Four takes on famous author’s life

A Village Choir by Thomas Webster is on show in Dorchester, © The Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Image no: 2006al3887
A Village Choir by Thomas Webster is on show in Dorchester, © The Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Image no: 2006al3887

Fans of Thomas Hardy are in for a summer treat as four local museums hold co-ordinated exhibitions, examining different aspects of his work.
Hardy fans can discover more about the Victorian poet and novelist in the exhibitions which run at Dorchester, Poole, Salisbury and Devizes until October.
Dorset Museum in Dorchester is exploring Hardy’s views on social tensions and animal welfare.
Despite his national acclaim, Hardy never lost touch with his experience of the working-class lives and poverty of rural Dorset and the museum is using paintings, writing, costume and drawings to bring his writing to life.
One of the highlights is The Village Choir painting by Thomas Webster, loaned by the Victoria and Albert Museum, which provides a snapshot of the rural musicians Hardy grew up with and wrote about.
Poole Museum will examine Hardy’s relationship with the coastlines which inspired his writing – from first meeting his wife, Emma, on the wild cliffs of Cornwall, to his fascination with the Napoleonic wars.
Among the exhibits are the handwritten notebook for his novel ‘The Trumpet-Major’, compete with scribbles and sketches. Visitors can also see the 1816 artwork ‘Weymouth Bay’, by John Constable, loaned to the museum by the V&A.
In Salisbury, the exhibition uncovers Hardy’s links with the city and his views on religion and feminism. During the 19th century, Hardy’s sisters attended a teacher training college based in The King’s House, now the museum. The college inspired an episode in Jude the Obscure, one of the original manuscripts featured in the show.
Meanwhile, at The Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, the theme is Ancient Wessex – Superstition and old beliefs.
With its proximity to Stonehenge, which plays such an important role in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the Wiltshire Museum is well-placed to investigate how Hardy’s writing merged his present with the past.
It will also show how many of his plots were set against a background of superstition in these ancient landscapes where old beliefs died hard.
Among the exhibits are his hand-annotated copy of Einstein’s new theories and his ‘Book of Facts’, in which he recorded old beliefs and superstitions.
Battens Solicitors, which has six offices in Somerset and Dorset, is sponsoring Hardy’s Wessex. The law firm was founded at Church House in Church Street, Yeovil, in the 18th century, before moving to its current headquarters in Princes Street.
The branch would have been open in 1876 when Thomas Hardy and his wife Emma lived in lodgings at 7 St Peter Street, Yeovil. The couple stayed there from March to July, during which time Hardy corrected the final proofs of his novel ‘The Hand of Ethelberta’.
More information, including ticket prices and opening times can be found at each museum’s website.

by Faith Eckersall

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