- A Near Masterpiece, March 4, 2010
By 
This review is from: The Woodlanders (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
The Woodlanders is not Thomas Hardy's most famous or acclaimed work but was his own favorite among his novels, and many - perhaps most - fans put it in his top tier. This diehard Hardy reader puts it just below that, which is to say it is truly great. Neophytes should read better-known works first, but everyone should stop here quite soon.

Perhaps the most immediately attractive aspect is its vibrant setting. Hardy seems to truly bring The Woodlands to life, describing with a vivid precision that will make it linger in the mind long after reading. It is my favorite Hardy setting other than The Return of the Native's Egdon Heath and many fans' favorite. Most Hardy novels and much of his poetry is set in what he called Wessex - a part-real, part-dream area, based on his native Southwest England, that he made world famous. Perhaps no one equals his profound sense of place; he describes scenes so believably and importantly that they become integral to the story. This is a preeminent example. All the Wessex novels are valuable for showing how a long-vanished world looked and how its people thought, spoke, and lived but none perhaps more so than this. The Woodlands are probably the most rural part of Wessex, which truly says much - a handful of cottages scattered among a thick forest. The real places on which Hardy based the area were almost gone by the time of the book (1887) - had indeed started going even before his 1840 birth - and are certainly gone now, as is nearly every remotely similar place in the Western world. Hardy's descriptive power thus does us a great service by making such a long-lost place seem so real that we not only seem to see it but feel and smell it also. As in The Return, the setting is so important that it is practically a character - arguably even the most important. The woods are described somewhat anthropomorphically and are essential to the plot in many ways. Anyone who thinks such things can never be truly important to a story should read this; literature has few better examples.

Characterization is also strong. This was always a Hardy high point, and The Woodlanders has some truly memorable personages: the intelligent and well-educated Grace, who has in many ways overcome her upbringing's conventional shortcomings but is also a true Woodlands native; Giles, who has genuinely noble feelings and sentiments but is held back in the world's eyes by lack of education and a life tied to the Woodlands; Fitzpiers, who is well-educated, intelligent, and capable but selfish, hedonistic, and in other ways loathsome; Melbury, who truly loves and wants the best for his daughter Grace and has other admirable qualities but whose lack of insight sometimes leads to rash decisions and unfortunate consequences; Marty, a slight, lonely figure who is hard-working and capable of great love but virtually unnoticed by all; the beautiful and lofty but eccentric and essentially selfish Mrs. Charmond; and more. Also, as often with Hardy, there is a band of colorful rustics serving as a sort of chorus. They add considerably to the local depiction, give some much-needed comic relief, and are important in discussing some of the major themes in less overt ways, making them more conventionally palatable and driving them home in a sense very different from the narration's high seriousness but at least as effective. This last is particularly important just before the end, as they get the last word on marriage, the main theme, subtly zeroing in on Hardy's point.

The most interesting character now - as probably then - is Grace. Hardy is well-known for his heroines, and though not his most famous or fascinating, she is very intriguing in her own right. Like many Hardy heroines, she is educated well above most women of her era, which her class and location make all the more notable. Hardy again shows how unfairly such women were treated in an unapologetically sexist society; even with her many acquired and natural charms, Grace is unprepared for many of life's most important challenges because women were simply not given an opportunity. Even those in her position had few options other than marriage, and it is quickly apparent how naïve and ignorant even she is in this all-important area because of the relatively sheltered lives virtually all Victorian women lived.

Marriage and human love relationships generally are the book's main concern; they are variously dramatized and reflected on in a larger sense. This had much contemporary relevance, but what might be called Hardy's philosophical approach also makes it of great universal important. Love is after all probably the most ubiquitous human feeling, and Hardy dealt with it often, frequently focusing on marriage's monolithic regulatory role. He once wrote in his journal that love thrives on propinquity but dies on contact - a claim he often fictionalized but perhaps never as clearly or fully as here. The Woodlanders is a savage yet subtle critique of the marriage institution in which Hardy's own troubled marriage and advanced views led him to lose faith. He later criticized it more overtly in The Well-Beloved and Jude the Obscure, but this condemnation is at least as strong for those willing to read between proverbial lines. More generally, the book paints a very bleak picture of human interaction itself; characters without fail attach themselves to the wrong person, love never being requited. Hardy thought the chances of mutual love reaching full fruition were near nil, and this is perhaps his most startling example. It may be a bit bleak for some, but his point is well made.

Another major theme is class. Hardy had advanced views here also, which showed up again and again in his work, not least in this novel. Grace and her father are rare examples of nineteenth-century British upward mobility; there is much to admire in her concerted education and his hard work, but the book shows just how hard it was to overcome an unfair system that brands one from birth. Moving up increases their money and knowledge but makes human interaction very difficult; they are still looked down on by upper classes, but an understandable pride makes them hesitate about mixing with their own, most of whom are newly intimidated in any case. All this keeps Grace from marrying Giles, her true love, in favor of the aristocrat Fitzpiers, with dire consequences. Giles himself is now nervous about making his love known yet also incapable of returning Marty's more accessible affection. Fitzpiers is immediately struck by Grace but distraught when he realizes her class; unable to overcome desire, he succumbs but finds it impossible to mix with lower classes, much to the detriment of both. Hardy's sympathy clearly lies with the lower classes, and people like Henry James unsurprisingly attacked the book for vilifying the upper classes, who are portrayed as selfish, snobbish, pleasure-seeking, and despicable with few or no redeeming qualities. The conversation between Giles and Fitzpiers when the latter first sees Grace drives in this nail most forcefully - indeed unforgettably; it is one of Hardy's most powerful and thought-provoking scenes -, but it is present throughout in varying guises.

As all this suggests, there is a strong fatalistic streak. Characters seem unable to overcome facts of birth and upbringing and are frequently victims of what might be called bad luck or cruel fate; chance and coincidence rarely turn out well. This is true for much of Hardy's work, and his later epic poem The Dynasts detailed what he called the Imminent Will, a blind force controlling human affairs, which had been implied here and elsewhere. Hardy was profoundly aware of humanity's less than microscopic cosmic significance and had long ceased to believe that life is overseen by any force that is benevolent or sympathetic to people. This can all be gleaned in The Woodlanders. It is not truly tragic like many of his novels, and the ending in particular at least has a sort of equilibrium - especially in contrast to the catastrophic ones he often favored -, though he elsewhere made clear that Fitzpiers will roam again. However, the book has many dark spots, and its thinly veiled social, philosophical, and theological views are bleak indeed.

If all this sounds rather grim or dry, worry not; Hardy knew how to tell a story. Unlike many writers dealing with heavy themes, he always took care to have them arise naturally from a story rather than overwhelming it. He is virtually without the heavy-handedness and didacticism nearly always fatal in such works. His characters are a big part of this; plausible and sympathetic, we recognize our humanity in them, truly feeling with and for them. The plot is also so tight and superbly executed that, looking back, it seems to unfold near-inevitably, though anyone who guessed how specific events turned out would have surely been wrong. This of course plays right into Hardy's fatalism, but it is clear from reading the book just how much later writes owe him. Unlike most Victorian authors handling serious themes, he was supremely entertaining; his stories were not only engrossing but truly exciting, bursting with the kind of twists and suspense then so rare. Even pulp fans could hardly ask for more. The Woodlanders is a case in point. The climax with the deadly trap is especially well-done; readers will be on the edge of their proverbial seats until the surprising outcome. More fundamentally, Hardy's writing is profoundly emotional; he was deeply in touch with the uber-sensitive chords buried deep in humanity's very heart, striking them with power and precision. The Woodlanders is highly moving, shot full of pathos as well as other feelings and thoughts through which Hardy moves us with true artistry.

This is a fine novel that is essential for anyone even remotely interested in Hardy - a true classic deserving more popularity and acclaim. We must not let it linger in the woods.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lesser known gem of English literature, October 16, 2001
It's easy to see how Thomas Hardy became a wonderful poet after his long career of writing novels, given the meaty prose and superb scenery he conjured in "The Woodlanders." Tales of matrimonial and unrequited love compete for space amongst the bounty of Hardy's described woods, heaths and vales. "Woodlanders" offers some of the most complex and well-developed characters of Hardy's novelistic pantheon. Yet such stories of amor et fides, honor and self-sacrifice quickly become a backdrop when Hardy reaches for the woods of his mind.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Overlooked classic would be good for a book group, October 26, 1999
By A Customer
Discovered I had a copy of this in my library from I don't know how long ago, and read it this week. This overlooked Hardy (not one of the hackneyed school list titles) would be a good choice for a book group. Unusual plot covering 3 social classes and their interconnections reminded me of Middlemarch, as well as the theme of rural England being slowly industrialized. I always forget how blatant and "modern" Hardy can be in his discussion of sexuality, as well. Well worth your time if you've forgotten how good Hardy can be.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book, June 15, 1999
By A Customer
This is one of the Hardy novels not in his "big 5", but the one he said he thought he liked best as a story. I've been amazed with the economy and beauty of the language of this writer. He's a true expert on a rural way of life that will never again exist, and should be preserved. Interesting characters, remarkable imagery, and a terribly sad ending. I think I'll have to read most of his novels and poems before I pass on....
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "mi ritrovai per una selva oscura" - Dante, December 22, 2010
By 
Daniel Myers (Greenville, SC USA) - See all my reviews
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This is one of the two Hardy novels I had yet to read - only one now, "Two on a Tower" - and it is indeed vintage Hardy in its bleakness concerning the constancy of love between the sexes, and also of the Wessex woodlands themselves, exuding such a strong presence herein that it is quite right, after a fashion, to call these eponymous copses and brakes the main character of the novel. But I have two primary objections to the claims of reviewers and commentators on this book:

1.) The book is not for the beginning Hardy reader----Why ever not? It seems perfect to me in this respect. Would you rather have a Hardy neophyte start with "Jude the Obscure," wherein Hardy's bleak vision is so terribly and perfectly executed as to leave one despairing for days? The Woodlanders is a much gentler introduction.

2.) The character of Fitzpiers in this novel is unmitigatedly loathsome---Really? To say this of the Shelley-quoting, philandering doctor amounts to saying this of Hardy himself, for whom Shelley was his mentor, and whose many dalliances led to all manner of marital strife throughout his long years. No, Fitzpiers is of the same mould as the rest of the characters: A pawn of fate. To disparage him is to side, in part, with what Hardy despised: Conventional morality.

I shan't go into the plot too much here, as that seems to me for the reader to uncover and enjoy without my aid. But I will quote Hardy on the milieu of the woodlands to give fair warning of the world one enters, one in which every character's dearest loves and noblest intentions are humbled or devastated:

"Here, as everywhere, the Unfulfilled Intention, which makes life what it is, was as obvious as it could be among the depraved crowds of a city slum. The leaf was deformed, the curve was crippled, the taper was interrupted; the lichen ate the vigour of the stalk, and the ivy slowly strangled to death the promising sapling."

But, the plot and the characters form an engrossing read, and make for rich, introspective reflection. Just don't expect too much cheer. As Hardy's alter ego, Fitzpiers puts it: "Such miserable creatures of circumstance are we all!"
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Near-Masterpiece, April 20, 2010
By 
The Woodlanders is not Thomas Hardy's most famous or acclaimed work but was his own favorite among his novels, and many - perhaps most - fans put it in his top tier. This diehard Hardy reader puts it just below that, which is to say it is truly great. Neophytes should read better-known works first, but everyone should stop here quite soon.

Perhaps the most immediately attractive aspect is its vibrant setting. Hardy seems to truly bring The Woodlands to life, describing with a vivid precision that will make it linger in the mind long after reading. It is my favorite Hardy setting other than The Return of the Native's Egdon Heath and many fans' favorite. Most Hardy novels and much of his poetry is set in what he called Wessex - a part-real, part-dream area, based on his native Southwest England, that he made world famous. Perhaps no one equals his profound sense of place; he describes scenes so believably and importantly that they become integral to the story. This is a preeminent example. All the Wessex novels are valuable for showing how a long-vanished world looked and how its people thought, spoke, and lived but none perhaps more so than this. The Woodlands are probably the most rural part of Wessex, which truly says much - a handful of cottages scattered among a thick forest. The real places on which Hardy based the area were almost gone by the time of the book (1887) - had indeed started going even before his 1840 birth - and are certainly gone now, as is nearly every remotely similar place in the Western world. Hardy's descriptive power thus does us a great service by making such a long-lost place seem so real that we not only seem to see it but feel and smell it also. As in The Return, the setting is so important that it is practically a character - arguably even the most important. The woods are described somewhat anthropomorphically and are essential to the plot in many ways. Anyone who thinks such things can never be truly important to a story should read this; literature has few better examples.

Characterization is also strong. This was always a Hardy high point, and The Woodlanders has some truly memorable personages: the intelligent and well-educated Grace, who has in many ways overcome her upbringing's conventional shortcomings but is also a true Woodlands native; Giles, who has genuinely noble feelings and sentiments but is held back in the world's eyes by lack of education and a life tied to the Woodlands; Fitzpiers, who is well-educated, intelligent, and capable but selfish, hedonistic, and in other ways loathsome; Melbury, who truly loves and wants the best for his daughter Grace and has other admirable qualities but whose lack of insight sometimes leads to rash decisions and unfortunate consequences; Marty, a slight, lonely figure who is hard-working and capable of great love but virtually unnoticed by all; the beautiful and lofty but eccentric and essentially selfish Mrs. Charmond; and more. Also, as often with Hardy, there is a band of colorful rustics serving as a sort of chorus. They add considerably to the local depiction, give some much-needed comic relief, and are important in discussing some of the major themes in less overt ways, making them more conventionally palatable and driving them home in a sense very different from the narration's high seriousness but at least as effective. This last is particularly important just before the end, as they get the last word on marriage, the main theme, subtly zeroing in on Hardy's point.

The most interesting character now - as probably then - is Grace. Hardy is well-known for his heroines, and though not his most famous or fascinating, she is very intriguing in her own right. Like many Hardy heroines, she is educated well above most women of her era, which her class and location make all the more notable. Hardy again shows how unfairly such women were treated in an unapologetically sexist society; even with her many acquired and natural charms, Grace is unprepared for many of life's most important challenges because women were simply not given an opportunity. Even those in her position had few options other than marriage, and it is quickly apparent how naïve and ignorant even she is in this all-important area because of the relatively sheltered lives virtually all Victorian women lived.

Marriage and human love relationships generally are the book's main concern; they are variously dramatized and reflected on in a larger sense. This had much contemporary relevance, but what might be called Hardy's philosophical approach also makes it of great universal important. Love is after all probably the most ubiquitous human feeling, and Hardy dealt with it often, frequently focusing on marriage's monolithic regulatory role. He once wrote in his journal that love thrives on propinquity but dies on contact - a claim he often fictionalized but perhaps never as clearly or fully as here. The Woodlanders is a savage yet subtle critique of the marriage institution in which Hardy's own troubled marriage and advanced views led him to lose faith. He later criticized it more overtly in The Well-Beloved and Jude the Obscure, but this condemnation is at least as strong for those willing to read between proverbial lines. More generally, the book paints a very bleak picture of human interaction itself; characters without fail attach themselves to the wrong person, love never being requited. Hardy thought the chances of mutual love reaching full fruition were near nil, and this is perhaps his most startling example. It may be a bit bleak for some, but his point is well made.

Another major theme is class. Hardy had advanced views here also, which showed up again and again in his work, not least in this novel. Grace and her father are rare examples of nineteenth-century British upward mobility; there is much to admire in her concerted education and his hard work, but the book shows just how hard it was to overcome an unfair system that brands one from birth. Moving up increases their money and knowledge but makes human interaction very difficult; they are still looked down on by upper classes, but an understandable pride makes them hesitate about mixing with their own, most of whom are newly intimidated in any case. All this keeps Grace from marrying Giles, her true love, in favor of the aristocrat Fitzpiers, with dire consequences. Giles himself is now nervous about making his love known yet also incapable of returning Marty's more accessible affection. Fitzpiers is immediately struck by Grace but distraught when he realizes her class; unable to overcome desire, he succumbs but finds it impossible to mix with lower classes, much to the detriment of both. Hardy's sympathy clearly lies with the lower classes, and people like Henry James unsurprisingly attacked the book for vilifying the upper classes, who are portrayed as selfish, snobbish, pleasure-seeking, and despicable with few or no redeeming qualities. The conversation between Giles and Fitzpiers when the latter first sees Grace drives in this nail most forcefully - indeed unforgettably; it is one of Hardy's most powerful and thought-provoking scenes -, but it is present throughout in varying guises.

As all this suggests, there is a strong fatalistic streak. Characters seem unable to overcome facts of birth and upbringing and are frequently victims of what might be called bad luck or cruel fate; chance and coincidence rarely turn out well. This is true for much of Hardy's work, and his later epic poem The Dynasts detailed what he called the Imminent Will, a blind force controlling human affairs, which had been implied here and elsewhere. Hardy was profoundly aware of humanity's less than microscopic cosmic significance and had long ceased to believe that life is overseen by any force that is benevolent or sympathetic to people. This can all be gleaned in The Woodlanders. It is not truly tragic like many of his novels, and the ending in particular at least has a sort of equilibrium - especially in contrast to the catastrophic ones he often favored -, though he elsewhere made clear that Fitzpiers will roam again. However, the book has many dark spots, and its thinly veiled social, philosophical, and theological views are bleak indeed.

If all this sounds rather grim or dry, worry not; Hardy knew how to tell a story. Unlike many writers dealing with heavy themes, he always took care to have them arise naturally from a story rather than overwhelming it. He is virtually without the heavy-handedness and didacticism nearly always fatal in such works. His characters are a big part of this; plausible and sympathetic, we recognize our humanity in them, truly feeling with and for them. The plot is also so tight and superbly executed that, looking back, it seems to unfold near-inevitably, though anyone who guessed how specific events turned out would have surely been wrong. This of course plays right into Hardy's fatalism, but it is clear from reading the book just how much later writes owe him. Unlike most Victorian authors handling serious themes, he was supremely entertaining; his stories were not only engrossing but truly exciting, bursting with the kind of twists and suspense then so rare. Even pulp fans could hardly ask for more. The Woodlanders is a case in point. The climax with the deadly trap is especially well-done; readers will be on the edge of their proverbial seats until the surprising outcome. More fundamentally, Hardy's writing is profoundly emotional; he was deeply in touch with the uber-sensitive chords buried deep in humanity's very heart, striking them with power and precision. The Woodlanders is highly moving, shot full of pathos as well as other feelings and thoughts through which Hardy moves us with true artistry.

This is a fine novel that is essential for anyone even remotely interested in Hardy - a true classic deserving more popularity and acclaim. We must not let it linger in the woods.

As for this edition, it has a wealth of supplemental material, making it ideal for serious readers: Hardy's Prefaces to the novel and a collected edition of his works; an excellent introduction giving substantial background on Hardy, the book, and the historical context plus some initial analysis; a chronology; extensive notes; an overview of critical reaction to the novel; further reading suggestions; and chapter summaries. One could hardly ask for more.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Beautiful and Spooky Woodlanders!, September 18, 2009
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HardyBoy64 "RLC" (Rexburg, ID United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Woodlanders (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
First of all, Hardy's prose is gorgeous. It's one of the few novels I can think of in which longer, descriptive passages of nature do not bore me to death. In fact, as others have said here, nature is one of the key protagonists of the story.

In this beautiful setting, the moral conflicts of the human heart play out with venom and ugliness. This obvious contrast makes for a heart-pounding and sublime reading experience. This is a masterpiece of English literature not to be missed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pure joy to read The Woodlanders!, March 2, 1999
By A Customer
It took me a few pages to see that every sentence had a meaning that was unique and special. Hardy's understanding of the human condition and the human comedy is so impressive. After reading The Woodlanders, I yearn to visit the places that he described. Where is Stoy Hill? I would like to know as I am going to England soon for a long holiday. I am almost finished with the book and I am lingering because I am getting to the end and I don't want to finish! Hardy is a pure genius!
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The Woodlanders (Oxford World's Classics)
The Woodlanders (Oxford World's Classics) by Thomas Hardy (Paperback - March 25, 2009)
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