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Language and Literature in the World: Thomas Hardy's The Woodlanders.


In association with The University of Exeter. The Corn Exchange, Dorchester, Dorset, England. 22 April 2017

On Saturday, 22 April, the inaugural Thomas Hardy Society Study Day took place in the Town Hall at The Corn Exchange in Dorchester, attended by approximately sixty-five people from all over the United Kingdom. The aim of the day was to mark the 130th anniversary of the publication of The Woodlanders by providing an event including talks, seminars, interactive displays, and workshops intended to appeal to academics, students, and general admirers of Hardy alike. Society chairperson Helen Lange opened the proceedings by welcoming all attendees, and we were then joined by Alistair Chisholm in full regalia as Dorchester Town Cryer to call us to order. After a brief speech in which the conference organizer, Tracy Hayes, outlined the program for the day and presented student bursaries on behalf of the Society to Stephanie Meek and Yuejie Liu, Professor Roger Ebbatson introduced the keynote speaker, Phillip Mallett, Honorary Senior Lecturer in English at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, who has published extensively on Hardy and other authors, including Rudyard Kipling and Phillip Larkin. Phillip Mallett's talk was called "The Body in the Woods," in which he spoke of how the mind and body interact in the novel, the power of suggestion, craniology, somnambulism, the disconnection between the mental and physical life, inner vision, metamorphosing marks, and Darwinian plentifulness among many other fascinating subjects. He also asked the question--is The Woodlanders a tragedy?--which provoked much discussion during the round table session towards the end of the day. Phillip's contention was that if the novel is indeed a tragedy, then surely Giles Winterborne must be the tragic hero at the center of the novel, yet his character is absent for a large part of the text. Grace Melbury is far too passive and uncommitted, ending the novel "as she wishes"; and Marty South, while sympathetic, is not tragic. Phillip stated that Giles "doesn't die for love but of typhoid and a ridiculous sense of propriety." He doesn't give a tragic final speech; he simply disappears, dying and being subsumed back in the Hintock Woods.

After a refreshment break, Helen Gibson, Honorary Curator of the Hardy Collection at the Dorset County Museum, presented us with a history of the original manuscript of the novel, how it was originally serialized in The Graphic (1886-1887), then published as a triple-decker novel in 1888. The manuscript was bought by a succession of people before it was acquired by Hardy himself, who was then advised by Sir Sydney Cockerill to have it bound and submitted to a reputable institution. It now resides at the DCM and is fully digitized. Interestingly, Hardy had written "Fitzpiers of Hintock" under the title The Woodlanders, which he then crossed out. Helen showed us a number of slides featuring excerpts from the manuscript, which highlighted Hardy's handwriting with its many cancellations and emendations. She informed us that most of the emendations were made to the passages in which Marty appears, pointing to the complexity of her character.

Following Helen was the call for papers panel. Dr Karin Koehler from the University of Bangor in Wales delivered a paper entitled "'Poor Marty's Only Card': Re-Reading Marty South," in which she pointed to the vast number of failed communications, miscommunication, and unfulfilled intentions within the story. She believes that the "tragedy" of the novel lies in what remains unsaid between Giles and Grace, and that Marty is a choric character whose statements usually go unheard or unheeded. Her character is deprived of a voice through both class and gender. Stephanie Meek, a student at the University of Exeter, spoke on Hardy's problems with censorship regarding the publishing of the story as both serial and in book form in a paper called "'Omit for Mag': The Woodlanders and the Art of Avoidance." Stephanie informed us that the portrayal of Fitzpiers had provoked almost universal outrage, with one review declaring that "even in French fiction there is no more dastardly a character!" Hardy was able to mock the purity movement by portraying a supposedly highly moral and authoritarian doctor as a primitive being controlled by primal urges. It was the passage in which Fitzpiers and Suke emerge from a night of debauchery that Hardy ordered to "Omit for mag"--"It was daybreak before Fitzpiers and Suke appeared from the field...," the magazine in question being Macmillan's. In '"Novels of Character and Environment: Nature in The Woodlanders and The Border To wn," Yuejie Liu, a student at the University of Southampton, applied the principle of Taoism to her comparison of Hardy's novels with Chinese literature, particularly that of Chinese author Shen Congwen, claiming that humanity is defined by Nature rather than social relations.

Delegates enjoyed a lovely buffet lunch provided by Cafe Paninis of Dorchester and were invited to show their badges at the Dorset County Museum in order to gain free entry to view the display that had been erected specifically for the day. The afternoon was then buoyed by "'The Two Brothers' and Other Supernatural Traditions of The Woodlanders Country," a lively talk from Peter Robson, an independent scholar. Cock-striding and hempseed divination were discussed, and Peter spoke about the legend of the Brouning brothers, which may have been the basis for the two ghost brothers that Mr Melbury constantly fears coming across in the woods. A cock-stride ghost is the spirit of a wrongdoer exorcised by a parson and then confined to a rock or some other stationary object. It can only return to the site of its origin at the pace of one cock-stride a year. The Brouning brothers killed each other in a duel in the woods behind King's Hintock House (Melbury House). They can only return to it at a cock-stride per year, but when they do, the house will eventually revert to their family's ownership. Peter told us that Hardy may have got this story from his mother, Jemima, who had lived in Melbury Osmond and had very likely worked at Melbury House. Next Harriet Still, accompanied by members of Tatterdemalion, the folkband of the New Hardy Players, gave a presentation on the music in the novel, punctuated by performances in which we were able to hear the songs as Hardy himself knew them and played them, having received his first "squeeze box" at the age of four and accompanying his father at the fireside. Where the woodland folk enjoyed "bouncing and gyrating" in their cottages to rousing tunes, Grace, due to her refined education, was more used to hearing such pieces as "The Elfin Waltz" in a large well-lit hall. Rural folk mainly danced quadrilles, and one particular song, "Foggy Foggy Dew"--which describes the dalliance between Fitzpiers and Suke Damson--was actually banned from the BBC unless it was part of a Benjamin Britten program or one on folklore representations. Harriet sang with a hauntingly beautiful voice, and the band played us out to afternoon tea with a couple of ditties that got many a foot tapping!

A roundtable question and answer session providing an opportunity for delegates to ask questions of all the speakers was then followed by a workshop conducted by Professor Angelique Richardson and Helen Angear from the University of Exeter. Helen's PhD involves the digitization of Hardy's correspondence where it is held at the DCM, over 5000 letters to Hardy which remain unpublished. Angelique and Helen pointed out that these letters are needed in order to contextualize Hardy's correspondence as a dialogue. They are investigating who wrote to Hardy and why, and how these letters change with Hardy's growing fame. They also ask how the letters changed when he ceased novel writing. There are letters from not only artists and writers but also charitable organizations, and one from Gertrude Bugler thanking Hardy for his presentation copy to her of The Woodlanders--she had played the part of Marty South on stage to great acclaim. Along with these letters there are also the letters written to Florence Hardy after Hardy's death, and Angelique and Helen hope to receive enough funding to eventually transcribe the entire collection. They then circulated photocopies of two letters to Hardy in order to demonstrate the difficulties of transcription, one from Mowbray Morris requesting that Hardy tone down the Fitzpiers/Suke episode for serial publication, the other from Edmund Gosse defending The Woodlanders and decrying what he perceived had been the "lack of support" for The Mayor of Casterbridge. Our attempts at deciphering proved quite entertaining; in one instance the word "cut" was mistaken for "eat," leading certain readers to believe that Morris had written "I have had to eat The Woodlanders!"

A wine reception following the closing speech in which everyone involved with bringing the day to fruition was duly thanked. Over thirty people stayed to continue their discussions of the presentations, and fifteen then descended on Prezzo at Judge Jeffrey's for a wonderful Italian meal and further festivities. It is hoped that everyone took something interesting away from the day, whether it be a spur to re-read the novel or to explore what others have written about it. There was much positive feedback received, and it has been decided that another study day will take place next year, in which A Pair of Blue Eyes will be the focus. This event was sponsored by The British Association for Victorian Studies.


The Corn Exchange is a Grade II listed building in a neo-Tudor style in the center of Dorchester, or Hardy's "Casterbridge," erected between 1847-1848 by the builder Samuel Slade. It features a clock turret known as Galpin's Folly, which was added in 1864 and erected on a slender pillar. There was public concern that it would fall down, hence the name "folly," but 150 years later it is still standing tall. It features prominently in two Hardy novels--Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) and The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886). In the former it is the scene of Bathsheba Everdene's first public appearance as a farmer in her own right, causing Sargent Troy to tease her with the epithet "Queen of the Corn-market," and it was here that she fainted on hearing the news of Troy's supposed drowning at Budmouth cove. In the later novel, Lucetta Templeman's house, High Place Hall, was located directly across the road from the Corn Exchange, giving her a "raking view of the market-place," allowing her to watch the activities of her two suitors, Michael Henchard and Donald Farfrae.
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Author:Hayes, Tracy
Publication:Papers on Language & Literature
Article Type:Conference notes
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 22, 2017
Previous Article:Showing and telling on stage and page.
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