Map of the Wessex of the Novels and Poems (1895)

Map of the Wessex of the Novels and Poems. Source of photograph: Tess of the D'Urbervilles in the Anniversary Edition of the Wessex Novels, 1920. Endpapers. [Note: real place names appear in regular font — e.g., "Stonehenge" and "Plymouth" — while Hardy's fictional names appear in italics.]

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Commentary

Thomas Hardy's eighteen books of prose fiction deal in the main with one part of England. For this district he revived the ancient name of Wessex, which had been forgotten since the [Norman] Conquest by all except historians and antiquaries. The Wessex of Thomas Hardy has no very clearly defined limits. Bounded on the south by the English Channel, it stretches as far west as Cornwall, as far north as Oxford, and as far east as Windsor. But its centre and the true home of Hardy's art is his native country of Dorset. Dorset is one of the most historic of English counties, and in the nineteenth century it was one of the most conservative and "backward." When Hardy was a boy it was still hardly touched by the great industrial revolution that had transformed the Midlands and the North. It was a county of sleepy old towns and secluded villages, where customs handed down by tradition from remote antiquity still survived, and where the social fabric had undergone little change for centuries. Something of what [diarist Samuel] Pepys called "The old age of the world" lingered up to the middle of the reign of Victoria [1837-1901] in this sheltered corner of south-western England. And Hardy knew Wessex. He had studied it with the enthusiasm of a poet and with the scientific precision of an antiquary and a social historian. He knows the Wessex landscape not as a tourist knows it, but as a farmer or labourer in the fields might know it if he were gifted with the sensitiveness of an artist. He shows a knowledge of local history and antiquities that few professed Dorset antiquaries could have boasted. . . . .

If one of the great characteristics of the Wessex Novels is this imaginative portraiture of the local and the commonplace, the other is their tragic quality. — Orr and de Sola Pinto, v-vi.

References

Hardy, Thomas. "Map of the Wessex of the Novels and Poems." Tess of the D'Urbervilles, A Pure Woman. "Anniversary Edition of the Wessex Novels." New York & London: Harper & Brothers, 1920. This edition derives in part from previous editions; the photographs come from the 1912 Macmillan Wessex Edition.

Orr, Andrew A., and Vivian de Sola Pinto (eds). "Introduction." Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge: A story of a Man of Character. (1886). Toronto: Macmillan, 1962. Pp. v-viii.

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Last modified 15 January 2017