I liked it - begrudgingly. I doubt that I would have finished it if it were not our book club selection. It was over-dramatic even for the standards of the day. It’s definitely over-dramatic for my taste.
The first half of the story was interesting; the second half was predictable and hackneyed. I was excited to see a feisty girl who should have become a strong woman. Unfortunately the heroine disintegrated into a silly and helpless creature. What perplexes me are the articles I’ve read which describe her as an early "feminist." Far from being ahead of its time, the story follows the usual trajectory of strong women as written by certain men - the mythical (or fantasy) strong woman whose real desire is to be tamed by a "special" man.
The language is beautiful when describing nature and buildings. The dialogue is less strong. Perhaps I am being unfair in judging it by modern standards, but it just doesn't ring true. The melodrama is just a bit too much for me – not-intended-to-be-funny dialogue made me laugh out loud. Perhaps it hasn't stood the test of time? Why can’t Hardy, who can describe a church with such an abundance of words and beautiful phrases (proof of great observational powers), apply that eye to a woman so that she is a recognizable three-dimensional human? The buildings and trees have heft and depth; the women are caricatures.
It reminds me too much of Taming of the Shrew - my least favorite Shakespeare play. Please, can't a woman be consistent in character throughout a play or book? Can't a man love a strong woman without her having to submit? Evidently, Thomas Hardy doesn’t think so.
I give it 3 stars for beautiful, descriptive language. Two stars are deducted for its annoying, predictable story line, two-dimensional women, and flat, unreal dialogue.