Hardy’s Wessex – Thomas Hardy Exhibition 2022

The largest collection of Thomas Hardy memorabilia ever displayed at one time.

Four fascinating exhibitions displayed from 28th May – 30th October 2022.

Take a fresh look at the life and literature of the Victorian novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy, in the stunning Wessex landscapes that shaped his view of the world. His story will be retold in exciting new ways by museum collections, from period costumes to personal letters, art to archaeology.

  • Once-in-a-lifetime chance to see precious objects that are rarely on display.
  • A major exhibition across four venues – Dorset Museum (Dorchester), Poole Museum, The Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum (Devizes).
  • Each exhibition explores a different Hardy theme.
  • Generous discounts for groups visiting more than one museum.
  • Self-guided tours or tailored guided tours available.
  • Discounted catering packages.

Dorset Museum

Walk the streets of Dorchester, the basis for Hardy’s Casterbridge, as you join the rural world of Hardy’s novels. 

Located in the heart of the Mayor of Casterbridge’s market town, Dorset Museum’s exhibition shows how Hardy tackled and influenced issues of social tensions and inequalities of the day through his writing and his lived experience of class bias and barriers. As well as the rights of the everyday man, Hardy campaigned against cruelty to all living things, becoming an animal rights campaigner. 

From his first nature sketch to his controversial article defending the Dorsetshire Labourer, visitors will see Hardy’s humanity through his compassion for all living things. 

Hardy’s Watercolour/Dorset Museum/Harriet Still

Highlights

Look at the brushstrokes on Hardy’s first childhood watercolour of the landscape around him – and imagine this child who went on to write books that changed the world. 

Witness a man’s grief at the death of his beloved dog, in Hardy’s hand-drawn tombstone design for his infamous pet dog, Wessex. Follow this up with a visit to Hardy’s home Max Gate, to see the stone memorial carved by Hardy’s own hand. 

Hand-drawn Tombstone/Dorset Museum/ Harriet Still

Poole Museum

Experience Hardy’s romance and excitement of the coast through a visit to Poole Museum, on the edge of the second-largest natural harbour in the world. 

For Hardy, the coast represented love and war, from first meeting his wife on the wild cliffs of Cornwall to his fascination with the Napoleonic wars and the threat of coastal invasion from France. See the difference between Hardy’s romanticised views of love and war in his early life, through to trying to raise awareness of the realities of both through his later writings. 

Hardy was a man conflicted. While he wanted to believe in the romance of love and war, objects like the letter telling him of his cousin’s death at Gallipoli and malicious gossip written about his first marriage show that romance and reality were often different.  

Highlights

The Tribute Book was presented to Hardy by Siegfried Sassoon, as the representative of 43 of the greatest writers of the age, including Rudyard Kipling, Walter de la Mare and Robert Graves. It signalled their regard for him, and his legacy to their writing. 

This macabre bone guillotine was carved by a Napoleonic prisoner of war. This gruesome period of history inspired Hardy’s romantic love triangle between soldier John Loveday, his sailor brother Bob Loveday and Anne Garland in The Trumpet Major as well as his epic three-volume poem The Dynasts, which would inspire some of the greatest war poets of the next generation.  

Hand Carved Guillotine/Poole Museum/Gary Edwards

The Salisbury Museum

Visit the historic cathedral city of Salisbury to discover how the urban world shaped Hardy’s thinking.  

This exhibition is set in The Salisbury Museum (formerly the teacher training college where Hardy’s sisters studied to be teachers). Right under the tallest cathedral spire in England, the exhibition will explore how Hardy campaigned for women’s rights, as well as his thoughts on religion. 

Visitors will meet the man behind the name, through objects as personal as his granny’s kettle, in which she boiled tea while telling Hardy the stories that would shape his imagination. They will see his beautifully-drawn church designs, giving a glimpse of the ambitious young architect who dreamt of becoming a writer. 

Highlights 

Both Hardy’s sisters avoided marriage, taking the advice of their mother to put their careers first. Visitors will see Kate Hardy’s stunning red silk dress that she wore as a teacher in Dorchester, and read some of her letters describing what it was like to have to make the choice between career and relationship. 

Kate Hardy’s Dress/Dorset Museum/Jonathan Gooding

Wiltshire Museum

Venture into the ancient landscape of Wiltshire, to see how the burial mounds and beliefs of Wessex seeped into Hardy’s writing. 

A short journey from Stonehenge, one of the most iconic prehistoric monuments in the world, this exhibition will explore how past and present merge in the writings of this ‘time-torn man’. Within this ancient landscape, old beliefs died hard and Hardy’s plots are set against a background of superstition. To Hardy, these past ways of life were important to know who we were and understand our relationship with our environment. 

Hardy was a man torn between the two worlds of the past and the present. See these two extremes in his hand-annotated copy of Einstein’s new theories and his ‘Book of Facts’, in which he recorded old beliefs and superstitions. Hardy wove these old ways of life into his plots, and also campaigned to maintain our ancient landscapes.  

Highlights 

Hardy once wrote, ‘though a good deal is too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened’. See a real West Country wax poppet, as used in his novel Return of the Native to curse the beautiful Eustacia Vye. 

Peruse some of the pages of Hardy’s ‘Book of Facts’, where he noted down the stranger-than-fiction real-life events from newspaper clippings that would later inspire his plots. 

Book of Facts/Dorset Museum/Harriet Still

For more information: 

Please contact Cathy Lewis, Wessex Museums Marketing & Digital Officer. Email wessexmuseums@bcpcouncil.gov.uk or phone 0781 468 1996.

 

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