Terrence James Losing myself in Hardy's world
I have just returned from an idyllic week in beautiful Dorset; a county blissfully untroubled by the mayhem of a motorway.
I was cottage-sitting which provided an uninterrupted view of the Vale Of Blackmoor, looking towards Sherborne.
For my favourite author, Thomas Hardy, this was his country. Read one of his novels or go to see a movie based on one of them and you will want to come to Dorset; the area he called "Wessex" in his novels. Hardy lived here for almost his entire life.
The Wessex landscape I gazed upon, for every day for that week, shaped and coloured the work of the author.
It would be true to say that his writing could have come out of no other setting.
Without that meticulously observed and lovingly recorded background, a book such as Tess of the D'Urbervilles might have been just another Victorian melodrama or Two on a Tower an innocuous novella.
I have been to Wordsworth's Lake District, The Bronte' Moors, DH Lawrence's Midlands, Dylan Thomas' Wales, James Joyce's Dublin and even Yeats' Western Ireland but nowhere, even more than 150 years after conception, does a writer's vision still remain inextricably linked to the landscape .
One day I went, close by the cottage, to the village of Marnhull, known as Marlott in Tess. It is where the story opens and introduces the reader to a rather drunken, John Durbeyfield as he journeys homewards to Marlott from Shaston (Shaftesbury) and the meeting he has with Parson Tringham, the antiquary.
He tells him he is probably related to the ancient rich family of D'Urbervilles – a name now extinct in the county. It is this meeting that triggers the downfall of Tess in her fruitless search for her rich antecedents.
I couldn't help being overcome with a gentle melancholy as I stood in the quiet village. Probably because of my attachment to the novel and the tragedy of the heroine who lived there.
I heard a lot of birdsong too in the quietude of my surroundings. It was a day of low cloud and Hardy's poem The Darkling Thrush came to mind. I tried to see and hear as Hardy had, almost unconsciously absorbing his view of the Dorset landscape as I saw the solitary bird on a bare bough, and singing as it did for him.
While in Dorset I heard that they were remaking Far from the Madding Crowd.
Quite right. I reflected that, in my view, the problem with Polanski's Tess made in 1979, was not the acting or the cinematography, but it was filmed in Brittany and not Dorset.