While I was reading this book, I initially wondered about why it was considered one of Hardy's lesser novels. It is not quite so dark and brooding as most of his works, but it has exceptionally good courtship scenes. The central heroine of the novel is marvellously done and the writing and landscape as always is excellent.
The book is about a kind of love triangle. Elfride is torn between two loves. The novel looks at the exploitation of women, class as it affects love, female inconstancy and about a zillion other typical Hardy themes. My favourite scene is the cliff hanging scene, where I understand the term cliffhanger originates. The book is very good until about the last 10%, which is filled with coincidences and forced situations, so that Hardy can hammer home his points. It is just poorly plotted and written and very unsatisfying.
It's all too bad. With a better ending it would be one of his better books. But the ending was a disappointment, and did not work really at all. Too bad. But still good enough to be well worth reading.