Literary Landmarks of the Wessex Novels by Charles George Harper was published in 1904 by Adam & Charles Black of London. The Book was illustrated by the Author.
Dorsetshire, the centre of the “Hardy Country” the home of the Wessex Novels, is a land literally flowing with milk and honey: a land of great dairies, of flowers and bees, of rural industries, where rustic ways and speech and habits of thought live long, and the kindlier virtues are not forgotten in such stress of life as prevails in towns : a land desirable for its own sweet self, where you may see the beehives in cottage gardens and there from deduce that honey of which I have spoken, and where that flow of milk is no figure of speech. You may indeed hear the swish of it in the milking pails at almost every turn of every lane.
Thatch survives in every village, as nowhere else, and here quaint towns maintain their quaintness at all odds, while elsewhere foolish folk seek to be—as they phrase it—” up to date.” It is good, you think, who explore these parts, to be out of date and reckless of all the tiresome worries of modernity.
Spring is good in Dorset; summer better, autumn when the kindly fruits of the earth are ingathered and the smell of pomace is sweet in the mellow air—best. Winter? Well, frankly, I don’t know.
To all these natural advantages has been added in our generation the romantic interest of Mr. Thomas Hardy’s novels of rural life and character, in which real places are introduced with a lavish hand. The identity of those places is easily resolved; and, that feat performed, there is that compelling force in his genius which inevitably, sooner or later, magnetically draws those who have read, to see for themselves what manner of places and what folk they must be in real life, from whose characteristics such poignant tragedy, such suave and admirable comedy, have been evolved. I have many a time explored Egdon, and observed the justness of the novelist’s description of that sullen waste: have traversed Blackmoor Vale, where “the fields are never brown and the springs never dry” but where the roads—it is a cyclist’s criticism—are always shockingly bad: in fine, have visited every literary landmark of the Wessex Novels. If I have not found the rustics so sprack-witted as they are in The Return of the Native and other stories why, I never expected so to find them, for I did not imagine the novelist to be a reporter. But this is in testimony to the essential likeness to life of his women, I know “Bathsheba”; only she is not a farmer, nor in “Do’set” and I have met “Viviette” and “Fancy.” They were called by other names, ’tis true; but they were, and are, those distracting characters come to life.
A word in conclusion. No attempt has here been made to solemnly “expound” the novelist. He, I take it, expounds himself. Nor has it been thought necessary to exclude places simply for the reason that they by some chance do not find mention in the novels. These pages are, in short, just an attempt to record impressions received of a peculiarly beautiful and stimulating literary country, and seek merely to reflect some of the joy of the explorer and the enthusiasm of an ardent admirer of the novelist, who here has given tongues to trees and a voice to every wind.
CHARLES G. HARPER.
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