Thomas Hardy's Wessex

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Locations in Wessex, from The Wessex of Thomas Hardy by Bertram Windle, 1902, based on correspondence with Hardy.

The English author Thomas Hardy set all of his major novels in the south and southwest of England. He named the area "Wessex" after the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom that existed in this part of that country prior to the Norman Conquest. Although the places that appear in his novels actually exist, in many cases he gave the place a fictional name. For example, Hardy's hometown of Dorchester is called Casterbridge in his books, most famously in The Mayor of Casterbridge. In an 1895 preface to the novel Far From the Madding Crowd he described Wessex as "a merely realistic dream country".

The actual definition of "Hardy's Wessex" varied widely throughout Hardy's career, and was not definitively settled until after he had retired from writing novels. When he first created the concept of a fictional Wessex, it consisted merely of the small area of Dorset in which Hardy grew up; by the time he wrote Jude the Obscure, the boundaries had extended to include all of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Hampshire, much of Berkshire, and some of Oxfordshire, with its most north-easterly point being Oxford (renamed "Christminster" in the novel). Cornwall was also referred to but named "Off Wessex". Similarly, the actual nature and significance of ideas of "Wessex" were developed over a long series of novels through a lengthy period of time. The idea of Wessex plays an important artistic role in Hardy's works (particularly his later novels), assisting the presentation of themes of progress, primitivism, sexuality, religion, nature, and naturalism; however, this is complicated by the economic role Wessex played in Hardy's career. Considering himself primarily to be a poet, Hardy wrote novels mostly to earn money: books that could be marketed under the Hardy brand of "Wessex novels" were particularly lucrative, which gave rise to a tendency to sentimentalised, picturesque, populist descriptions of Wessex - which, as a glance through most tourist giftshops in the south-west will reveal, remain popular with consumers today.

Hardy's resurrection of the name "Wessex" is largely responsible for the popular modern use of the term to describe the south-west region of England (with the exception of Cornwall and arguably Devon); today, a panoply of organisations take their name from Hardy to describe their relationship to this area. Hardy's conception of Wessex as a separate, cohesive geographical and political identity has proved powerful, despite the fact it was originally created purely as an artistic conceit, and has spawned a lucrative tourist trade, and even a secessionist Wessex Regionalist Party.

Thomas Hardy's Wessex names[edit]

Wessex regions and actual English counties[edit]

Map of the historic counties of England on which the regions of Wessex can be found.
Region of Wessex Actual English County Position on Map
Lower Wessex Devon 9
Mid Wessex Wiltshire 37
North Wessex Berkshire 2
Outer Wessex Somerset 30
South Wessex Dorset 10
Upper Wessex Hampshire 14

(Note: The Isle of Wight, although today a separate administrative county, was considered to be a part of the county of Hampshire - and thus Upper Wessex - during Thomas Hardy's lifetime. Likewise, Alfredston (Wantage) and the surrounding area in North Wessex was part of Berkshire prior to the 1974 boundary changes but now lies in Oxfordshire).

Specific places in Thomas Hardy's Wessex[edit]

Key to references for the place name table[edit]

The abbreviations for Thomas Hardy's novels that are used in the table are as follows:

Table of Wessex place-names, their actual places, and their appearance in Hardy's novels[edit]

Wessex Name Region of Wessex Actual Name Appearance in Hardy's Novels
Abbot's-Cernel South Wessex Cerne Abbas
Abbotsea South Wessex Abbotsbury
Aldbrickham North Wessex Reading
Alfredston North Wessex Wantage Jude Fawley becomes a mason's apprentice there. It is also where he works following his marriage to Arabella Donn. (JtO)
Anglebury South Wessex Wareham
Bramhurst West Wessex Lyndhurst
Budmouth South Wessex Weymouth Where Frank Troy goes to gamble on horse races. (FftMC)
Eustacia Vye's hometown (RotN)
Casterbridge South Wessex Dorchester Where Rhoda and Farmer Lodge's son is hanged. The Withered Arm. Also the principal location of The Mayor of Casterbridge(WT)
Chalk Newton South Wessex Maiden Newton
Chaseborough South Wessex Cranborne
Christminster North Wessex - although Christminster is technically not within the borders of Hardy's Wessex, as it is located to the north of the River Thames, he describes it in Jude the Obscure as being "within hail of the Wessex border, and almost with the tip of one small toe within it" Oxford This is where Jude Fawley goes to become a scholar, and is advised to give up his career choice. Sue Bridehead works in a shop which produces religious artifacts there, meets her cousin, and is thrown from her lodgings. (JtO)
Cliff Martin Outer Wessex Combe Martin Combe Martin is actually in Devon, indicating that Hardy's boundaries are not necessarily linked to current county boundaries
Cresscombe North Wessex Letcombe Bassett
Downstaple Lower Wessex Barnstaple
Durnover South Wessex Fordington
Emminster South Wessex Beaminster The home of Angel Clare, and the site of Clare's father's vicarage. (TotD)
Evershead South Wessex Evershot
Exonbury Lower Wessex Exeter
Falls Park Outer Wessex Mells Park
Fountall Outer Wessex Wells
Gaymead North Wessex Theale (JtO and WT)
Havenpool South Wessex Poole Newson landed here on his return from Newfoundland. (MoC)
Isle of Slingers South Wessex Isle of Portland
Ivell Outer Wessex Yeovil
Kennetbridge North Wessex Newbury "A thriving town not more than a dozen miles south of Marygreen" (JtO)[1] between Melchester and Christminster.[2] The main road (A338) from Oxford to Salisbury runs past Fawley and through Hungerford, which may be Kennetbridge instead of Newbury, which is to the south-east of Fawley.
Kingsbere South Wessex Bere Regis Here is situated the Church of the d'Urbervilles. After Tess' Father's death, the Durbeyfield family take refuge outside the chapel.
Knollsea South Wessex Swanage
Lulwind Cove South Wessex Lulworth Cove
Lumsdon North Wessex Cumnor It is there that Jude Fawley meets up with his old teacher Mr. Phillotson again. It is where Sue Bridehead starts to work as a teacher and promises herself in marriage to Mr. Phillotson. (JtO)
Marlott South Wessex Marnhull Tess Durbeyfield is born and brought up there. After becoming pregnant by Alec D'Urberville she returns to the village and gives birth to a baby boy, who dies in his infancy. (TotD)
Marygreen North Wessex Fawley Drusilla Fawley runs a bakery there. It is the place where Sue Bridehead spent her childhood. Jude Fawley is brought there following the death of his father, and it is where he matures into a man. (JtO)
Melchester Mid Wessex Salisbury This is the place where Jude goes to prepare himself for the ministry, and where Sue Bridehead is studying to become a teacher. The latter runs away from her school there, and later marries Mr. Phillotson in the town. (JtO)
Mellstock South Wessex Stinsford and Higher & Lower Bockhampton Thomas Hardy's birthplace. Hardy's heart is also buried here, next to his first wife, Emma. Jude Fawley's father died there. (JtO) Nearly all of Under the Greenwood Tree is set in Mellstock.
Overcombe South Wessex Sutton Poyntz The Trumpet-Major
Port Bredy South Wessex Bridport
Po'sham South Wessex Portesham The home of Captain Thomas Hardy, one of Lord Nelson's commanders at the Battle of Trafalgar, who lived at Portesham House. (TM)
Quartershot Upper Wessex Aldershot
Sandbourne Upper Wessex Bournemouth This is the place where Tess Durbeyfield lives with Alec D'Urberville as his mistress, and where she murders him upon the return of her husband, Angel Clare. (TotD). It is also the place where Sue Bridehead's freethinking friend was buried, and where she was the only mourner at his funeral. (JtO)
Shaston South Wessex Shaftesbury Jack Durbeyfield visits the doctor in Shaston and learns that he has a bad heart. (TotD). Mr. Phillotson moves there in order to run a school. Jude Fawley travels there to see Sue Bridehead, who, married to Mr. Phillotson, is working in the town, and they flee the place together. (JtO)
Sherton Abbas South Wessex Sherborne
Slingers South Wessex Isle of Portland
Solentsea Upper Wessex Southsea The setting of the short story "An Imaginative Woman."
Stancy Castle Outer Wessex Dunster Castle
Stoke Barehills Upper Wessex Basingstoke
Street of Wells South Wessex Fortuneswell
Toneborough Outer Wessex Taunton
Trantridge South Wessex Pentridge Site of the D'Urberville estate.
Weatherbury Puddletown Farms of Bathsheba and Boldwood, main setting for Far From the Madding Crowd
Weydon-Priors Upper Wessex Weyhill It is there that Michael Henchard sells his wife while he is drunk. (MoC)
Wintoncester South Wessex Winchester Tess Durbeyfield is imprisoned and executed in this former capital of Wessex. (TotD)

Hardy's Wessex in art and books[edit]

Artists such as Walter Tyndale, Edmund Hort New, Charles George Harper, and others, have painted or drawn the landscapes, places and buildings described in Hardy's novels. Their work was used to illustrate books exploring the real-life countryside on which the fictional county of Wessex was based:

References[edit]

  1. ^ Paragraph 4, Chapter VII, Part Fifth, Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/153/153-h/153-h.htm#5-7
  2. ^ Paragraph 6, Chapter X, Part Third, Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/153/153-h/153-h.htm#5-7

External links[edit]