Monday, 31 October 2016

My heart belongs to Hardy




My love of Thomas Hardy began when I was a young girl at school and we were treated to the magnificent film version of Far from the Madding Crowd starring  Julie Christie one Saturday afternoon.


That was it : I was hooked. The strong, independent Bathsheba trying her desperate best to run a farm, jumped out at me from the screen and captivated me as did her love dilemmas! Julie Christie will always be Bathsheba in my mind ; Terence Stamp has  also been filed away and remembered as the nightmare she falls in love with and marries.
Since then, I have fallen for many other Hardy characters ( including my favourite one, Tess); I have also come to feel a real sense of admiration and appreciation for Hardy both as an author and as a man.
To represent such epic, engaging women as he has done so realistically and sympathetically endears me to him in no small measure. His coverage of controversial social issues with characters who really bucked and challenged the conservative norms of his time shows his immense courage as a writer.

Despite meeting with serious, sustained outrage Hardy continued to raise important, uncomfortable social issues. Many of his best works (Tess, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Jude The Obscure) are tragic, heart wrenching  stories with unhappy endings.

We can access his novels easily enough and immerse ourselves in the lives of the country folk he wrote about from his beloved Wessex.


A feeling for an author's work often makes one want to find out more about him or her. What were some of the details underpinning the man who wrote such great novels?

           
He was a West Country man of course ( born in Higher Bockhampton) writing as he does so authentically about Wessex. He was born in a cottage in Dorset to working class parents, a master mason and a cook. He is said to have inherited his love of reading from his mother Jemima who read extensively and with a real passion.
In 1856 he became an apprentice to a local architect called John Hicks. He eventually became a qualified architect after a few periods of absence; he used these skills to design his own house, Max Gate in Dorchester where he lived from 1885-1912. It has been described as ,' an austere but sophisticated town house', what do you think?




He had 2,000 trees planted around the property to try and protect his privacy from curious fans and passers by who would come right up to the windows to peek in for a glimpse of the famous author!

The sundial on the front of Max Gate was also designed by Hardy, a man of many talents.




In 1891, in his second study (above), he wrote his gripping, powerful bestseller Tess of the D'Urbervilles. The controversy generated by the content of the novel assured Hardy financial success due to good book sales. However, many libraries refused to stock it due to its unsavoury subject matter. This upset Hardy as he felt very misunderstood trying as he was to present life as it really was for the poor and unprotected in society ('A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented' as he described and saw Tess).
My fascination with the novel had a layer added to it when I came across information at Max Gate about Gertrude Bugler ( picture below) : her mother, Augusta Hay was a milkmaid who Hardy remembered when he visited her father's farm in Bockhampton as a young man. I can imagine the seed for the novel being sown right there and then.
 When Hardy later oversaw the touring production of Tess, he described Bugler's turn as his beloved protagonist as, 'the true incarnation of how I imagined Tess.' He had a real fondness for her and she loved to recount what he had said to her : 'If anyone asks you if you knew Thomas Hardy, tell them yes, he was my friend'. It is clear that he extended his friendship to his character Tess too.



Max Gate certainly brings a chunk of Hardy's life alive. It gives a sense of the little things that filled his space. You see his love for not just his writing and ideas but also clocks ( which fill the property), architecture, the countryside and his much loved animals and plants.

He was always active : he walked or cycled daily well into his seventies. He was a man who fitted so much into his every day life.


He flooded the house with light by designing windows himself that dominate the property and ensure that maximum light is captured and filtered into rooms. The outside is brought inside showing his love of nature.



I walked away from Max Gate more fascinated by Hardy and how he managed to cram so much into his remarkable life. Not only is he one of our great British literary giants but also a man who excelled at so much else too.

Do you have a favourite Hardy novel or character? When did you last rekindle your relationship with a Hardy novel or character?