Subtitled "A Rural Painting of the Dutch School", Under the Greenwood Tree is Thomas Hardy’s most lighthearted novel. Tastefully performed by Margaret Hilton, the tale is set around Mellstock Parish in Wessex, a fictionalized rural area in southern England that Hardy called "a merely realistic dream country".
Mellstock Parish is a genteel church and school whose members include a small group of eligible bachelors. Into this country scene arrives a beautiful new teacher named Fancy Day. When the bachelors catch a glimpse of Fancy, the comedy begins. Under the Greenwood Tree has been praised for its evocation of a fading English rural life, its sensitivity to its characters and sets, and Hardy’s ever-precise and poetic language.
Structured to mirror the seasons of the year, this bright, cheerful story recounts the adventures of the Mellstock rustics - Dick Dewy and Fancy Day, Leaf the simpleton, Penney the shoemaker, the lovers, and others - with an Arcadian, tranquil, timelessness. This was the author's second novel, and is the only Hardy novel whose story is not touched by tragedy.