'ATMOSPHERE OF CIDER'
Hardy set the action of the new novel in the wooded region that lay a dozen or fifteen miles north-west of Dorchester. This was a neighbourhood of which he had made no previous fictional use but one he knew well and was ‘very fond of’ .1 He afterwards specified that his woodlanders lived ‘in the hamlets of Hermitage, Middlemarch, Lyons Gate, Revels Inn, Holnest, Melbury Bubb, etc.,— all lying more or less under the eminence called High Stoy, just beyond Minterne and Dogbury Gate’. The names ‘Little Hintock’ and ‘Great Hintock’ were obviously suggested by Minterne Parva and Minterne Magna, but in referring to ‘Little Hintock’ in his April 1912 preface to the novel Hardy wrote: ‘I may as well confess here . . . that I do not know where that hamlet is.’ A statement like this must not be taken too literally. Hardy often took liberties with his settings, stretching or contracting their geography to suit his fictional purposes, and he naturally saw no point in advertising what he had done. But when he wished to, he could find every feature of his terrain-valleys, hills, hamlets, houses, roads, bridges, woods — and could describe them with a fidelity and vividness unparalleled in English literature. One of the places that has often baffled literary-minded tourists is the location o f the foliagehidden mansion of Mrs. Charmond in Chapter V III of The Woodlanders. ‘It stood in a hole,’ says Hardy, ‘but the hole was full of beauty.’ But where was that hole? When Donald Maxwell visited Dorset in the course of preparing the illustrations for his
book of Hardy landscapes,2 he could not find Felice Charmond’s abode, but Hardy himself finally gave the artist a tip. Maxwell thereupon trekked across country twelve miles and soon located ‘this large house5 near Blandford, just where Hardy had told him to look. ‘Turnworth House is evidently the model, situation and all, for “ Hintock House55.5 The setting for The Woodlanders was, as Hardy himself described it, ‘one of those sequestered spots outside the gates of the world where . . . dramas of a grandeur and unity truly Sophoclean are enacted in the real, by virtue of the concentrated passions and closely-knit interdependence of the lives therein5.3
Hardy was equally clear-eyed and specific about the time selected for the action of the novel. The ‘new statute5 in Chapter X X X V II was a modification of the English divorce law made in 1878. The reference to the ‘South Carolina gentleman5 (Chapter X LIII) who had left the South after the failure of the Confederate cause (Chapter X X I) helps further to date the action and enables us to discover that Hardy’s time-chart was designed to cover two and a half years from Christmas 1876 to March 1879. The action in The Woodlanders was thus planned to follow immediately upon the heels of the action in Far from the Madding Crowd.