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Newsletter - October 2020 
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Dear Colleagues,
The Covid 19 pandemic continues unabated; however we still hope to go ahead with the Trumpet Major Study Day as an educational event. The Society's Annual General Meeting will take place on the same day, at the same venue. See below and on the web site for details.

This month we continue with our 'Turned on to Thomas Hardy' and 'A Max Gate Memoir' series, plus an article from Alban O'Brien on 'Thomas Hardy, Historian'. Jerry Bird contributes another 'A Bibliophile's Dorset'.

Many readers must have fascinating stories to tell, and your editor is always on the lookout for witty and memorable copy for the newsletter - humorous anecdotes, interesting experiences and personal Hardy adventures - you can send them directly to me at:

We hope you enjoy this month's contributions.
Andrew H Leah
Newsletter Editor

by Sahajatara Blake

It was the year I turned thirteen. 
That year, we had an English Teacher named Mrs Jones. The syllabus in those days (I'm now 52) was basically down to the likes and dislikes of whichever teacher was currently in power. 
We'd already been subjected to quite a bit of Shakespeare, which none of us girls could make head or tail of at the age of 12, so it was a breath of fresh air when Mrs Jones came along, keen to communicate to us the meaning of Sgt Troy's sword play in Far from the Madding Crowd.
I don't know how we would have taken to the book had we not first watched the 1967 film. I remember that day like it was yesterday, us all filing into the hall, sitting cross legged on the hard wooden floor, optimistic and curious over getting to miss several hours of lessons.
The sword scene itself made us all giggle and fidget and get ssshhh'd, but it was these three scenes that really impressed upon me: The scene where Oak rubs off the words from fanny's coffin to spare Bathsheba's feelings, the scene where Bathsheba opens Fanny's coffin, and the bit where Troy swims out to sea at Durdle Door.
That gesture, the removal of 'and child' from the coffin, that sensitivity of one person towards the feelings of another, really moved me. 
Bathsheba opening the coffin, well I think I had by that age plenty of times done something 'wrong' , unable to contain the urge , so it struck me as very human and real, and the scene with Troy on the beach - I'd been to Durdle Door several times on holiday, and in the days before dvds never mind the internet, it was a rare thing to suddenly see a place my heart held dear, and very moving to see Troy discover the better side of himself too late.
In those days, in that time and place, it was rare to hear anyone express passion for anything really, and it felt like Mrs Jones was on our side, encouraging us to be alive, to wake up, to love. And Hardy himself was doing that same thing, and of course even more so, through his novels and his poems.
In the last ten years I have been visiting Dorset regularly every spring and autumn, taking with me one or two of Hardy novels, and just escaping into his world, which has become my own Soul's world.
I was very pleased to join you all for the Q & A with Terence Stamp, so far the only society event I have managed to get to. I got a copy of Terence Stamp's book and queued to get it signed. I was amazed and slightly shy to discover that at the age of 80 he was still just as captivating.
It was also quite weird as I could not find the church where the Q & A  was held for ages, and went to several different ones and wondered if I was going to do a Fanny and miss the whole thing.
I will end with sharing some photographs, I'm sorry they feature myself , but they weren't taken with the thought that I might show them to anyone.
So here's me sitting at the window where Hardy sat to write Far from the Madding Crowd ( it was very moving to sit there )  and here's me at the  grave where his heart is buried.
Also, here's a page of Hardy's manuscript of Far from the Madding Crowd at Dorchester museum.



With Love to All, and thank you Mrs Jones wherever you are , Sahajatara.



4. Famous Seamus and the Max Gate Connection, part 1

Of all the ‘celebrities’ who visited us at Max Gate over the years, our favourite had to be Seamus Heaney. His charm, wit and fearsome intellect - so lightly worn, endeared him to everyone he met. Unfortunately (for us) we were away on holiday  and the house was being looked after by our good friends Jean and Edgar Reed - many of you may remember them.

On this occasion he arrived with his wife Marie (Devlin - the Irish folk singer) and his friend Prof Helen Vendler from Harvard University - on a day the house was closed to the public!

Prof. Vendler takes up the story in and article for the Irish Times, shortly after Seamus' death:
On Max Gate, Thomas Hardy’s home.

Seamus Heaney and Helen Vendler at Max Gate
'Seamus loved the poetry of Thomas Hardy, and one year he and Marie took me to see Hardy’s birthplace; in another year we drove to see the churchyard in which Hardy’s heart is buried. In (I think) 2000 (it was actually 1999. ed), Seamus and Marie decided that they wanted to show me Max Gate, Hardy’s house in his last years.
It wasn’t a day in which the house was open to the public, but Seamus decided to throw himself on the mercy of the current owners. He rang the bell, and then apologised to the woman who opened the door by saying he had a visitor from the United States to whom he was eager to show Max Gate before she left. The woman listened politely and then said – after a moment’s hesitation – “Aren’t you Seamus Heaney?” He confessed that he was, and we were courteously shown the house, including the upstairs room, not open to the public, where Hardy died.
Marie Heaney wanted to take a picture of Seamus and me together to mark the day, and that is the photo I’ve sent on.'
 Prof. Helen Vendler - The Irish Times 7th July 2017
The ‘woman who opened the door’ was Jean Reed, who, with her husband Edgar, was house sitting for us while we took a week’s holiday. She had recognised him immediately, she told us, because some twenty years before, while living in Highworth , near Swindon, she had signed up for a poetry course presented by Seamus and Ted Hughes (it must have been around the time he and Hughes produced The Rattlebag,  a much-loved poetry anthology for schools). Seamus remembered the course - and, he said, Jean.
Jean and Edgar were two of our star stewards. Jean’s enthusiasm for TH knew no bounds and Edgar’s renditions of Hardy’s prose, in his rich Dorset accent were hugely popular with visitors.

Seamus was in the news again recently, when Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee quoted a passage from Seamus' 'free' translation of Sophocles’ ‘Philoctetes’ : 

History says, Don’t hope  
On this side of the grave. 
But then, once in a lifetime 
The longed-for tidal wave 
Of justice can rise up 
And hope and history rhyme.”

Seamus Heaney, translation of Sophocles’ ‘Philoctetes’ (409BC)

 Edward Hirsch, the American poet and critic commented on this:

“Politicians revert to cliches and use poetry the way you might use a proverb. They try to instil a feeling by using something people already know.

What’s remarkable about this is it’s not trite or overly familiar. It’s a moment of genuine poetry that reaches back to the Greeks, is filtered through Heaney’s Irish-tinged English, and comes to us in the American idiom.

“It’s an important moment of cross-cultural knowledge.”

Edward Hirsch, quoted in The Guardian 

Trust Seamus to 'hit the nail on the head', even from the 'other side of the grave'!

A Bibliophile's Dorset 146


               All that's left!

Troy was sitting in a corner of The White Hart tavern at Casterbridge, smoking and drinking a steaming mixture from a glass. A knock was given at the door, and Pennyways entered. 

"Well, have you seen him?" Troy inquired, pointing to a chair.


"No—Lawyer Long." 

"He wadn' at home. I went there first, too." 

"That's a nuisance." 

"'Tis rather, I suppose." 

"Yet I don't see that, because a man appears to be drowned and was not, he should be liable for anything. I shan't ask any lawyer—not I." 

"But that's not it, exactly. If a man changes his name and so forth, and takes steps to deceive the world and his own wife, he's a cheat, and that in the eye of the law is ayless a rogue, and that is ayless a lammocken vagabond; and that's a punishable situation." 

"Ha-ha! Well done, Pennyways," Troy had laughed, but it was with some anxiety that he said, "Now, what I want to know is this, do you think there's really anything going on between her and Boldwood? Upon my soul, I should never have believed it! How she must detest me! Have you found out whether she has encouraged him?" 

Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd 1874

Jerry Bird

by Alban O'Brian

1. Napoleon


Thomas Hardy’s fascination with the Napoleonic Wars has been well documented and is easily exemplified with reference to The Dynasts, The Trumpet Major, short stories A Tradition of 1804 and The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion, and poems such as The Alarm about his own grandparents. Indeed one of Hardy’s most popular characters, Granfer Cantle, turns up in both The Dynasts and The Return of the Native, and is obviously the reincarnation of his own grandfather, Thomas. He was a proud Private in the Puddletown Light Infantry, and although Hardy did not know him because he died three years before the poet was born, he lived in his imagination in the stories told by Granny Mary Head as the children sat around her feet in Granny’s kitchen. This is at least what visitors to the cottage are told with the ironing board laid over two chairs in front of the window a useful prop for the story told by his grandmother about her ironing when she heard of the execution of Marie Antoinette on the 16thOctober 1793. Before she married grandfather Thomas but very much alive in her memory ‘not as one who remembers, /But rather as one who sees’. He refers to this in his deeply touching memorial to her, One He Knew:

She told of that far-back day when they learnt astounded
Of the death of the King of France:
Of the Terror; and then of Bonaparte's unbounded
Ambition and arrogance.
For Hardy also these were living memories. They could hardly not be, with the cottage at the end of Veterans Alley, so called because of the Napoleonic War veterans who lived there (‘two retired military officers, one old navy lieutenant …and an old militiaman, whose wife was the monthly nurse that assisted Thomas Hardy III into the world’, a relatively high proportion for seven houses), and with the Wellingtonia Pines planted as a memorial after the battle of Waterloo near his home and childhood playground.




See web site for full details

at 5.30pm in the United Reform Church Hall


A Thomas Hardy Society Study Day 
Saturday, 10thApril 2021 at 10.00am
The Corn Exchange, Dorchester
Professor Roger Ebbatson (University of Lancaster)
Professor Oindrila Ghosh (Diamond Harbour Women's University)
Dr Karin Koehler (University of Bangor)
Dr Tony Fincham (Thomas Hardy Society Chairman)
Reverend Richard Franklin (Honorary Curator of the Thomas Hardy Archives)
And a performance by the New Hardy Players

2021 will mark the 130thanniversary of the publication of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, arguably the most widely loved of Hardy's novels, containing one of the most memorable heroines in all of English literature. While contemporary society was scandalized by the concept of a fallen woman being championed as pure, the novel was scathing in its exposure of hypocritical nineteenth-century sexual and social mores. Subjects depicted that remain in continual debate to the present day are the question of rape/seduction, who is the true villain of the story – Alec or Angel?, was Tess justified in murdering Alec?, and was it right that Tess received the death penalty for her crime? This is a story that has transcended time and place, still resonating with audiences around the globe. The Thomas Hardy Society warmly invites proposals for twenty-minute presentations on any aspect of Tess of the d'Urbervilleswhich may include, but are not limited to:
  • Female subjectivity and Victorian masculinity
  • The sexual double standard
  • Nineteenth-century societal expectations
  • Hardy as a social commentator
  • The Victorian class system
  • Tess in the age of #metoo
  • Working conditions of the rural poor
  • Religious hypocricy
To support attendance at this day which has been designed to appeal to academics and general enthusiasts alike, the Society will once again be offering two bursaries of £50 each to students who would otherwise find travel or accommodation costs prohibitive. Please send proposals of not more than 350 words, and no later than 28 February 2021, along with a brief description, if you are a student, of how a bursary would benefit your studies, to Dr Tracy Hayes at

A Message from Andrew Hewitt:

"The editors of the first four volumes to appear in the Cambridge Edition of the Novels and Stories of Thomas Hardy have been blogging about the experience and rewards of editing Hardy -- and what brought them to the task in the first place --  on the Cambridge University Press' 1584 website. Visit the website and follow the link at the end of each blog for a 20% discount on the titles in the Cambridge Hardy." 
Literature | FifteenEightyFour | Cambridge University Press 
The Thomas Hardy Society is seeking a young and enthusiastic person to represent fellow student members of the Society. You will ideally be 25 years of age or younger, and studying full time at a U.K. University in order to attend bi-monthly Council of Management meetings. Your under-graduate project, MA dissertation or Phd thesis will focus on any aspect of Hardy's life and works, and you will be passionate about sharing your research discoveries and those of fellow students around the world!
Recent THS student representatives have created a column in the society journals, organized student essay competitions, created a student newsletter email system, and organized seminars and study days. Feel free to bring on board your own ideas for making Hardy more accessible to students everywhere! The position is extremely rewarding, looks excellent on your Academic CV, and opens up wider networking opportunities within the Hardy academic circle.
If you would like to apply, or have any queries, please don't hesitate to contact the THS Secretary – Dr Tracy Hayes –

Subject to prevailing regulations, The New Hardy Players and Shire Hall will be staging "Christmas in the Courtroom 2020". on 17th and 18th December. This will be different from previous years but aims to be just as enjoyable! Tickets are on sale from Shire Hall. Booking is essential and numbers are limited because of social distancing. Profits will be donated to Dorchester Poverty Action


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