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The novel was later classified by Hardy for the Wessex Edition of his works into the primary group of "Novels of Character and Environment", versus the other two lesser categories of his novels. The novel remained Hardy's personal favourite, and is widely acknowledged to be among his finest achievements. 
The "woodland story" it narrates was evidently intended to be the successor to his 1874 Far from the Madding Crowd, but he laid the concept of the novel aside to try other genres and works. 
The Woodlanders marks the beginnings of controversy for Hardy's novels. At this point in his career he was established enough as a writer to take risks, especially in the areas of sex, sexual attraction, marriage, divorce, marital fidelity, unconventional plots and tones, and seemingly immoral conclusions. 
The novel reflects common Hardyan themes: a rustic, evocative setting, poorly chosen marriage partners, unrequited love, social class mobility, and an unhappy ending to the plot. As with most all his other works, the reader is left feeling frustrated without a greater sense of finality to the romantic relationships, as opportunities for fulfillment and happiness are forsaken or delayed. None of the characters are left fulfilled by the end of the narrative.

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