My interest in the novels of Thomas Hardy began when I saw the film, Tess of the D’Urbervilles on the television. Yeah, here we go: peasants, desolate landscapes, thwarted passions, brooding men and tragic heroines – right up my street – and Stonehenge features in it as well! As a child I had always been fascinated by Stonehenge, ever since the time we drove by it in the car coming back from I don’t remember where. I had not even heard of Stonehenge before, so you can imagine how enthralled I was to unexpectedly catch sight of the enormous Stones, incongruously erect on the flat landscape of Salisbury Plain. We pulled into the public car park, and treated ourselves to a flying impromptu visit. At the time, the public were actually allowed to walk around the site, and touch the ancient monoliths. There were lots of tourists, particularly Americans, who were posing for photos and playing hide and seek between the Sarcens, not to mention climbing all over the huge horizontal alter stone. I’m not sure whether this is permitted nowadays, or whether the site has been fenced off out of public reach. Anyhow, this film, Tess of The D’Urbervilles, inspired me to read the novel of the same name, and I consequently started to seek out more of Hardy’s novels, which were not difficult to find in the local library. In several of the novels, the protagonists are lower-class women, who generally desire something more than their impoverished backgrounds can give them, and they invariably meet a sticky demise. This sounds somewhat like a thematic precursor to my much later academic interest in working-class women’s writing; however, at the time I was merely reading books for pleasure. I did enjoy Hardy’s books: interesting story-lines and beautifully written narratives, but I did struggle in some places, such as the long, long descriptive passages which Hardy is so good at, but you can just skip these, right? This was long before I found out that Hardy is one of our greatest writers and part of the literary canon, which I discovered when I studied Return of the Native for my English Literature A-level. I can’t quite believe that I didn’t read that most popular and most brooding and tragic of all novels, Emily Bronte’s, Wuthering Heights until I did my undergraduate degree at University. Hardy also wrote fabulous poetry, some of which I’ve read, but I’ve never really been into poetry all that much. I do remember once writing a very long essay about TS Eliot’s The Wasteland. I’m the last person you would see carrying around a pocket book of the poets, as some of my working-class female predecessors were inclined to do. I used to think of poets sitting around for hours mulling over a word or two, or taking mind altering substances so they could write more interesting stuff, and this annoyed me because I thought they should be doing something more useful. Well, I used to think that before I found out about the women poets who would compose their verses while hard at work, such as Mary Smith, who composed hers while doing the household chores; and Ellen Johnston and Ethel Carnie who composed theirs while working the looms in the textile factories.
(so it seems my autobiography is turning into a dissertation, old habits eh)
To cut a long story short: