When I first arrived at my hotel on Sunday evening, ‘Harrow: A Very British School’ happened to be on TV. Oddly appropriate. The last thing I caught five minutes of last night was ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ – less appropriate. Five plasters across my two feet and a nifty breakfast at Starbucks later, I was ready to walk into Eton once again.

The Times of 9th February 1932 has a page of photographs for ‘Fifty Years: Great Figures in Literature’. The Hardy and Gosse photo is lovely (behatted gents) but there is a bizarre photo of George Meredith with ‘his grand-daughters, Joan and Dorothy Sturgis, and his gardner, Frank Cole’! Frank Cole looks rather stilted and uncomfortable to be part of this portrait.

In another article – ‘Woman’s Death in Hospital: Belladonna given by mistake’ – the doctor at the inquest says “To be candid, there has been a mistake in the medicine.” Can you imagine that statement being given today?! Candidness just ain’t the fashion at inquiries – just watch The Thick of It.

Stop your Cold at once! ‘NOSTROLINE’ – old adverts. Amazing.

I forgot to say that yesterday Sarah found a squished ladybug (ladybird to English me!) inside a manuscript so we played ‘Guess the Age of the Dead Insect?’. I invited the curators to join in, but I don’t think they find it fun in the way that I do. Certainly lil’ lb wasn’t as old as the manuscript (he had form, and a little colour) but he was long dead. Also, these books aren’t opened regularly, and he was next to the spine.

While I battle through fragile newspaper articles about TH, Sarah tries to replicate a Victorian classical education for the British schoolboy. She’s looking through the ‘textbooks’ they used, their Latin grammars and bearing in mind vocabulary advice for future prose compositions!

Reading the details of Hardy’s funeral, I am reminded of the bizarre circumstances surrounding his burial in Poets’ Corner. I’ve never been to visit Hardy at Westminster Abbey. It’s not a place I particularly associate with him.

Another excellent word/phrase which has passed out of usage: I’ve just read of Hardy being ‘much moved when the boys of the school gave him three lusty cheers’.

Another charming thing about archival work is finding tidbits for friends. When you know other people’s projects, you can be reminded of them by certain aspects of archive material which are not of use to you. Then you quickly describe or transcribe them and make them happy with a surprise “research help” email.

An old tribute/obit for TH has the brilliant subheading ‘Finest Sex-Novel':

Without hyperbole it may be said to be the finest sex-novel ever written. All Hardy’s, like most other men’s novels, are, of course, sex-novels, but in “Jude” we are down to the bed-rock facts.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the hitherto unconsidered genre of… ‘the sex-novel’.

Sarah showed me some historical doodling on the inside cover of a Latin textbook. It was very a carefully drawn gate and turret down in that old brown thin ink that looks so convincingly beautiful. On the facing page, the boy has drawn a face. A later graffiti artist has come along and remodelled the doodle, incorporating that face into a bigger picture of a scarecrow/snowman. Ah! The generations of schoolboy doodlers, united on the page!

I spoke to my Mum in the morning saying that I was “down to the wire”. You feel it – three days to get through things you can’t take with you. In the afternoon, every bell strike felt like a dramatic tolling towards my exit. This, though, was after a lovely lunch in Costa with Sarah, discussing the highs and lows of graduate life on either of the pond. It’s been a real boon having Sarah’s company over the past three days – so often archives are silent and lonely places, and lunch is a solo mission to be disposed of quickly. This way, when either of us found something amusing in our reading we could actually share it in the moment.

The ephemera and biographical materials boxes turned up interesting finds, and then I spent my last 50 minutes or so reading FEH’s letters to John Drinkwater. I was sorry to say bye to Sarah, Maddy and the rest of the Library staff, but it was definitely time for me to return to my version of reality. Schoolboys in gown-style uniforms and masters in white tie make for a slightly unnerving environment.

I walked from Eton to Slough for the last time, had a rather nice jacket potato at Tesco and then started my three train journey home. I’m exhausted, my arms are really painful and I can’t put weight on one of my feet, but it’s been one hell of a trip. Hooray for research! I will return to the blog when next I have some funky research stories for you. Until then, take care!

PS. Proudest moment? Getting a porter to do a ‘thumbs up’ back at me. Small pleasures.

Nifty Starbucks brekkie

Nifty Starbucks brekkie

Last view of a pretty stunning workplace

Last view of a pretty stunning workplace

Maddy's thank you card (with added glasses and hedgehog)

Maddy’s thank you card (with added glasses and hedgehog)

Hedgie is still confused by snakes, even after so many archive visits

Hedgie is still confused by snakes, even after so many archive visits

The title refers to the fact that I have positively ruined my feet with blisters and now am performing some sort of hobble-wince. Never say that academics don’t suffer for their work! My knees do go a little weak whenever I see Hardy’s handwriting, though, so possibly my gait was already erring on the side of the wibbly.

Florence Emily Hardy (TH’s second wife) is a fan of the vertical in her handwriting. Her individual characters have little in the way of width, but stretch up and down the page like tall thin men. Also, she takes joined-up handwriting to extremes, not taking pen from page between words sometimes. There’ll be a terrific leap from the tail of the ‘y’ ending one word into the high stem of the next’s ‘h’.

Florence to a friend living in Australia:
I am glad you find the cider good out yonder.

Hehe, Florence recounts the story of the MS of Far From the Madding Crowd being lost for 40 years, found in time to sell at the Red Cross sale at Christie’s and sold to an ‘American collector & it is now in America’. It surely is! I’ve seen it in Yale’s Beinecke library! Serendipitous connections with letters I read here and past archival adventures :)

I did it again: in this letter Walter de la Mare is proposing to visit Hardy on May 22nd. I instantly went “Oh! On F’s birthday!”, because my sister was born on 22nd May. I’m really learning from my errors, aren’t I?

Only the other day I was talking to my students about the changing meaning of words and used ‘genius’ as an example. Then along comes an FEH letter in which she notes “I seem to have a genius for saying or doing the wrong thing”.

Every mention of ‘Wessie’ makes me giggle. Wessie is Wessex, the Hardys’ pet dog, much beloved by them, he was considered a terror by (al)most everyone else.

‘Glastonbury’ has become so strongly synonymous with the music festival (I mean, really, if a pop culture no-hoper like me knows it!) that every time I read about the possibility of TH going to Glastonbury/meeting friends at Glastonbury, I quite HOOT with laughter.

While the reading room was closed for lunch, I walked into Windsor. More walking?! Yes, because that’s where Boots is. I bought up their stocks of blister plasters and new orthotic insoles. Trying to give myself a chance, ish. Windsor is v v posh: somewhat unsettlingly so. The castle looks delightful, though, and the route from Eton takes you right past its walls.

For lunch, I went to Yo Sushi, not least because I have a 25% student discount. More, though, where better to go for a change when having been scrutinising papers in a library than a brightly-coloured, neon-lit place where people yell at each other as a matter of course? And not forgetting the mechanised food delivery system.

I have no patience for people who write as if they are trying to murder both pencil and paper.

FEH’s writing changes with age and I feel more sympathy for her, in reading her letters, than I ever have before. She’s looking after an increasingly frail husband, rarely perfectly well herself, and then (after TH’s death) dealing with a difficult co-executorship and mourning correspondence. The mourning stationery thing is, though, a good idea. We now have so few traditions surrounding the grieving process that no one knows what to do. Grief is a moment when a framework is, perhaps, most needed.

The letters between FEH and Siegfried Sassoon are rich and plenty. Especially with all of the centenary events of last year, it’s particularly sobering to read of Capt. Sassoon. And given that I work on Frost, Edward Thomas’ death is always at the back of my mind when it comes to WWI.

I had to wait for a bus to get me part of the way back, as the blisters were too painful. 2.60 to go in a straight line up a hill? Piffle, I say. In another money-saving measure (beginning to regret this) I changed hotels to avoid a leap in price for the Tuesday night. Thus, I found myself wandering some pretty dodgy streets to get to the Slough Travelodge, which is currently a partial building site. Renovations, sadly, not “the rooms that we do have are in peak condition”.

Nothing else of note occurred apart from my being called “sir” by the bar cafe server. He claims he was trying to say “Thank you” to me – a woman – and “Goodnight” to a man simultaneously, and so it came out “Thank you, sir”. I leave it to you to judge…

Eton prospect (or, what you see when you go the right way)

Eton prospect (or, what you see when you go the right way)

Where I'm working. I *have* an appointment.

Where I’m working. I *have* an appointment.

Windsor swans

Windsor swans

View of Windsor Castle

View of Windsor Castle

Of course my little research Hedgie is here!

Of course my little research Hedgie is here!

Herschel Park - walking from Slough

Herschel Park – walking from Slough

In terms of auspicious starts to researching at Eton College/a first ever visit to Eton at all, I failed spectacularly. My money-saving idea of staying in Slough was only good as far as I could in fact get to Eton. Whoops. It turns out that my phone’s mapping devices do not know where Eton College is. They think they do, though.

I was having quite a nice walk (there’s nothing like crossing the M4 of a morning) and seeing the most beautiful nursery I’ve ever seen and nice riverside imagery (see below). Then my phone announced I had ‘arrived’ at Eton, when in fact I was by – a leisure centre. Not quite the triumphant trumpet effect I was going for. I started following muddy footpaths towards some fields, never quite sure whether these were public footpaths or not. As you can imagine, I wasn’t terribly keen on the mud now creeping up my boots, nor the prospect of slipping over Hugh Laurie style.

I walked through quite a few playing fields, by a cricket pitch?, near a field, always worrying that I was trespassing onto private property and desperately hoping for something that was obviously signed as ‘Porter’s Lodge’. When I finally wound around to Eton town I was hugely confused by the many important-looking buildings with ‘report to [their own individual] entrance’ written on them. Just as I was about to accept the fact that I would have to ask a boy for directions, I saw the words ‘Porter’s Lodge’ across the road. Finally.

‘It involves a photo’ is not what you hope to hear about getting a security pass, but hey ho. While getting tagged I met the other researcher the library is hosting at the moment, Sarah. In a beautifully neat coincidence, she is visiting from University of Washington, Seattle, which is precisely where my supervisor is currently on research leave. Sarah is looking at the nature of Classical education in Victorian England. Who were students reading, and which texts? I know really want to know too! What is amazing is the records that the school has of past curricula – like playing detective with clues that can actually be found.

Two more sign-ins and a passport check later, I was in business. It was good to see Maddy again – I only saw her give one paper at one conference, but it’s incredible how voices can stay with you and in a moment of recognition, I was 100% certain of having met her before. Sorry, obvious I know, but a whole chapter of my thesis is devoted to recognition and I’m a little obsessed now.

I began by looking at the poetry manuscripts that Eton hold. I didn’t know which poems I’d find, so it was a right old voyage of discovery. Individual manuscript sheets have been collected together and beautifully bound in leather-backed volumes. Just handling these materials is pretty blooming special. God, watermarked paper is good.

Time No. c.837 that I have internally bemoaned my own inability to read Latin. Thanks state education and consequent lack of time! To be fair, these occasions arise thick and fast now that I bop about with a classicist, but even so, in studying Hardy and Frost one cannot help feeling a duffer for not being versed (haha!) in Classical poetry, in the original. It was Horace, by the way.

The library held their staff meeting and it included a woman with platinum blonde hair in a 1920s waved bob so perfect that I have never seen such a one outside of a film version of The Great Gatsby. Respect.

Even with Hardy’s lovely handwriting, there are still occasions when you have to decipher words. Then you’re relying on a knowledge of English syntax, the context of the letter and which characters your eyes are telling you you see. The last of these has a surprisingly strong grip and often prevents the other two from doing their work as efficiently as they might. Finally you read ‘alas’ instead of ‘ales’ and ‘holding’, not ‘holiday’!

Every single box containing a book MS opens a different way. It’s like a child’s shape-sorting test: I expect some developmental psychologist to be watching from behind closed doors in order to write a journal article about how procedural memory is scuppered in the researcher as his/her brain regresses to childhood…

A letter from 1931 and it uses proper orangey-red seals! All cracked and bizarre looking. Errol Flynn Robin Hood flashbacks. (The earliest memory I have of ‘seeing’ a seal).

‘Hail & hurricanes are the rule here’ – I love you, Thomas Hardy.

“A people carrier is coming from Slough to pick us up”, like he’s never heard of a people carrier before. And suddenly, now I am thinking of the weirdness of that name.

It’s a good job that the reading room closes for lunch so I am forced to un-crane my neck and un-screw my brow. At least temporarily. This also provided me with a first look at Eton town. Never have I seen so many Gentleman’s outfitters on one, rather small really, street. What proportion of Eton’s workforce uses tape measures?

Oh no! Hardy has cut the tip of his thumb with his new pocket-knife and writes with difficulty! The drama of reading personal letters in sequence is quite something. I want to bandage Hardy’s thumb now.

And thus I am introduced to the notion of mourning stationery. Ok, yes, you all knew because you’re great and I’m an idiot,but what a fascinating idea. Stationery that is black bordered on the front page, and also the envelope.

On 5th Nov 1899, Hardy wrote to George Gissing, and I thought, “oh, he wrote to him on my mum’s birthday.” Now this is one of the great cons we play on ourselves, marking time in alignment with our own personal events. Because of course it wasn’t my mother’s birthday in 1899 – she was far from even being born. While my rational mind knows this, my first thought still uttered itself as above. Although I am aware that not everyone’s memory for 5th Nov works like this, it’s certainly the method on which my personal memory has anchored.

“I just read Jane Austen’s nephew’s exams.” Possibly the best interjection to my work ever. Sarah is reading the exam scripts from a particular scholarship given to the best classicist. They are super old and came as an A5ish bundle tied up with a ribbony thing.

You’ll be pleased, possibly, to learn that I took a different route back to Slough. It’s a straight line from the school to Slough. Thanks, phone GPS, you cocky ignoramus.



Incredible building to go to nursery in!

Incredible building to go to nursery in!

I have been tagged

In the forecourt

Favourite architectural feature? These twirly chimney pots


Clear skies riverside

But can I? And do I need to?

Research can send you to all kinds of unlikely places and right now I’m in David Brent’s old stomping ground. Every person I’ve told I’m headed to Slough has laughed, if not guffawed. And yet, it’s just a place. My nearest town back home is really nothing to shout about. Why am I here? Thomas Hardy. He sends me to various locations, the active ghost.

For these three days, I’m booked in to be a visiting researcher at the library at Eton College. The irony of this visit is not lost on me: I’m the wrong gender and social class ever to be setting foot in Eton’s grounds. Anyway, it transpires (or transpired a few months ago, for me) that Eton has a Thomas Hardy collection in their archives. I was alerted to this from a paper by Maddy Smith (a curator at Eton) on Hardy’s bibliographic identity at the TH Conference in Dorset last year. I don’t know what exactly is in this archive, so I’m taking a gamble here.

In an effort to keep costs down on this trip, I’m staying in Slough and walking in to Windsor. All hope with me now: let the weather hold! I’d rather not turn up to Eton College for the first time looking drowned rattish… Also, I feel semi still in my comfort zone if I stay in Slough rather than Windsor.

The journey yesterday was…interesting. Everything was fine until I boarded the Paddington-Slough train. I’d just had a lovely time popping round the Paddington Bear shop (bears in duffel coats and hats – what’s not to like?!) when on a late platform announcement every person in the station tried to board the same train. Needless to say, it wasn’t a success. It was a squish fest. I was next to a physicist going through lecture handouts and on reading ‘Hilary term’ I really wanted to ask “so how’s Oxford going?”, but I thought it might be felt a little intrusive.

On arrival in Slough, the heavens were simply pelting all the people. It’s only a 14-min walk to the hotel, but that was enough to render me entirely shiny from the rain. It’s when you’re walking through a rainstorm, your waterproof hood keeps being blown back off and you’re yelling Robert Frost lyrics into the wind – “whose woods these are I THINK I KNOW!” – that you have to admit ‘it’s a bloody good job I love my work…’.

On the cusp of the archive is always a slightly daunting place to be. Questions abound in your head: will I make the most of it? Will I recognise the significance of the items and therefore prioritise my time appropriately? Will I get through this in the time available? Will I make this trip worthwhile (in terms of money, time and effort)? Of course, I’m lying in saying that my brain panics in such fully-rounded formulations. It’s more like the usual PhD brain worry: “Aargh! Oh no! Watch out! Not again! Take cover!” The last one is for when you’re absent-mindedly throwing pens and catching them, and then you throw one too high…

Right. Once more into the breach, dear friends…

Pics: Paddington Bear at the station; bedtime thesis bunnies; I’ve accidentally dressed for a funeral; there’s a view not to be sniffed at!

PS. Based on the music playing in the Premier Inn Breakaurant (breakfast restaurant), I have to ask – why does Lana del Ray insist on trying to sing an extra syllable into the word ‘beautiful’?





*Apologies for the late posting – I’ve been ill*

One thing I failed to mention yesterday, was the ‘Treasures of the Hardy Collection’ talk by Helen Gibson. It made me want to rush straight back to the DCM archive to look at many more of the TH manuscripts. While at the DCM, I went into the Victorian Gallery and saw the bound manuscript edition of The Woodlanders. He has a charming hand and – though it would take longer – it would be amazing to read entire novels as penned in the author’s hand.

Thursday’s proceedings began with a keynote from Prof. Tom McAlindon on Time and Mutability in Hardy. A fine array of quotations read beautifully helped to shape this lecture into a really beautiful thing to hear – and that was without the interesting content!

The next panel I sampled was smaller but really strong. Education and its effects in Hardy prove to be particularly interesting. I’ve never thought of education as being complicit in the process of (local) cultural amnesia, but of course as a systematic means of knowledge control, it is/can be. I’ve been thinking on this since: how educational reform can divide the generations, and how – for Hardy’s remote country folk – education might dislocate one from his/her cultural roots.

One paper on the folk songs of Far From the Madding was really entertaining, because examples of the songs being sung were played from a cassette tape. Yes, I said it. A cassette tape. Even better, a self-made mix tape including octogenarians singing the songs their forebears taught them. Wonderful. It reminded me of he that fun of hearing ‘A rotty trotty trotty, a rotty trotty tree’ in the Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard, on the same track as Robert Frost reading his poetry. The enthusiasm of these preservers of local culture is marvellous – and infectious.

To prepare for giving my paper, I retired to the lovely Oak Tea Rooms (about which I have waxed lyrical before). There is something calming about the historical surroundings, traditional B/W waitress-wear, old gramophone and penny farthing. Nervous butterflies kept me from demolishing their fabulous cake, though. Ach well.

I was speaking on belatedness and recognition memory in Hardy’s verse, but let’s turn to my fellow panellists. Other people’s projects are endlessly fascinating. The development of artificial light in the long C19th novel – I’m sold! I want to know more about that. In fact, I was watching the adaptation of Under the Greenwood Tree this morning and thinking that our forebears must have been less generally scared of the dark than we, for there was so much more darkness to go around before the invention of electric light. One chap spoke on legal ethics in The Woodlanders, which I’d never considered. The question of altruism is a really fascinating one (I went to a seminar on the problems of medical altruism in Middlemarch once – really good).

Of particular interest to me, was the paper connecting Hardy to burgeoning theories of time (including Einstein’s Theory of Relativity). It’s an area I want to know more about, so hearing quotations and poems I know viewed in this different light was rather wonderful.

In the second postgraduate seminar, we furthered the post-paper Q&A/discussion from postgraduate presentations. I wasn’t very good value, though, being quite tired and post-presentation spaced out. When I was with it, I really enjoyed again being in a lively conversation about all things Hardy: I always want that to happen and it just never does! In the solitary library hours of the literature PhD and the silent study of the archive, it’s hard to feel like part of a community, thus it’s really great to meet other Hardy types (hehe!), to have people to bounce ideas off.

It was a quiet eve I needed after such excitements – dinner in Carluccio’s and a well-deserved glass of red. Even if speaking doesn’t make you particularly nervous, it somehow exhausts you.

Friday morning I packed my belongings and walked into town for the last time this trip. (Weep weep, indeed). I took photos of the lovely Hardy statue I’ve been walking past each day. You’ve gotta tip your hat to the man who makes your academic world go round! I also saw again one of my favourite ‘don’t litter Dorchester’ posters, designed by a local schoolchild. A cool idea well-executed that made me read its message: not bad, Dorchester.

Chairman of the TH Society, Tony Fincham, led us through some Hardyean landscapes to kick off the final day of academia. Knowing this was my last morning in Dorchester, I had to try out a teashop/coffee house I’ve been walking past and wanting to sample. The Gilded Teapot is a charming little place – a little bit like Ollivanders, but for tea/coffee instead of wands. When I went in I couldn’t help saying “what a lovely-smelling place to work!” (and – amazingly – I wasn’t thrown out on the spot). All of the different smells of speciality teas and coffees intermingled to smell simply brilliant. I can imagine several of my close friends quite happily working in such an environment. The mocha was delicious and if I’d had more money or time (or case space) I would have brought back some yummy tea for my flatmate. Anyhow, the message is: if you’re in Dorchester, go to The Gilded Teapot. It’s lovely, the staff are really friendly and you won’t regret it.

The final keynote was Dr. Marion Thain, who I’d been looking forward to. Affective form in Hardy’s poetry – a title that baits people like me. There was a possibility of my doing my PhD with Dr. Thain, and though I can tell it would have been amazing, she’s now moving to NYC, which wouldn’t have worked out so well for me! Having been writing a chapter on ‘Voice’, my focus within Hardy’s poetry has been very aural (and oral) of late. Thus, it was good to be shown again the importance of the visual to Hardy’s verse, especially in ways I had not ever considered. One always wants to end a good conference on a high, and this certainly provided satisfaction.

After that, it was goodbyes to newly-made friends and off on my 5 hour journey back home. I think that Hardy would have liked Kenilworth, which is pleasing. It only remains, then, to thank all of the various conference organisers for a wonderful week – and especially Dr. Jane Thomas, the Academic Director. Thanks also to all the postgrads for being so welcoming and fun to be around – keep in touch!

In the style of the Loony Tunes, that’s all folks! (Until next I find myself in interesting thesis circumstnaces…)

Pics: My official looking badge; Hedgehog hiding under a hat; light lunch Oak Tea Rooms style; post-paper dinner and sneaky glass of D’Abruzzo; affogato to close; Hardy statue; don’t litter poster; the DCM; inside The Gilded Teapot; TGT logo; the Hardy head which presided over the conference.















Now I could lie and say that Ricks wasn’t the big draw of the conference for me, but I’m a very bad liar. Sir Christopher Ricks (or just Christopher Ricks, as we knew him from a book spine) was a large part of my undergrad degree, or at least my memories of it. His book on Tennyson’s poetry was the only secondary material with passages I actively wanted to learn off by heart, because they were as beautifully written as the primary texts (and no, sorry – that’s remaining my delicious secret). So I had been looking forward to the whole conference altogether, but I admit there was something special about seeing Ricks (and unlike Buzz Aldrin, he didn’t disappoint).

The lecture reminded me of one of my old supervisors doing an impression of William Empson. Ricks has one of those ve’y ve’y posh voices that contracts the two syllables of ‘very’ to one. It’s sort of amazing. There is something about hearing someone you’ve read for a number of years, and respected, give a keynote lecture.

Thinking about T.S. Eliot alongside Hardy is an unusual process (thinking about Eliot alongside Frost is strange enough), but brings out new ideas. Since I’m such a poetry person, one of the things I really appreciated about the lecture was Ricks’ sensitivity to the paragraphing of prose. Comparing this to lineation in poetry, he considered how prose writers can use paragraphing to shape certain cadences. All of the best lectures make you consciously aware of something you already vaguely knew. This did just that.

I nipped into the Dorset County Museum at lunch – you can’t go to Dorchester and not visit the DCM. Sure enough, I went to see my old dino buddies. A new addition: an amazing Lego dinosaur statue! I so wanted to play, but thought that the sign saying ‘don’t touch’ applied to adults as much as children… The temporary exhibition at the DCM at the moment is ‘Dorset Woman at War: Mabel Stobart and the Retreat from Serbia 1915′. To my shame, I had never heard of Mabel Stobart before, but she was certainly a impressive and determined individual. Against public opinion, Stobart set up a team of female doctors and nurses to travel to Serbia and help with the war effort. The exhibition has a series of incredible photographs showing the hardships and the hardy nature of these women and Serbian soldiers. There are also a selection of medical objects on show. I think it’s unfortunate that one brand of medical supplies was ‘Horrocks’, because maybe it’s just me but all I could see in the label was ‘horror’.

Having heard me talk about visiting Max Gate, and with nothing else planned for the afterrnoon, fellow postgrad, Rena, decided to join me in visiting Hardy’s home. I would have gone anyway, but how much nicer to visit with a companion – and a fellow Hardy enthusiast!

I didn’t realise quite how close Max Gate is to Dorchester town centre, having never been before. Ok, because of roadage and roundaboutage it’s not the world’s most pleasant walk, but it is infinitely doable and really quite quick. Set back from a busy road by a lane and some tall trees sits the house that Hardy designed, and his brother built. This was quite the occasion for me, having read about all of these eminent people visiting MG and recording their impressions, but never having been myself.

The National Trust own mini MG – mini compared to standard National Trust properties, but a more than adequate-sized dwelling to house husband, wife and pets. In the entrance hall, you could purchase potatoes grown in the garden (would that my case permitted room!). Friendly desk staff set the tone for our visit, since an extremely enthusiastic guide offered to give us a personal tour of the garden and show us her favourite gems.

Watching somebody love something, is to love something. Hearing someone else’s enthusiasm for a topic, is to share that enthusiasm. So it was with this lady and Thomas Hardy. Her eyes lit up and she couldn’t stop smiling, nor keep the thrill out of her voice: she simply wanted to talk to us about him. And so, we heard about the original two-up two-down structure of the house being added to as Hardy made money from his literary works. A tower added this end, a big study over there, Emma’s two attic rooms.

I learned new things about Hardy while there, including his interest in – and support of – Marie Stopes, founder of the first birth control clinic in Britain. The toy dog by the fireplace to replicate Wessex was quite frankly frightening, though. The evolution of Hardy’s studies is interesting, moving as he did from one room into another as they were built/he required more space. I have to admit, though, I prefer the replicated main study at the DCM than the one in Max Gate (more of the original objects are in the DCM).

I think I went to visit Max Gate to see Emma’s rooms, really – I just didn’t know it in advance. There are several things to do with Max Gate that I could imagine without visiting, and others too which, in seeing them, chimed with what I had imagined. Emma’s attic rooms, though, (to which she increasingly retreated towards the end of her life) have to be seen to be understood. They are so small, so dimly lit and – in this weather – so hot. Awkward little staircase, stooping to get through the doorways, it is indicative of a limited life, a squashed solitude. The little teddy on her bed looks careworn and like he’s been through the wars.

One bedroom had a set of costumes lent by the Hardy Players. Inevitably, Rena had to suffer my trying on as many costumes as I could. (Flashbacks to spending hours in the costume room at Newstead Abbey, Bryon’s ancestral seat).

The Pet Cemetery is… odd. It just is, fashionable as they were for Victorians, normal as it was to Hardy. Also, he apparently used to enjoy not just showing visitors the graves, but explaining the horrible ways many of them died (cut in half by a passing train…). Since the weather was so good and we had nowhere in particular to be, Rena and I sat for a while (well, until closing time!) in the garden, discussing Hardy and academic careers and the funny things that children do/say. There are few more pleasant surroundings than Hardy’s greenery, red brick and the sunshine of a non-British summer.

The quiet evening I had planned ahead of giving my paper went somewhat interestingly when my flatmate rang to say the flat might be about to flood. It didn’t, but it was odd to be directing her to the stopcock…from Dorset.(And yes, I left that ambiguity in for funsies).

PS. I have learned that I am the kind of person who will read a perfectly normal and known word, like ‘unironic’, and think “oh my goodness! what’s a ‘ronic’? what is to be ‘ronic’? AM I???!!” I *think* I’ve gone wrong…

Pics: Get your kicks with Sir Christopher Ricks; amazing Lego dinosaur in the Dorset County Museum; dino costumes for children; Max Gate from the side (the large square windows are Hardy’s study and the upper windows Emma’s attic); the little path out of the garden; ‘at the end of a valley of bending boughs’ (‘The Going’); canine visitor to Max Gate; Emma’s attic bedroom; dressed as a Hardy female; Max Gate entrance; Tio, the bunny visitor, at Max Gate; pet cemetery; hedgehog at Max Gate.


















The blog posts are having to be delayed in their release due to internet connection (or a lack thereof). Sorry about that! After more sleep the second night, it was time to leap into Thomas Hardy Fun Times Day 2 – with a theme of Hardy and the war. 2014, of course, is the centenary of the Great War, a conflict with which Hardy had more than a few poetic brushes. Draw of the day was Prof. Tim Kendall (Exeter) on Hardy’s Poetry and WWI. Everyone agreed that this was a deft and insightful keynote. I particularly enjoyed seeing poems I know so well opened up again for further nuanced examination.

What’s amazing about this conference is the friendly and welcoming nature of the community. And it IS a community: evidently, many people come to this event every time it’s on – and they meet up in Dorchester not only to catch up on Hardy hype, but also to catch up on each other’s lives. Even the postgrads were mostly on their second conference this time round. I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a conference with such a spirit about it – rather endearing, really. And because it’s a festival, too, there are lots of members of the public in attendance at the keynotes, as well as us usual academic crowd.

A Hardy and War call for papers panel followed the Kendall lecture, with more interesting facets to the Hardy and war relationship being opened up. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of Hardy’s use of the term ‘creature’, being able to indicate both humans and animals (depending on the context) but often denoting some sense of kinship, or an affective relationship. As ever, it’s incredible to realise how much difference one word can not only make, but different meanings it can hold within itself.

Excellent conversation overheard in the Oxfam bookshop, while choosing collections of Geoffrey Hill and Kate Clancy to buy:
ELDERLY MAN [takes book up to lady at counter]: This is the best book I’ve ever read.
CASHIER [looking at it]: Oh, really?
ELDERLY MAN: Yes. It’s brilliant.
CASHIER: Does that mean you’re buying it?
ELDERLY MAN: No. But I thought you could use the tip.

The ‘Texts and Textuality’ panel of the afternoon brought further fruit for delection. (This week wasn’t a game of Hungry Hardy Hippos, but also, I did have that much fun!). One paper about Hardy’s bibliographic identity introduced me to some annotated material I didn’t know about and which could help shape my future thoughts on Hardy and cultural memory. It also took me back to the sheer joy of handling Hardy’s own books and seeing the marginalia with which he chose to converse with his reading material. My love of the archive was also fuelled by the subsequent paper on Hardy’s use of old newspapers. I was particularly struck by the idea that in replicating Hardy’s reading, it is like looking over his shoulder while he is reading it. True, and that’s what makes it so rewarding.

The first of two postgraduate panels finished the day. In an amusing icebreaker, we tried to come up with what we’d have characters/things say to each other if they could step outside the bounds of their own text. Hmm, many conversations could occur, but I would rather see some of Hardy’s lively characters have a dance-off. In fact, the more I think about it, I’d quite like to have a dance-off with Hardy himself: I think I’d give him an impressive run for his money, but that ultimately he’d beat me.

The postgraduate papers are intermingled with those of seasoned academics, which is a great opportunity, but it’s also nice to have some time in the week dedicated to being with others who are at that initial stage of the research career. Also, hearing about other people’s projects is fascinating, inspiring and makes the thesis seem – a bit! – more doable.

PS. I sat on a bench in Dorchester and tried to collect my thoughts. Ten minutes later, a middle-aged quite overweight topless man came to sit next to me and crack open a can of something. It was time to leave.

Pics: Fred Astaire shoes; one hard-working hedgehog




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