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Friday, 9 December 2011

Thomas Hardy – Man of Wessex

"Thomas Hardy – Man of Wessex" was the title of an illustrated talk given yesterday by Jack Thomas (pictured left). The talk was organized by Lyme Regis Museum, but the subject proved so popular it was held in the Guildhall next door, where there are more seats!

Alongside Dickens, Thomas Hardy was one of the greatest Victorian novelists. He was born in 1840, three years after Queen Victoria came to the throne, and lived to 87, dying in 1928. Jack Thomas's father actually had tea with Hardy! But despite living and working to such an advanced age, Hardy loved the past, and most of his work is set in pre-Victorian times, around the 1830s.

As well as the novels for which he is so famous, Hardy also wrote almost a thousand poems. According to Jack, about a third of these are "not very good", but at his best Hardy's poems are amongst the greatest in the English Language. Although they're not as well known as they ought to be, they had a huge influence on the poetry of the twentieth century.

Much of Hardy's writing is set in Dorset, although locations are translated into the fictional county of "Wessex". Thus Dorchester, the county town of Dorset, becomes Casterbridge in novels such as The Mayor of Casterbridge.

In a little under an hour, Jack Thomas managed to convey an astonishing amount of information about the life and work of Thomas Hardy, including a few surprising snippets such as the fact that Hardy was reading Greek and Latin at the age of four, and that his notoriously ill-natured dog Wessex bit everyone who visited the house except T. E. Lawrence!

[In case you're wondering about Thomas Hardy's connection with Lyme Regis... Hardy never mentioned Lyme in his verse or fiction, but he visited the town on at least two occasions: in 1882 with his first wife and in 1915 with his second wife. The first visit was an uncomfortable one in a horse-drawn coach; fortunately by the time of the second visit the motor car had been invented! There was almost certainly a third visit, also by car, in 1920.]

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