Reconnecting with the countryside: nature and Thomas Hardy

3 min read

Reconnecting with the countryside: nature and Thomas Hardy

The last year has been a tricky time for millions of people across the country. From strict lockdown measures to restrictions put on our social lives, the challenges of the pandemic have been difficult to overcome.

However, as Thomas Hardy himself once wrote “To every bad there is a worse”, and there have been some silver linings to this period – namely that people have once again started to reconnect to their local areas and appreciate the beauty around them.

Living in rural Kent as I do, perhaps the most significant take away I’ve had from being forced to stay in my village is how much beauty the countryside gives us. I’ve watched the trees shift with the seasons, seen the fields erupt with crops, picked wild burdock from the hedgerows and gathered handfuls of poppies from the cornfields – it’s a slower pace of life, a Victorian style of existence that the modern world had made us all but forget.

Capturing the pastoral world of rural England

Thomas Hardy

I’ve found myself wanting to read more books set in the English countryside too, and when it comes to reading literature that captures the pastoral world of rural England, you can’t do any better than Thomas Hardy. The beauty of his novels is that they balance the trials of humanity against a lush backdrop of England at its most wild.

His characters are those who meet in lamp-lit forests, gather nuts from bushes to impress their lovers, wander down hedgerow-lined roads on a quest to seek answers – nature is as integral to their lives as oxygen, as love, and this translates into stories where the descriptions of the trees and flowers as just as memorable as the characters themselves.

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Far from fairy tales

One of the things I admire most about Hardy is that his stories are far from fairy tales. Even one of his more uplifting novels,  Under The Greenwood Tree, still brims with uncertainty. Hardy’s nature descriptions are as unpredictable as tree roots. Realism blends with Romanticism, and his characters live on a similar knife-edge between the known and unknown. Dick and Fancy are happy enough – but will it last? It’s the sort of writing that leaves people who love happy endings feeling cold, but which is all the more real and powerful because of it.

His better-known novels are even more morose, but similar in their explorations of how nature and human lives are intertwined. It’s a reliance that people have on the nature around us that, until recent history, was such an integral part of what makes us human – something which the pandemic, for all our gardening and long walks in the countryside, has given us a taste of. It’s been a reflection of the past - a chance to care about the blossom on the trees again.

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Hope for better things 

Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles

This exchange from Tess of the D’Urbervilles is Hardy at his best:

“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?"

"Yes." "All like ours?"

"I don't know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound - a few blighted."

"Which do we live on - a splendid one or a blighted one?"

"A blighted one.”

For all this reads as a lack of hope we have to remember that it is also a conversation laced with possibility too. We may live on a “blighted apple”, a world on its knees due to a pandemic and full of struggle, but there is always hope for better things. If one thing we have learned from this pandemic is to appreciate nature once again as well as the wisdom of great writers like Hardy, who’s to say we can’t become a “splendid apple” once more?

Written by Charlie Edwards-Freshwater @thebookboy


Want to read more about Thomas Hardy? Try some more of our recent blog posts: "Is Thomas Hardy more feminist than Jane Austen?" or "Author of the Month: Thomas Hardy"

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