Hardy’s Wessex

  • Merryn Williams


The ‘Wessex novels’ were so christened because Hardy revived the ancient name of Wessex to describe the south-western region of England in which they are almost entirely set. His reasons for this were explained in the 1895 Preface to Far from the Madding Crowd:

The series of novels I projected being mainly of the kind called local, they seemed to require a territorial definition of some sort to lend unity to their scene. Finding that the area of a single county did not afford a canvas large enough for this purpose, and that there were objections to an invented name, I disinterred the old one. The region designated was known but vaguely, and I was often asked even by educated people where it lay. However, the press and the public … willingly joined me in the anachronism of imagining a Wessex population living under Queen Victoria; — a modem Wessex of railways, the penny post, mowing and reaping machines, union workhouses, lucifer matches, labourers who could read and write, and National school children. But I believe I am correct in stating that, until the existence of this contemporaneous Wessex in place of the usual counties was announced in the present story, in 1874, it had never been heard of in fiction and current speech.


Female Labour Agricultural Labourer Opposite Gate Single County Union Workhouse 
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  1. 1.
    Hermann Lea, ">Thomas Hardy’s Wessex (London, 1913) p. xvii.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    H. C. Darby and R. W. Finn (">The Domesday Geography of South-West England (Cambridge, 1967) p. 127.Google Scholar
  3. 13.
    Wilhelm Hasbach, History of the English Agricultural Labourer (London, 1908) p. 411.Google Scholar
  4. 23.
    John Saville, Rural Depopulation in England and Wales 1851–1951 (London, 1957) p. 44.Google Scholar

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© Merryn Williams 1972

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  • Merryn Williams

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