In the rural environment of Hardy’s youth the telling of stories and anecdotes was an important part of life, and he heard many a tale from his grandmother, his parents, relatives and friends. Some of these he made notes of for future use, and he was always looking for incidents which he could use in his books. Thus, he claimed that he had actually heard a tipsy man swaggering past him and singing ‘I’ve-got-a-great-family-vault-over-at …’ and that the death of Prince, the horse, and the bloodstained ceiling were based upon actual newspaper reports. Brought up in this tradition, he couldn’t understand a novelist like Henry James who seemed to him to write books in which very little happened. For Hardy, a story should be exceptional enough to justify its telling: ‘We tale-tellers are all Ancient Mariners,’ he wrote, ‘and none of us is warranted in stopping Wedding Guests (in other words, the hurrying public) unless he has something more unusual to relate than the ordinary experience of every average man and woman’.
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