The Oriel Window, Top o' Town
High Street West
Photograph 2002 by Philip V. Allingham
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The oriel window, epitomizing the panopticon surveillance of the invalid in the first half of Thomas Hardy's late short story "A Changed Man," was lost to Dorchester and readers of Hardy when the owners decided to restore the residence fronting High West Street at The Top o' the Town to its original, eighteenth-century appearance. The present oriel, therefore, is part of another house nearby and dating from the same period as the House that Hardy, writing in 1899, had in mind. Since the story appeared in two parts in the large-scale, weekly illustrated magazine the Sphere, the original readers probably would not have noticed the decline in importance of the invalid and his window, which are central in instalment one (parts 1 through 4, 21 April 1900), and almost absent in instalment two (parts 5 through 7, 28 April 1900). Neither of the two illustrations by A. S. Hartrick features exteriors from the locale, the first being an interior scene in the Maumbrys' rooms, and the second a night-time, exterior scene south of "Casterbridge" (Dorchester) at "Durnover" (Fordington).
Hardy's principal allusion to this view occurs at the beginning of 'A Changed Man', in the description of what the invalid saw from his first-floor oriel window. Some have fancied the 'old, substantially built house' with the oriel to be Top-o'-Town House, but Hardy himself revealed that he had in mind 51 High West Street. This stands on the north side, quite a distance down from Top-o'-Town; but the oriel, rather deceptively, did command approximately the view ascribed to it [in the story, facilitating the invalid's close scrutiny of the Maumbrys' social activities]. Unfortunately for Hardy lovers a change of ownership in 1973 resulted in the new proprietors deciding to restore the original facade of the house, a procedure that involved discovering that the oriel was a later addition and removing it. On the same side, the uppermost house in High West Street appears from Hardy's rather odd description to have been the residence of Laura and her uncle in 'A Changed Man'. [Denys Kay-Robinson 13]
Hardy, Thomas. "A Changed Man." The Sphere, 21 and 28 April, 1900, pp. 419-421 and 451-452.
Kay-Robinson, Denys. The Landscape of Thomas Hardy, with photographs by Simon McBride. Exeter: Salem House & Web and Bower, 1984.
Last modified 20 September 2008