the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

Dorchester: Thomas Hardy Country

on June 12, 2012

Just outside Dorchester in the parish of Stinsford, the poet and novelist Thomas Hardy was born in 1840. He grew up in the cob and thatch cottage at Bockhampton, which like Max Gate (the home he later designed and occupied from 1885 until his death in 1928) is open to the public through the National Trust.

From the car park, after a stroll through woodland, you reach the back of the cottage.  Follow the path to the gate and into the cottage garden, planted as it would have appeared when Hardy occupied the house. The accommodation was renovated to make room for a growing family, including turning a staircase around to create a bedroom for Hardy’s sisters.

This is the view from Thomas Hardy’s bedroom, where he was able to see on the hill at Portesham, the monument erected in memory of his distant relative Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy.  You can find out more about this in an earlier post here.

It was at a small table, like this one, that Hardy wrote the first of his novels set in Wessex, the fictional county based upon Dorset. Few authors besides Hardy have such strong associations with the landscape and culture of their local area.

Although Hardy trained as an architect in London, he never felt at home in the city and returned to Dorset.  In 1870, while on an architectural visit to restore the parish church of St Juliot in Cornwall, Hardy met and fell in love with Emma Lavinia Gifford, whom he married in 1874. Over ten years later, Hardy and Emma moved into the house at Max Gate.

It was here that Hardy’s most famous works including The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure were written.  Following the death of Emma in 1912,  Hardy married his secretary Florence Emily Dugdale who was 39 years his junior. However, Hardy remained preoccupied with his first wife’s death and tried to contain his emotions by writing poetry. When Hardy died, the study at Max Gate was reconstructed inside the Dorset County Museum where it remains on display behind a glass panel.

Emma was buried in the church at Stinsford, and although Hardy wanted to be buried alongside her, his executor objected and insisted Hardy was placed in Westminster Abbey. In the end, a compromise was reached whereby Hardy’s heart was buried in Stinsford and his ashes in Poet’s Corner.

How do you feel about Hardy’s dying wish, to be buried alongside Emma, being ignored?

12 responses to “Dorchester: Thomas Hardy Country

  1. Interesting and poignant post Gail. I didn’t know about Hardy’s last wishes being ignored. How sad. The photo of the view from the window is very evocative.

  2. Pauline Howard says:

    I’m not sure that could have happened today, but if you believe, then the most important part of him was placed true to his wishes. What happened to the 2nd wife? Being that much younger she could have been around for some time after Hardy’s demise.
    I hated history when at school, but now I love all this stuff. Is it a sign of age do you think?

  3. Really enjoyed this post, Gail – thank you. My first husband came from Dorset and we spent a lot of time there and have been to Max Gate. I love Hardy’s work, but his preoccupation with his first wife might be because he reputedly treated her badly when she was alive. A sense of regret runs through his poetry, as in the hauntingly melancholy ‘The Voice’.

    • gailaldwin says:

      I’ll look out for that poem. If you get a chance it’s worth revisiting Max Gate now that the NT has opened more of the rooms to the public. You can even go into the attic rooms where Emma spent so much of her time.

  4. I didn’t know that, how sad 😦

    Sometimes, it’s all about who you know….. Dickens wanted to be buried in Rochester (in the grounds of the castle) but Queen Victoria said no, he had to be buried at Westminster. On the other hand, Disraeli wanted to be buried at his local church (by the house where he lived) and because he was a personal friend of Victoria’s, she allowed it *shakes head*


  5. John Wiswell says:

    I don’t know the circumstances of the folks who decided to refuse his final wish. Naturally I’d like to it to be obeyed, just as most sentimental wishes about one’s burial would be obeyed in a nicer world.

  6. How sad that his wishes were not executed; it does make you wonder what happened. On a side note, what beautiful surrounds to inspire creativity.

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