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Thomas Hardy’s Dorchester

Friday, June 15th, 2012

As the town where Thomas Hardy spent most of his life and wrote many of his great works, Dorchester is full of landmarks and buildings that inspired his writing and which still today allow visitors to get a sense of the world he inhabited at the turn of the last century. Here are just a few of the locations in our town with a strong connection to Hardy.

Thomas Hardy Statue

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The statue of the novelist at the top of the High Street comes as a surprise to many visitors. Depicting Hardy sat on a tree stump with his head bowed in thought, it is an unassuming monument that on first appearance might seem to belie his stature as one of the country’s greatest writers. But it gets to the heart of who Hardy really was – a man who eschewed fame, lived a largely reclusive life and absorbed himself in his books. And if you look closely, you can just see a hint of a mischievous smile on the Thomas Hardy statue’s face, which the great man would surely have approved of.

The Mayor of Casterbridge’s House

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Thomas Hardy described the house of Michael Henchard, the eponymous figure in The Mayor of Casterbridge, as ‘…one of the best, faced with dull red-and-grey old brick. The front door was open, and, as in other houses, she [Elizabeth-Jane] could see through the passage to the end of the garden – nearly a quarter mile off’. The model that Hardy used for the house still exists, and is now Barclays Bank in South Street.

Dorchester Corn Exchange

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The Dorchester Corn Exchange served as the model for the Casterbridge Corn Exchange, which is the location for Bathsheba Everdene’s first meeting with Farmer Boldwood in Far From The Madding Crowd, and appears again as a location in The Mayor of Casterbridge.

The real Corn Exchange was also used as a venue by the original Hardy Players, who staged several plays based on Hardy’s works in the early 1920s.

Max Gate

Thomas Hardy started his professional life as an architect, and this would have been the vocation he pursued had he not found fame and fortune as a novelist in his mid 30s. He found an outlet for his dormant architectural knowledge in later life, when he designed the imposing brick town house Max Gate, which would be his home for over 40 years until his death in 1885.

Having undergone major recent renovation by the National Trust, Max Gate is now open to the public five days a week (Wednesday to Sunday). For more information on the house and its history, take a look at our Max Gate page.

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