Yearly Archives: 2017

A visit to Special Collections: viewing correspondence between Hardy and the Morrises

Peter Faulkner recently visited the project to view letters from William Morris and his daughter May Morris. Here he shares his experience.


I taught English at the University of Exeter from 1971 until my retirement in 1998, and devoted a good deal of my time to the study of William Morris and his colleagues. Two years after I had retired I was asked to co-teach a course on the nineteenth century with a newly-arrived Lecturer, Angelique Richardson , a Hardy expert.  Angelique has kindly kept in touch with me since then, and put me in touch with postgraduate students whose interests overlap with mine. One of these is Helen Angear, who is writing a PhD on Hardy’s letters, many of which are in the archive at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester. Helen is also involved, through the Exeter Digital Humanities Team, in the digitisation of the over 5,000 letters in a project called ‘Hardy and Heritage’, a process which it is hoped will be completed by September 2018.

I was aware of one letter from Morris to Thomas Hardy, included in the third volume of the fine edition of The Collected Letters of William Morris, edited by Norman Kelvin and published by Princeton U.P. in 1996. Here is the letter as it appears in this edition, with five footnotes:

Kelmscott House

Upper Mall, Hammersmith

                                                                                                                             December 15 [1891]

Dear Sir               Thank you very much I shall be very pleased to receive your book & to read it.2 I have read two of your books with much pleasure, Far from the Madding Crowd,3 & The return of the Native.4 The first one is the most pleasing and I suppose you would look upon it as the most typical of your works. But there is a great deal of close study of nature, (I mean human  of that ilk) in the Return, besides the beauty of the mise en scéne5 which with you is a matter of course.

Again with many thanks                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I am                                                                                                                                                             Yours faithfully                                                                                                                                                       William Morris

Kelvin provides five notes.     1& 2 refer us to Michael Millgate’s Thomas Hardy, a biography (New York: Random House, 1982); on p.319, Millgate states that Hardy sent Morris a copy of Tess in November 1891, adding that the two men never met. Kelvin agrees that there is no evidence of a meeting, but suggests that the two men might have met at a meeting of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, which Morris founded in 1877 and which Hardy joined in 1881 or 1882. In 1882-3 Hardy ‘offered … to keep a watchful eye on Wimborne Minster’ and in 1889 he was concerned about Stratton Church (Millgate, pp. 235 & 302).        3. Gives the date of publication, 1874.     4. Gives the date of publication, 1878. In neither of these notes does Kelvin respond to Morris’s critical remarks; nor does he comment on the rather odd bracketed expression ‘I mean human save of that ilk’      5. Kelvin draws attention, in a slightly embarrassed fashion, to Morris’s inaccurate use of French accents.

Knowing the letter in this form, it was a great pleasure to be invited by Helen Angear to read the original handwritten version, which I did on Wednesday 22nd February of this year in the Special Collection at Exeter University Library, to which Helen had brought the letter with some other material of interest to me. A considerable surprise was the small size of the piece of notepaper on which Morris wrote – the seven lines of Kelvin’s main paragraph take up no fewer than fifteen short lines, while the address is printed in small capitals, with the date written in beneath. As a reader, I became aware of the extent of regularisation in the Collected Letters – which is no doubt typical of all such editions. Reading the original, I felt more than usually involved, while the letter seemed more vulnerable and its survival more remarkable. There is a special pleasure in this proximity to a text.

I was also shown two letters to Hardy from Morris’s younger daughter, May. In the first, she addresses Hardy as ‘Dear Sir’ and asks a favour. At the time, May was engaged in editing her father’s Collected Works and writing Introductions to each the 24 volumes, published between 1910 and 1915.  In that for Vol. XVIII, she wanted to give an account of the buildings in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire that particularly interested her father, and she recalled reading in Tess of the D’Urbervilles – ‘that delightful and tragic book’ –  Hardy’s memorable account of the ‘noble tithe-barn at Little Coxwell, near Faringdon’. Her request was that Hardy should allow her to quote the passage in her Introduction. Morris’s admiration for the barn is well known, though the barn is usually located at the nearby Great Coxwell.  It would seem that Hardy gave permission for the account to be included, as two pages of Hardy are quoted in the Introduction, together with a photograph of the barn taken by F.H. Evans; ironically, though, the fine descriptive passage is not from Tess but from Far from the Madding Crowd, the novel referred to favourably by Morris in his letter discussed above. May remarks, appreciatively, that ‘I know no writer who has understood and interpreted so keenly well the past and present spirit of these simple and majestic buildings.’ The great Shearing-barn is not given a location in the novel, but one can readily understand why May associated it with Coxwell.

The second letter from May is from Kelmscott Manor, where she was now living, on 27 November 1926, and addresses ‘Dear Mr. Hardy’: ‘I am getting out an appeal for subscriptions for the building of a Village Hall in memory of my Father, and in doing so am anxious to get the support of those who care for the things he cared for.’ A note dated 5 December thanks Hardy for allowing his name to be added to her committee: ‘I am indeed glad to have it.’ Funds were slow to come in, and it was not until 1934 that the Hall, designed by Ernest Gimson (who had died in 1919) was opened, with Bernard Shaw in flamboyant form and the Prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, who as a young man had known Morris, in the audience.

Having had such a good experience at the archive, I would encourage anyone whose research interests coincide in any way with Hardy to keep an eye on this project as it develops. 




Some of Peter’s publications can be found here:




Letters to Hardy about *Far from the Madding Crowd* – insights from an undergraduate researcher

Chrissi Lewes took the ‘Hardy and Women Who Did’ module in her third year at the University of Exeter (2016-2017). Here she shares her insights into using some of the letters from the Hardy archive for her dissertation.  


The Hardy and Heritage Project enriched my capacity to research throughout my final year, and access to original letters sent to Hardy gave me a far more intimate understanding of Far from the Madding Crowd – the subject of my dissertation.


The process of transcribing a letter was challenging (for Victorian writing is beautiful though on occasion illegible), yet akin to unravelling a mystery; with every word being a reminder of stepping back in time and reading the same letter which Hardy opened at Max Gate. These details, coupled with Hardy curiously ripping a page of a letter from Leslie Stephen (Stephen to Hardy 13th April 1894), delicate sign offs which are now obsolete today such as ‘I am yours very truly’ and ‘yours in haste’, as well as esteemed individuals such as Grant Allen expressing his gratitude to Hardy for sending him a copy of the novel, offer a picture of Victorian correspondence. The experience of reading the digitised letters online is equally fascinating, and the underlined hyperlinks helpfully provide additional context.


My experience with the Far from the Madding Crowd collection led me to directly confront the censorship that Hardy grappled with and much begrudged. Hardy’s editor, Leslie Stephen, urged that Troy’s seduction needs to be ‘treated in a gingerly fashion’ (Stephen to Hardy 2nd March 1896), and concedes that he would be ‘somewhat be glad to omit [Bathsheba’s] baby’ (Stephen to Hardy 13 April 1894). My dissertation analysed Crowd in relation to adaptation studies, therefore I was also interested to see that Stephen deemed the novel ‘rather long’, and described that the plot development was too slow for periodical form unless it underwent edits (Stephen to Hardy 17 February 1894).


Yet I learnt that it was not just Stephen that held strong opinions on Hardy’s most published and popularly read work. Katharine Macquoid, a novelist and travel-writer who was similarly concerned with the ‘women question’, wrote to Hardy in order to interrogate Bathsheba’s femininity. Macquoid’s letter reveals that Bathsheba disrupted her perception of a conventional heroine, and, moreover, that of a conventional woman. She wrote:

‘It was ungrateful to find fault with Bathsheba who must have took you infinite times and labours to create – she is almost always true to herself but then her nature is not that of a true woman – because she is centred on the self(Macquoid to Hardy 18 November 1874).


Though a handful of words were indecipherable, I felt I had struck gold as I read this passionate piece. It posed a wealth of questions regarding female literary archetypes, the novelist’s world being ‘something much greater than the ‘public’ idea of it’, and it was interesting to see how her ideas on the desired traits of a heroine gradually became conflated with that of women in the flesh. Fritted with dashes, her trains of thought remained incomplete for Hardy to rejoin – indeed, she penned that she could not reach ‘answers without getting into chapters’ (Macquoid to Hardy 18 November 1874).


Overall, the Hardy correspondence collection immediately allowed my research to become more meaningful, and fulfilled my broader interests as I could catch glimpses of Hardy’s character and private life. It is well known that Hardy’s writing created debate through his critique of the gendered and social conventions of his epoch. The collection of letters will visualise this for you, and help you to develop arguments on various aspects of the Victorian public’s engagement with both Hardy and his work.


Chrissi Lewes


A Woodlanders Study Day

Last month I was delighted to be involved in the Thomas Hardy Society’s ‘Woodlanders Study Day’ at Dorchester’s Corn Exchange, held in association with the University of Exeter’s Centre for Victorian Studies. It was a chance to talk about the digitisation project but it was also wonderful to immerse myself as a student and listen to the key note lectures and various papers about The Woodlanders. If you missed the event, a full programme can be found here and you will soon be able to view all of the talks on YouTube.

Ahead of the study day, Beth and I transcribed some of the letters in the collection that relate to The Woodlanders (which was originally published in serial form in 1886 and in book form in 1887). This correspondence includes: advisory letters from the serial editor at Macmillan’s Magazine Mowbray Morris; congratulatory letters from Hardy’s friend and critic, Edmund Gosse; a note of thanks from Gertrude Bugler, and other letters pursuing lines of inquiry in relation to the text as late as the 1920s. Below I have recorded a few notes on the letters from Morris, Gosse and Bugler as they might prove particularly useful to researchers and students. However, I’m sure that as we work through more of the archive there will be a far greater number of letters that offer insight into how Hardy’s contemporaries engaged with this novel over the course of time.

Mowbray Morris’ letters during the serialisation serve as a reminder of the bowdlerisation Hardy’s novels underwent. Morris wrote in September 1886 to advise Hardy not to “bring the fair Miss Suke into too open shame” not for “his own morals” but for those of the magazine’s readers. Significantly, the concluding line of Chapter Four, Volume Two – which states that ‘it was daybreak before Fitzpiers and Suke Damson re-entered Little Hintock’ – is absent in the serial version for fear of offending a morally-sensitive Victorian readership. As Morris was at pains to explain in the letter: “an editor must be commercial as well as literary; and the magazine has scarcely no abundant a sale that I can disregard any section of its readers.”

Edmund Gosse wrote in March 1887 to praise Hardy on his latest work, only mildly criticising the first volume for its stiff opening but asserting that the second volume was as ‘rich and full as a Titian’.


Titian, The Flight into Egypt, c. 1506-07. Courtesy of The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersberg and via

Gosse seems keen to position himself as Hardy’s ally in the letter, explaining how he has ‘gone in for an arrant piece of log-rolling’ in the Saturday Review and will persuade Coventry Patmore to do the same in another periodical, in order to sway the tide of more negative criticism previously encountered by Hardy. In transcribing this letter for the digital collection it was great to be able to include a link (thanks to GoogleBooks) to the reviews that Patmore and Gosse actually wrote, restoring something of the original context of this correspondence.


Gertrude Bugler as Marty South in the dramatization of The Woodlanders, 1913 (Image courtesy University of California, Riverside)

The amateur actress Gertrude Bugler wrote on her birthday in 1925 to thank Hardy for sending her a copy of the novel as a present. Bugler played Marty South in a 1913 dramatisation of The Woodlanders in Dorset, just after leaving school and Hardy acted in a paternal role during her amateur acting career. As Michael Millgate writes in Bugler’s obituary in The Independent, Hardy’s last words to Bugler were – ‘If anyone asks you if you knew Thomas Hardy, say, ‘Yes, he was my friend’, and this letter is one of several that gives us some sense of the tender friendship that developed between the writer and actress; Bugler writes: “it is useless for me to try to tell you how much I shall always value my three beautiful books.”

The TEI transcriptions of these letters are still draft documents at the moment but they will form part of the digital database of 100 letters which will be accessible by September 2018. (We’ll let you know when it’s ready!)