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Thomas Hardy Country

Thomas Hardy - 1840-1928

Thomas Hardy – 1840-1928

Thomas Hardy is now regarded throughout the world as one of the greatest of English writers. His total achievement as novelist, poet, short story writer, and writer of that remarkable poetic drama, The Dynasts, is such that he is thought by many as second in greatness only to Shakespeare. Among his fourteen published novels have been such successes as Far from the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Woodlanders and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. His Complete Poems has been continuously in print ever since the 1920s, and among its 948 poems are many that have been anthologized many times. The reasons for this lasting appeal are many – a tremendous honesty to his own deep and sensitive experience of life, immense scholarship, astonishing powers of observation and wide-ranging technical skills being just some of them. But above all there is his compassion and ability to empathise with suffering human-kind. ‘What are my books,’ he said once, ‘but one long plea against man’s inhumanity to man, to woman, and to the lower creatures?

Hardy Country

Highway Farm is situated approximately 20 miles from Hardy’s Higher Bockhampton and is an ideal base from which to explore the geography of the thinly disguised ‘Wessex’ made famous in many of his stories and poems.

Hardy took great delight in creating the semi-fictitious ‘Wessex’ as settings for his stories and often described the locations in accurate graphic detail. Many of the features of Hardy’s descriptions still remain and continue to delight Hardy enthusiasts keen to visit the topography which inspired the great poet and novelist. Bridport (Port Bredy), for example, is within walking distance of Highway Farm and is a location which makes numerous appearances in Hardy’s works. It is, for instance, the place Squire Lodge retires to after the momentous events of ‘The Withered Arm’ before dying of a ‘painless decline’ and also receives mentions in the short story The Fellow Townsman and the great Wessex novel The Mayor of Casterbridge.

A short ride north of Highway Farm is the town of Beaminster (Emminster), home of the Clare family in Tess of the D’Urbervilles and the place the destitute Tess walks to in order to seek help from her estranged in-laws. Beaminster was also the home of the actress Gertrude Bugler, who Hardy chose to play the part of Tess in a 1926 Dorchester Players production, and of whom he also became exceedingly fond. Following the road east from there will allow the Hardy pilgrim a glimpse of the mysterious ‘Cross in Hand’ relic Tess swears never to tempt Alec upon, before arriving at Evershot and the Acorn Inn (‘The Sow and Acorn’) where she eats her breakfast. Glorious views of Blackmoor Vale will be seen en route.

Speculation about the location of Gabriel Oak’s original home has led some to surmise that nearby Eggardon Hill may have provided a suitable model. Certainly the location was used for scenes with Fanny Robin and Troy in the 1967 film Far from the Madding Crowd, as were buildings in Abbotsbury. The Tithe Barn was scene of Bathsheba and Troy’s wedding supper, and in the village centre cottages provided a backdrop as Troy disembarked from a cart on his wedding night. Portesham and Coryates also have important Hardy connections, respectively being the settings for the film home of ‘Madding Crowd’s’ William Boldwood and also the school house location of Hardy’s cousin Tryphena Sparks’ first teaching position ( some would even speculate, the place of Hardy’s courtship of her). Catherine Hawkins, a female farmer from Friar Waddon is said to have provided the model for Bathsheba Everdene.

Maiden Castle (Mai-dun Castle) has strong connections with ‘Mayor’ and also with the film Far from the Madding Crowd, where Troy (Terence Stamp) memorably demonstrates sword-play to the terrified Bathsheba (Julie Christie).

Less than a twenty minute ride away from Highway Farm the county town of Dorchester will yield further countless delights for the Hardy enthusiast, including a recreation of Hardy’s study in The Dorset County Museum, Max Gate and countless buildings, geographical features and monuments connected with the great author.

A great place to stay, whether you are a serious scholar of Thomas Hardy a society convention delegate, or simply an enthusiast exploring some of the most beautiful literary heritage in England, Highway Farm provides an excellent answer to the needs of all. The Thomas Hardy Society