The novel takes place entirely in the environs of Egdon Heath, and, with the exception of the epilogue, Aftercourses, covers exactly a year and a day. The narrative begins on the evening of Guy Fawkes Night as Diggory Venn drives slowly across the heath, carrying a hidden passenger in the back of his van. When darkness falls, the country folk light bonfires on the surrounding hills, emphasising — not for the last time — the pagan spirit of the heath and its denizens. Venn is a reddleman; he travels the country marking flocks of sheep with a red mineral called reddle, a dialect term for red ochre. Although his trade has stained him red from head to foot, underneath his devilish colouring he is a handsome, shrewd, well-meaning young man. His passenger is a young woman named Thomasin Yeobright, whom Venn is taking home. Earlier that day, Thomasin had planned to marry Damon Wildeve, a local innkeeper known for his fickleness; however, a minor change in disposition as regards to Wildeve delayed the marriage. Thomasin, in distress, ran after the reddleman's van and asked him to take her home.
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I've always been afraid of Thomas Hardy. Not sure why. This book was moving, the characters of Egdon Heath superbly drawn, the plot fantastic.