“That man’s silence is wonderful to listen to” – Thomas Hardy
The country town of Dorchester , only 7 miles from Weymouth , has become synonymous with the literary works of Thomas Hardy.
Thomas Hardy was born near Dorchester in the village of Higher Bockhampton on June 18th 1840. Being the son of a master mason, he became an apprentice to an architect based in Dorchester who specialised in church restoration. Having studied his mothers’ verses and poems throughout his school years, he became ever more dis-enchanted with his role as an apprentice and he moved to London as a young man aged 22 and started writing poems for himself, idolising his beloved “Wessex”.
He later returned to Dorchester in 1867 and was frustrated by the lack of interest for his poetry, so turned to writing short stories and fiction novels. Again his frustration boiled as his first novel ‘The Poor Man and the Lady’ (1867) was rejected again and again, resulting in him burning the original manuscript.
His subsequent novel ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ was the one that began to turn heads, and proved to be his first success. Hardy then devoted all his time to writing and produced novel after novel. Among these are many recognisable titles; ‘The Return of the Native’ (1878), ‘The Trumpet Major’ (1880) ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ (1886) ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ (1891) which caused quite a stir as it conflicted massively with the morals of Victorian England at that time.
His next novel ‘Jude the Obscure’ (1895) caused even more debate as it dramatized carnal desires and spirituality. Eventually in 1896, disturbed by the ructions and public debates his work was causing, Thomas Hardy declared he was not going to write another piece of fiction. He kept his word and only produced collections of poems during his later years.
Upon the death of his first wife Emma in 1912, Hardy went on to marry his personal secretary Florence Dugdale in 1914.
He wrote an autobiography from 1920 through to 1927, and it was published in two volumes and but it was disguised as works by Florence Hardy.
Thomas Hardy rose to President of the Society of Authors in 1909 and was given an order of merit from King George V in ultimately The Royal Society of Literature awarded him a gold medal in 1912.
Hardy passed away in Dorchester on January 11th 1928 and his ashes are to be found in the famous Poets Corner at Westminster Abbey London.
His novels, even though written about fictional villages within his ‘Wessex’ can actually be found to be of particular places, houses and towns within Dorset.
For example in ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ (1886), the town described as Casterbridge is Dorchester itself and the public house frequented by Henchard in the novel, The King’s Arms Hotel, is actually located in the High Street and can still be frequented today. The King’s Arms is also referenced in ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ and ‘The Trumpet Major’.
Thomas Hardy’s birthplace, ‘Hardy’s Cottage’ is found in a beautiful piece of woodland in Higher Bockhampton near Dorchester and is now open to the public from March through to October.
Owned by the National Trust, the thatched cottage is pretty much unchanged since Hardy’s great-grandfather built it. As a child, Thomas Hardy used to set off daily on the 3 mile walk to school in Dorchester from here, early novels including ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ were written here.
The woodland all around has paths, bridle paths and walkways running through them and is a great place for all the family to visit.