Visiting Thomas Hardy’s Wessex – perspectives

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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.

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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.

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Visiting Thomas Hardy’s Wessex

Last Saturday, a group of 6.2 English students visited Dorset to visit some of the key sites in Thomas Hardy’s life, to complement their study of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and some of his poetry. Here are two perspectives from the trip.

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

Thomas Hardy didn’t move far in his life; the distance from his birthplace in Lower Bockhampton to Max Gate, the house he built for himself on the outskirts of Dorchester once he had found success, is less than two miles.

First up was Hardy’s birthplace, a small cottage that has remained largely unchanged from when Hardy lived there with his parents and siblings. We were led there by National Trust volunteer Wendy, who led us through the woodland above the cottage and read to us some of the poems Hardy wrote inspired by the landscape.

The most ambitious part of the trip followed with our group walking through steady Dorset drizzle, following the River Frome across which Angel Clare had carried Tess in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, to Stinsford Church, where Hardy’s heart is buried in the family tomb.

Further walking across boggy flood meadow took us to Max Gate, and a meeting with Andrew Leah, Vice President of the Thomas Hardy Society, who lived at Max Gate for 17 years before the National Trust opened it as a visitor attraction.

Andrew gave us a tour of each room and described movingly the creeping melancholy that coloured most of Hardy’s married life at Max Gate, followed by the guilt that consumed him after his wife’s death. We sat in the study room in which Hardy wrote Tess, and then moved next door to the room he took over when he turned his back on writing prose and wrote only poetry until his death.

By Thea Sesti, 6.2

By walking from one of Hardy’s homes to the other, we explored the landscape and the place Hardy was so tied to and served as a backdrop for so many of his works.

We were at times accompanied by a National Trust guide who read out some of Hardy’s poetry in the Dorset woodland, which clearly evidenced the sensibility and attachment to nature he had from a young age and emerged so prominently in some of his later novels, like Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Having studied the text as part of A Level English, we were able to draw comparisons between the then appropriately damp and evocative scenery we came across walking and that in the book, making us understand all the more the area’s impact on Hardy’s life as an author.

We were thus able to retrace his life’s journey as he moved from his family cottage to Max Gate, the house he built for himself and moved into with the first of two wives, following the rise of his wealth and fame.