On Tuesday, 6.2 English Literature students went on a trip to Dorset to visit some of the key sites in Thomas Hardy’s life, to complement their study of Hardy’s 1841 novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, as well as some of his poetry.
The group visited Hardy’s Cottage in Higher Bockhampton, where Hardy was born, grew up and wrote his early novels, before going onto Stinsford Church, where Hardy’s heart is buried with his first wife, Emma Lavinia, and walking across the River Frome, across which Angel Clare had carried Tess in Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
The group also visited Max Gate, the atmospheric Victorian home which was famously designed by the author and remained his home until his death in 1928, before hearing from two English Literature PhD students, Laura Cox and Sophie Welsh, about Hardy’s work. Here, some students share their perspectives from the trip.
Oscar Clark: Sinking into Hardy’s armchair by the fireplace he designed, tiled by ceramics he found, surrounded on three sides by the privacy of a screen that has stood since he sat there and looking at a mirror upcycled by the man himself, I listened to Neill, the National Trust volunteer guiding us through our visit to Max Gate. A scholar on all aspects of Hardy, Neill showed us the humourous, sensitive and at times difficult man, as well as the nuances and foibles of his personality being reflected in the features of the home he designed.
Isabella Doyle: My favourite moment from the trip was seeing Hardy’s Cottage, where he grew up. I learned much information from the guide who showed us around Hardy’s former home. She explained how Hardy’s mother had strongly advised her five children not to marry, and Hardly was the only one who went against her advice – twice.
Lara Rippinger: It was absolutely lovely to be hosted in a beautiful local house in Dorset to which so much historical myth from Thomas Hardy’s ficitional ‘Wessex’ was attributed to. We were welcomed by the owner herself, one of Magnus’ old friends, where an amazing buffet of delicious food was waiting for us, including a variety of salads and special dishes that we enjoyed in the very large and cosy living room of the house. As well as gaining a lot of interesting insight from knowledge shared by two English Literature PhD students on Thomas Hardy through short lectures, we also had the opportunity to explore the stunning garden. Also, let’s not forget our favourite tour guide, Neill from Hardy’s Max Gate, who shared his passion for the writer in such an engaging way.
Norpell Wilberforce: I found the elderly gentleman at Hardy’s house to be very informative and he enlightened us in auxiliary information that wasn’t in the specification, but nevertheless interesting to know.
Connie Gillies: My favourite thing from the trip was the gardens at the house we visited. There was a beautiful old greenhouse full of lemon trees, and a hedge maze that turned us all into small children. A lot of people were reminded of Alec d’Urberville’s mansion in Hardy’s novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and it was a welcome break to be able to run around after lots of bus journeys and lectures.
Fiamma Paterno Castello Di San Giuliano: I really enjoyed listening to the stories of Neill at Hardy’s home, Max Gate. He recounted some unexpected and interesting facts about Hardy’s character, which also explained some aspects of his books. The house itself was very gripping. I found it fascinating to understand the environment and setting in which Hardy developed his narratives. I found it curious to see all the ways in which the author had adjusted his house to make it the most private possible; that intrigued me very much.
Freya Leonard: I found it really interesting to learn about the architecture of the house at Max Gate, and how Hardy designed it to suit his way of life. Specifically, the built-in screen on the front windows to prevent nosy neighbours peering in was particularly humorous! However, our exploration took a heavier turn as we discovered the cold, cramped rooms of the attic, where Emma spent her last years. The atmosphere became eerie, reflecting the apparent ghost sighting reported during our visit…
Alex Lunn: The Hardy trip gave great three-dimensional context to Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. The gentle mist, thick woods and rolling countryside really evoked imagery found in the book as we traversed the ‘Wessex’ contryside, just like Tess did – albeit in a minibus. Hardy’s cottage was so well presented and cosy, and provided a sharp juxtaposition to Max Gate, Hardy’s latterly self-designed mansion. Max Gate really shocked me; it seemed so monstrous and dark, not what I wanted to believe a writer like Hardy could have envisioned. However, on hearing about his wife and visiting her room, the oppressive walls made sense. And there were certainly some ghosts! The tiny attic room of Emma Hardy made us sit in pensive thought. This was followed by a more upbeat trip to the River Frome and the beautiful home of Magnus’ friend that was said to be in Far from the Madding Crowd, where we listened to some extremely insightful lectures. The dog even looked as though he or she had been bred specifically for the house! Overall, what this trip aided was for us all to experience the country world in which Hardy was so greatly inspired, and one which we will be thinking about for a long time to come.