New online resource to explore fashion in Thomas Hardy’s writing

Costumes worn by Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, in the wedding scenes in the film. There is the smart dress and hat of the runaway wedding day, the gold striped silk dress and embroidered silk jacket of her homeward journey, and a dress worn at the wedding party. Jonathan North /DCM © 2015

Costumes worn by Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, in the wedding scenes in the film. There is the smart dress and hat of the runaway wedding day, the gold striped silk dress and embroidered silk jacket of her homeward journey, and a dress worn at the wedding party. Jonathan North /DCM © 2015

The new film version of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd feeds into the ongoing fascination for fashion depicted in classic novels and their modern adaptations for TV and film. A new online facility has been developed by the University of Exeter and Dorset County Museum to catalogue references to clothing in Hardy’s writing and the time in which he lived.

The costumes worn by the actress Carey Mulligan, who stars as Bathsheba Everdene in the latest Far From the Madding Crowd production, will be on display at the Dorset County Museum until the 8 June and will provide an exciting compliment to the new online resource.

The ‘Thomas Hardy and Clothing’ project will highlight the importance of fashion in Hardy’s writing by providing references to clothing in his fiction, poetry, letters and biographies. It will also provide a greater understanding of the historical, social and political context in which Hardy wrote and lived.

Jonathan Godshaw Memel is a PhD student at the University of Exeter whose project, ‘Thomas Hardy and Education’, involves leading work on the prototype online resource alongside the University’s Hardy expert and Associate Professor of English, Angelique Richardson.

The significance of the project was explained by Professor Richardson. She said:”Dress is crucial in Hardy’s fiction for indicating a character’s profession, social and economic status or role, for bringing colour to local scenes, for expressing but often subverting custom and transgressing gender norms. Bathsheba flouts Victorian convention, not least dress code, by not riding side-saddle in the opening scenes of Far From the Madding Crowd, when she also allows her hat to fly off, in disregard for propriety: ‘It went over the hedge, I think’, she remarks. Clothing can also indicate moods, emotions and character. Bathsheba is often associated with the colour red, which signals her feistiness – she wears ‘a rather dashing velvet dress, carefully put on before a glass’; on another occasion Hardy points out ‘the red feather of her hat’. The database will show for the first time what such attire looked like and by whom it was worn.”

The project builds upon extensive research by Exeter students, who were instrumental in collating the references to clothing, later adding themes to the database.

Professor Richardson added:“As well as providing a useful resource to students, allowing them to connect their academic learning with historical objects, the online facility will raise a greater awareness of the significant archive and costume collections in the South West. Hardy enthusiasts from around the world will be able to view our research and add their thoughts.”

Memel’s enthusiasm for Hardy and the project is evident from the way in which the online resource developed. He said:“The widespread enthusiasm for Hardy’s writing and its depictions of clothing is clear from the response to recent exhibitions at the Dorset County Museum. We have been able to produce an educational resource that truly reflects such engagement by working closely with the museum’s curators and volunteers, enabling members of the public, researchers and students to learn more about Hardy’s life and work in and around Dorset, an area of outstanding natural beauty in the South West of England.”

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Hardy returns home

Far-from-the-Madding-Crowd-filmAt 34 years old, Thomas Hardy had his first literary success with Far from the Madding Crowd, penned in the tiny cob and thatch cottage in deepest Dorset where he was born. Nearly 150 years on, actress Carey Mulligan’s costumes from the new film adaptation of the book are bringing Hardy’s Cottage to life.

With the film on general release in cinemas in the UK and Ireland from 1st May, two of the costumes actress Carey Mulligan wore as Bathsheba Everdene are now on display in this National Trust cottage until 5th July.

Through the spring and summer, both Hardy’s Cottage and nearby Max Gate – where Hardy later lived and died – will be filled with the words and music of true Hardy country. Tim Laycock and the New Hardy Players will celebrate the work of Thomas Hardy, and this year some of the Players’ major claim to fame is as supporting artists in the new Far from the Madding Crowd film.

Howard and Alison Payton of the New Hardy Players now live in Dorset, and have a lifelong passion for Hardy. Howard appears in the new Far from the Madding Crowd as an Everdene farmer, and Alison as a farm worker.

At 15, Howard picked up the Far from the Madding Crowd book at school.

He said: “I was hooked from page one, and somehow Hardy dictated my life. Now 50 years on, I have come full circle. We farmed livestock and trained working collies, and here we are in Hardy Country, performing with the New Hardy Players, and with the added delight of being supporting actors in the Far from the Madding Crowd film.

“Hardy has been a huge influence. Many years ago, I even proposed to Alison with Gabriel Oak’s words to Bathsheba ‘…whenever you look up, there I shall be – and whenever I look up, there will be you.’ ”

Tim Laycock, performer in residence, explores Hardy’s love of poetry and ‘tuneful tunes’, and on 2nd May performs ‘Woodland Words’ with the New Hardy Players – with excerpts from scenes in Far from the Madding Crowd. These are at 1pm and 2.15pm, followed at 3.30pm by a ‘shearing supper’ at a table in front of the cottage.

Martin Stephen, National Trust Visitor Services Manager, said: “Hardy’s Cottage, Max Gate and the surrounding countryside were at the heart of Hardy’s life. As well as standing in the very rooms in the cottage where he grew up and wrote his first great works, you can wander through the rich woods and heathland from which he drew his inspiration.

“With the release of this major new film, we can bring both Hardy’s first and last homes to life with wonderful Wessex words and music, and give people the unique opportunity of seeing Bathsheba’s on-screen dresses for real.”

The Far from the Madding Crowd film tells the story of independent, beautiful and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), who attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer, captivated by her fetching wilfulness; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a handsome and reckless sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor.

Hardy was hugely influenced by what he called his Wessex – ‘partly real, partly dream-county’. From the new Hardy’s Birthplace Visitor Centre, a joint project between the National Trust and Dorset County Council, walk in Hardy’s footsteps through Thorncombe Wood to the cottage, and out on to heathland.

These special places were engrained in the young Thomas Hardy’s mind and translated into his writing – including memories of walking the Roman road with his mother to Puddletown, which became Weatherby in Far from the Madding Crowd.

Sir Andrew Motion has always been hugely influenced by Hardy’s poems, and on Hardy’s birthday on 2nd June he’ll open a new ‘Writing Places’ season with a Hardy poetry reading and talk at Max Gate www.nationaltrust.org.uk/writingplaces

On the evenings of 9th and 10th July, the New Hardy Players will perform Hardy’s The Return of the Native in the garden of Max Gate. Booking recommended on 01305 266079.

For further details on Hardy’s Cottage and Max Gate and all the events visit

Thomas Hardy – A Dorset Novelist and Poet

Thomas Hardy - Dorset County Museum © 2013

Thomas Hardy – Dorset County Museum © 2013

Thomas Hardy was born on 2nd June, 1840, at Higher Bockhampton, a hamlet in the parish of Stinsford, some two and half miles east of Dorchester. The author’s grandfather, Thomas Hardy (the first), settled in Bockhampton in 1801, in a house which his father had built for him. By trade he was a master mason but his chief interest was music. On his arrival at his new home he set himself to organize the little band of musicians who not only provided the sacred music for the services in Stinsford Church but also performed when music was required at secular festivities in the neighbourhood – christenings, weddings and other social parties. In this he was assisted by his son Thomas (the second) who, after his father’s death in 1837, continued both to manage the family business and to direct the musical activities of the village.

Thomas Hardy (the second) married Jemima Hand and Thomas (the third and the subject of these notes) was the eldest child of a family of four. His mother was a woman of strong character and vigorous mind, but he seems more to have resembled his father in his quiet unassuming nature. From his father, too, he inherited his love of music and his abiding affection for the Dorset countryside.

As a small child he was very forward for his age and not over strong, but his health improved and at the age of eight he was sent to the village school. A year later, in 1849, he was sent as a day-boy to a private school in Dorchester where he was well grounded in Latin among other subjects. After school hours and in the holidays he often joined his father when playing at weddings and parties in the neighbourhood of his home. In 1856, when he was 16, Hardy was placed as a pupil with Mr. Hicks, an architect whose offices were at 39 South Street, Dorchester, and for the following six years the great interest of his life – ‘the three strands’, as he called them – were architecture, the study of the classics and his love of the countryside.

In 1862, at the age of 22, he went to London to extend his experience in architecture. He worked under Mr. (afterwards Sir) Arthur Blomfield in the Adelphi for six years, during which time poetry was his main interest. His first published prose article ‘How I built myself a House’ appeared in Chambers’ Journal in 1865, but his poems were invariable refused by the publishers to whom he sent them, although in later years he collected many of them in his volume of ‘Wessex Poems’.

Ill-health obliged Hardy to return to Dorchester in 1867 when he again joined Hicks. By this time he was bent on writing and his submission of the manuscript of a novel to Messrs. Chapman and Hall, the publishers led to his meeting with George Meredith who gave the young author advice on the technique of novel writing. The first novel of Hardy appeared later in a shortened and much modified form as a magazine story under the title of “An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress”.

On the death of Hicks, Hardy continued for a while with Mr. Crickmay, the successor to the practice. In the course of his professional duties Hardy was sent in March, 1870, to make surveys for the restoration of the church of St. Juliot, near Boscastle, in Cornwall. He was entertained at the rectory where he met the rector’s sister-in-law, Miss Emma Lavina Gifford, who was a few years later to become his first wife.

The restoration of St. Juliot’s was to be Hardy’s last architectural work of any importance. He returned to London where he devoted himself to writing, being able, however, to make occasional visits to Cornwall.

Hardy’s first published novel, ‘Desperate Remedies’, which appeared in 1871, was not a success. In spite of its discouraging reception he was persuaded to publish ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ in 1872, and this was well reviewed and received. Then followed ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’ as a serial story in Tinsley’s Magazine. In 1874 came Tar from the Madding Crowd’ as a serial story in the Cornhill Magazine. Its merits were at once recognised and it achieved great success.

In September, 1874, Hardy and Miss Gifford were married at St. Peter’s Church, Paddington, London. For a while they moved from place to place and they spent the summer and autumn of 1875 at Swanage where Hardy completed The Hand of Ethelberta’. The following year, after a short trip abroad in Holland and on the Rhine, they found what they had been seeking for some time — a country cottage. This was on the banks of the River Stour in the little Dorset market town of Sturminster Newton. Here they lived for two years —’our happiest time’ as Hardy later described it.

But Hardy decided that the practical side of his vocation as a novelist demanded that he should live in London. So, early in 1878, they moved to a house at Upper Tooting close to Wandsworth Common. For three years they lived here making many new friendships and finding time for a holiday trip to Normandy and occasional visits to Dorset.

With the publication of The Return of the Native’ in 1878 Hardy’s genius was fully recognised and for nearly twenty years he continued to write novels and short stories. In October, 1880, at the time when The Trumpet Major’ was published, Hardy was over taken by a severe illness which confined him to his bed for six months, during which time, however, he finished ‘The Laodicean’. Deciding to give up living permanently in London, the Hardys returned to Dorset in 1881 and took a house at Wimborne Minster. Two on a Tower’ was published the following year.

Thomas Hardy in his Study Dorset County Museum © 2013

Thomas Hardy in his Study Dorset County Museum © 2013

In 1883 they moved once again, this time to Dorchester, which was to be their home for the rest of their lives. Not finding a house to suit them Hardy purchased a plot of land a mile from the centre of the town, on the Wareham road, where he built Max Gate, named after the turnpike gate which formerly stood there. It was not, however, until June, 1885 that the house was finished and they were able to occupy it. While Max Gate was their permanent home, they frequently visited London and kept in touch with their many friends making also occasional trips abroad.

Thomas Hardy's study, as it was when he lived and worked at Max Gate. In the study is the largest collection in the world of Hardy's manuscripts, books from his library and some personal possesions.

Recontruction in the Dorset County Museum of Thomas Hardy’s study, as it was when he lived and worked at Max Gate. In the study is the largest collection in the world of Hardy’s manuscripts, books from his library and some personal possesions. Dorset County Museum © 2013

Hardy’s next novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge’, was published in 1886. Most of the scenes are laid in Dorchester and the manuscript of the book was presented to the Dorset County Museum by the author in 1911. The Woodlanders’ followed in 1887 and in 1891 ‘A Group of Noble Dames’. In the same year Hardy’s most famous novel ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ appeared. It came out first as a serial story in The Graphic’, in a garbled form to suit the conventional tastes of magazine readers and, later in the year, when it was published in book form it was received with a storm of hostile criticism as well as with praise. His last novel Jude the Obscure’ was published in 1895 and aroused almost as much controversy as Tess had done a few years before.

Hardy’s career as a writer of prose fiction was now at an end and he was able to devote himself to poetry, which he had in fact been writing at intervals from very early days. He published two collections of his earlier works – Wessex Poems’ in 1898 and Poems of the Past and Present’ in 1901, and then he set himself to the great work which he had had in mind for many years past. This was The Dynasts’, an epic of the tremendous historical events of the Napoleonic era. It was published in three successive parts which appeared in 1903, 1906 and 1908. It is Hardy’s greatest achievement and the fullest and most complete expression of his genius. In 1909 he published Time’s Laughing-stocks , a collection of poems, some of early years and some of recent composition.

In 1910 the Order of Merit was conferred upon him and in the same year he received an honour that especially pleased him, the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of Dorchester. His genius was also recognised by honorary doctorates from the Universities of Aberdeen, Cambridge and Oxford.

Hardy’s first wife died in 1912 and in 1914 he married Miss Florence Emily Dugdale who after his death wrote his life in two volumes —The Early Life of Thomas Hardy and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy’.

From time to time Hardy continued to publish volumes of verse. Satires of Circumstance’ appeared in 1914; ‘Moments of Vision’ in 1917, ‘Late Lyrics and Earlier m 1922 and ‘Human Shows’ and ‘Far Fantasies’ in 1925. His last volume of verse Winter Words was not published until 1928, after his death. In 1923 was published The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall’, a version of the old mummers’ play.

As the years drew on Hardy’s days were spent more and more in retirement. He seldom left the peace of Max Gate, although he retained a keen interest in events both in the outer world and particularly in Dorchester. He attended from time to time the performances of dramatised passages from his works given by the Hardy Players, a company of talented and enthusiastic amateurs in Dorchester. His eightieth birthday, on 2nd June, 1920 brought many messages of congratulation from all over the country and a deputation from the Society of Authors brought a birthday gift.

Thomas Hardy's Grave, St. Michael's Churchyard, Stinsford - Dorset County Museum © 2013

Thomas Hardy’s Grave, St. Michael’s Churchyard, Stinsford – Dorset County Museum © 2013

In July 1923 H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VIII, who was visiting Dorchester, lunched informally with the Hardys at Max Gate. Hardy’s last public appearance was in July, 1927, when he laid the foundation stone of the new buildings of the Dorchester Grammar School of which he had been for many years a Governor.

Hardy died at Max Gate on 11th January, 1928. His ashes were laid to rest in Westminster Abbey , but his heart was buried in the little churchyard at Stinsford, close to the graves of his father and mother and other relatives.

Hardy is commemorated by a stone memorial at Higher Bockhampton – his birthplace – raised by some of his American admirers and by the statue by Eric Kennington in Colliton Walk, Dorchester.

Many rare and intriguing objects from the world’s finest Thomas Hardy collection are on show in the Dorset County Museum’s Writers’ Gallery

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