Tag Archives: marriage

Book Review: The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

To the best of my knowledge this is considered one of Hardy’s better written books, though having not discovered Hardy until my 20s, it doesn’t appear to be one of the most well known. I must confess that I got about 50 pages in, but hadn’t really absorbed much of it given that I found it quite dull and made myself go back and start again. The reason for this is that in the opening scene (which is similar to The Return of the Native) just seems to happen and then bears little relevance to the rest of the start of the book.

The book begins with a lone traveller on the road. The traveller in question is looking for a tiny hamlet called Little Hintock which is the setting for this story. It is buried away in a woodland and out of the way for most people so that it remains unfound to all except to those who seek it out, as this traveller does. When he does reach his destination, the first major dialogue is between himself and a young girl named Marty South.

The trouble is that neither of them play a very big part for most of the rest of the novel. So when I was getting into the rest of it I found myself thinking what had happened to them and didn’t really take notice of the main characters as they are introduced.

The plot, not entirely unlike Far From The Madding Crowd, focuses on the relationship of one woman with more than man. The woman in question is Grace Melbury, a resident of Little Hintock and childhood sweetheart of Giles Winterbourne. Giles’ father was a good friend to Grace’s father and the senior Mr. Melbury had promised that he would allow Grace to marry Giles.

Through circumstances beyond his control Giles ends up as a man of very modest means and Grace’s father decides that his daughter’s marriage to Giles is no longer the best option. Enter onto the scene Dr. Edred Fitzpiers. He is a newcomer to Little Hintock, trying to create a medical practice for himself between two neighbouring towns. He approaches Grace’s father and asks for permission to court and marry Grace. Deciding that the wife of a doctor is a reasonable future for Grace, Mr. Melbury agrees.

However, all is not well in the marriage. Though I shan’t spoil too much, Grace is given cause to become greatly unhappy; news of which reaches her father. Through a sequence of meetings, news comes forth that there may be a legal loophole through which Grace may divorce Fitzpiers and be married to Giles. In Hardy’s time, this would have been most scandalous, and it is a major feature of his writing in general that he challenges what were the socially accepted norms.

Yet again, though, things do not work out well to the say the least. But I would recommend you read the book to find out exactly how.

For much of the first half of the book, I was wondering if it really was one his better written books, as it didn’t seem to come close to the likes of Tess of the D’Urbervilles or my own favourite, The Mayor of Casterbridge. By the end, though, I was brought around to the writing. The reason is that the first half of the book has, as I pointed out, some seemingly disjointed sections which don’t sit well within the narrative. But by about 2/3rds of the way through Hardy starts pulling these threads together and the reader finally gets to the see the whole picture. The main climax to the narrative doesn’t come at the very end, so as I was reading I was wondering how the novel would actually end, given it seemed to be petering out.

Then, at the very last, the final piece of the puzzle is put back in place, which harks back to the opening scene. So I now recognise the brilliance of the writing, though the actual plot itself I felt lacked a little of the richness that his more novels have.

Singles in the church

By: clarita

Following on from Batty Towers’ excellent couple of posts [first post & follow up] about being single in the church, I thought I’d try and write down some of my thoughts on the matter. I wrote about something similar before, though I have purposely not re-read that post, as this is meant to reflect my thinking at the present time. Bear in mind, that my experience covers a number of different churches that I have been to over the last 10 years or so, so anyone from my present local church should not necessarily take it that everything I say concerns my present situation, unless otherwise stated.

In my experience, the overriding ethos regarding singles in the church is that they are a problem to be solved. Questions are posed like, “what shall we do with the singles in the church?” or “how do we try and incorporate singles into the church?”

The commonest way to solve the problem is to make sure there aren’t any. In other words, try and marry them off to someone. Then they can be a family unit and fit in, just like everyone else. I have left several such Stepford churches with some haste. The flip side to this is to simply exclude singles from many aspects of church life. While I have never come across a church that has been seen to do this explicitly, this does happen implicitly a lot.

The methods by which this is mainly achieved are by making everything “family focused” so that there is nothing on offer for those who are not part of a family. The other one is to time things so that non-family people can’t attend. As a working professional, my availability is very limited. Being unable to be everywhere at once is one of the reasons I choose to maintain an online presence. The majority of my day is spent at work or commuting to and from work. So making weekday meetings is a major hassle. To some, the idea of “it’s only 2 hours a week” doesn’t really chime with me, as that can be 50% of the spare time I have between Monday and Friday. Or having meetings as early as 7:30pm rules out people like me, as I’d have to take a half day holiday in order to make it on time.

One point Batty Towers made in her first post was that there is sometimes an assumption that single people have more time than others. In fact, the opposite is true. A problem shared is a problem halved, but if you live by yourself, there is no one else to rely on. If I don’t cook, I don’t eat; no one does it for me. I can’t “take turns” or anything like that. For me, the little spare time I have is a precious resource, so I have to use it carefully. The idea of casually being asked in church “do you want to come over for lunch?” is the worst example of this. If you had wanted me to come round to lunch, then why didn’t you ask me several days ago? Taking any kind of time out from a weekend needs careful planning, or else the household chores will just never be done. By all means, asking someone round for a meal is a friendly act, but by giving no advanced notice it’s inconsiderate.

I’m not saying here that churches should bend over backwards to help single people out. Quite the opposite, in fact. What they ought to be doing is allowing the time and space for single people to serve the church. By being overly family-oriented there is a risk that a significant set of resources and skills are being missed. As Batty Towers brought out, the church is a place to *be* family, not just a place *of* families.

However, I would differ in some respects. For example, I would never use the word lonely to describe my circumstances. I am content as I am. I commented on this to mypastor on Sunday when he inviting me for a session on “relationships” being run by friends of the church. There’s a session for the singles on a Friday and one for the families (particularly aimed at parents) on the Saturday. I did, however, wryly point out that putting a meeting on a weekday evening will mean I’ll probably have to take a half day annual leave to make it on time. I have not, at this time, decided whether or not to go. I think the pastor was quite keen for me to go, as I make up quite a high proportion of 20something single male demographic in the church!

With all that said, one cannot but look at the calendar and see the forthcoming tide of consumerist tat that is Valentine’s Day. While I would very much like to have gone to a Jurgen Moltmann lecture entitled “From Physics to Theology – a Personal Story” I think the evening will spent at home alone, with a glass of port and a DVD of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.