Thomas Hardy

Bob and I very much regret that we didn’t have more time to spend in England. If we had had more time, one of the things I would dearly loved to have done was find Thomas Hardy.

Thomas Hardy was born was born 2 June, 1840. “Hardy’s Cottage”, Thomas Hardy’s birthplace, is a comparatively small, thatched cottage which had been built by his grandfather on the edge of Puddletown Heath, just outside the tiny hamlet of Higher Bockhampton. The cottage is situated only 46 miles from Shaftesbury and approximately 2 miles north east of Dorchester. Hardy’s other house, “Max Gate”, a rather stately atmospheric Victorian home which Hardy designed and built himself at Dorchester. After completing “Max Gate”, Hardy lived there for the rest of his life. He died on 11 January, 1928.

If only we had had more time, and had known where to go, we could have easily visited two of his homes–“Hardy’s Cottage”, and “Max Gate”. Both of Hardy’s houses are only a proverbial stone’s throw from where Bob and I spent the night sleeping at the 18th century Royal Chase Hotel in Shaftesbury.

Not having visited either of Hardy’s houses, I haven’t any photos of these places taken by me or Bob, and so have none to show.  Needs must, so in sheer desperation I turned to the net, and (with my sincere apologies) pinched an image of “Hardy’s Cottage”, his birthplace,  at Higher Bockhampton, Hardy's cottage

and another of Hardy’s home, “Max Gate”, at Dorchester. Thomas Hardy's max gate

Thomas Hardy, novelist and poet, saw himself as a poet first, and a novelist second. He was something of a Victorian realist, in the style of George Eliot. Yet Hardy was also influenced by the Romanticism of William Wordsworth, and by several other writers, one of who was Charles Dickens. In his writings, Hardy was highly critical of Victorian morality even though he focused more on a declining rural society. As his novels indicate, Hardy was also clearly conscious of class distinction. Perhaps his views were expressed most clearly in what is said to be his most famous Wessex novel,   Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

Hardy set most of his novels in his fictional Wessex. The idea of this fictional Wessex plays an important artistic role in Hardy’s works, and particularly in assisting the presentation of themes of progress, primitivism, sexuality, religion, nature and naturalism in his novels. This is complicated by the economic role this semi-fictional area played in Hardy’s career. Considering himself primarily to be a poet, Hardy wrote novels mostly to earn money. Hardy found his  “Wessex novels” to be extremely popular with readers, and therefore very lucrative.

The places that feature in Thomas Hardy’s “Wessex novels”, are set in a fictional rural England:

The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), subtitled The Life and Death of a Man of Character, is set in the fictional town of Casterbridge which is based on the town of Dorchester in Dorset.

Tess of the D’Ubervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented first appeared in book form in 1892.  Now considered a major nineteenth-century English novel, the work received mixed reviews when it first appeared, in part because it challenged the  sexual morals and the perceived standards as well as mobility between the working and middle-classes of late Victorian England.

In his novels, Hardy used the fictional names “Shaston” and “Palladour” to refer to the town of Shaftesbury in his semi-fictional region of Wessex. Shaftesbury, which is situated in Dorset,  plays a key role in both Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure (1914).

I found further information concerning the places in which Thomas Hardy set his novels, on the net:

Thomas Hardy tour of Dorset–Britain Express

Situated on the south coast of England, Dorset is considered by many to be the most beautiful county in England….

Touring Thomas Hardy’s Dorset … The names in parentheses are the fictional names given these places in Hardy’s novels….

Dorchester (Casterbridge): At the edge of Dorchester is Max Gate, designed by Hardy in 1885, and his home for the rest of his life. Max Gate is now in the care of the National Trust. … numerous buildings in the town feature in Hardy novels….

Stinsford (Mellstock): Thomas Hardy was christened at the church here, and his first wife Emma is buried in the churchyard. Hardy himself wanted to be buried with her,  but only his heart is interred in Emma’s grave.

Higher Bockhampton (Upper Mellstock): The lovely thatched Hardy’s Cottage is the author’s birthplace – now run by the National Trust.

West Stafford The church in West Stafford is the likely marriage place of Tess and Angel Clare in Tess of the d’Urberville’s.

Bere Regis (Kingsbere): The town features in Tess and Far From the Madding Crowd. Tess set up her family’s bed under the Turberville window in the south wall of the church, and inside the church are the tombs of the Turbervilles.

Athelhampton (Athelhull): Hardy’s father worked on the restoration of the superb medieval hall at Athelhampton, and Hardy himself painted a watercolour of the house.

Puddletown (Weatherbury): Hardy’s grandfather and great-grandfather were Puddletown natives, and the church gallery was celebrated by Hardy in Under the Greenwood Tree. In Far From the Madding Crowd, Troy spent the night in the church porch.

Cerne Abbas (Abbot’s Cernel): The village, more famous for the ancient figure of a giant carved into the hillside, featured in The Woodlanders and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. The tithe barn in Cerne Abbas may also be the model for the great barn in Far From the Madding Crowd.

Works cited

Thomas Hardy tour of Dorset–Britain Express › History › Biography

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