Previous Conferences

The Original Thomas Hardy Festival was held at Kingston Maurward in 1968 to mark the fortieth anniversary of Hardy’s death. The Festival lasted two-and-a-half weeks, started with a service in Westminster Abbey and was graced by the presence, amongst others, of Harold Macmillan, Lord David Cecil, C Day Lewis and John Betjeman; the Hardy Players performed The Return of the Native and The Queen of Cornwall with Gertrude Bugler (Hardy’s Tess) taking the leading roles. The festival ended with ‘A Garden Party to meet Well Known People’!

Out of this festival, the Thomas Hardy Society was born.

Following this, Summer Schools were then held at the Dorset Institute of Higher Education at Weymouth. In 1986, Jim Gibson as academic director moved the Conference to Dorchester, thus initiating the current format of a biennial International Hardy Conference and Festival in Dorchester. Apart from a bumper eleven-day event to mark the 150th anniversary of Hardy’s birth in 1990, the conferences are generally held during the final week in July, just after the schools have broken up.

+ The 20th International Thomas Hardy Conference. 18th – 26th August 2012

Conference Report by Brenda Parry

Take a Hardy novel, read and then discuss with your favourite Hardy scholar. It could be Michael Irwin or Herbert Tucker with perhaps a pinch of Marion Shaw or Jane Thomas. Discuss but do not dissect too much or that will spoil your enjoyment, and then take a walk into the countryside that inspired the work.

Repeat with a poem or collection of poems. For any follower of Hardy, an academic, a lay reader or someone who has read the odd novel and has a liking for Wessex, it is an infallible recipe for pure enjoyment. And all of these ingredients with a great selection of alternatives were available at the 20th Thomas Hardy Conference and Festival held in Dorchester in August. For anyone who loves Hardy or even has a passing interest the society’s biannual conferences are a must and this year’s was no exception.

I was fortunate enough to be in at the beginning, in 1968, but I have to admit to missing quite a few conferences in the intervening years . But I have attended enough to know that the magic never diminishes. I feel sure Hardy would have loved our conferences. And wouldn’t he have roared with delight as the inimitable Posy Simmonds showed us her drawings for her Guardian literary supplement cartoon, Tamara Drewe based on Far from the Madding Crowd,and which was to become a crowd pulling film. The film was a hoot, the cartoon was terrific and the talented Posy (I bet Hardy would envy her her graphic skills) delighted the conference goers. Hardy may have been a fine architect, but I doubt his sense of humour would have extended to Posy’s characters.

I fear you can already imagine what the high spots of the conference were for me, but there were so many and you will all have your favourites from Roger McGough’s both poignant and amusing words at the launch, to the late night poetry sessions, to the creative writing workshop to some of the quite superb papers given by post graduate students from around the world. And probably the most popular event of the week, Tim Laycock and the New Scorpion Band. They never fail to please, but this year was outstanding. The Corn Exchange was packed not only with conference goers, but half of the local population as well. Tim you did us proud.

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If you missed that concert or are unfamiliar with Tim’s work, then catch up with him at Max Gate or Hardy’s cottage where he can frequently be found playing sans the rest of the band, but he’s excellent value on his own. Hurry before the end of the National Trust Season.

And we haven’t yet mentioned the poetry readings and the music of the other evening entertainments. No Hardy conference would be complete without Bernard Palmer and Margaret Howard and our own Furse Swann and Sue Theobald, such talented people all of them bringing Hardy’s words to life. They always entertain us in style.

Furse and Sue starred in two productions, one in the Victorian Hall of the Dorset County Museum when they did impressive readings of the 1912-13 Emma poems. And as if Hardy’s Love poems were not enough pianist Philip Lange, husband of the society’s vice chair, Helen Lange opened the proceedings with Schubert’s Klavierstucke in E Flat major and after an interval, following the poetry, entertained us with a programme of Brahms, Debussy, Bridge, Grieg, Elgar, Chaminade and more Schubert . He confessed to us all that while his wife was in love with Hardy, he was in love with Schubert. Each to his own! He did play the piano very nicely, as well as keeping us amused with his stories.

On another evening Bernard Palmer had produced what was effectively a Radio 4 programme of Hardy’s ballads and narrative verse involving Margaret Howard ( no Hardy conference would be complete without her perfect diction and graceful movements) Sue Theobald, Furse Swann, Roy Burton, Colin Thompson (violin) and Peter Mann (organ) The BBC should have been there to record it. With Bernard as narrator: “Love Lures Life On” included ‘A Tramp Woman’s Tragedy’, ‘The Peasant’s Confession’ and ‘No Bell Ringing’ and many more. One member of the audience—not a regular at conferences, said after wards: “that’s tailor-made for Radio 4.” In fact it was just the sort of programme Bernard made for the station for many years before his retirement. Perhaps he’ll be called on again. The piece certainly merits a wider audience.

Another extremely popular evening was the repeat performance of d’Erlanger’s Tess opera, ‘The Sound of Tess’ orchestrated and illustrated by that marvellous pianist Barry Ferguson. I believe its second performance after 100 years in obscurity went down even better than the first which was staged last year at the County Museum.

The opera’s resurrection was largely due to the efforts of Helen Gibson as was the always popular Cornish expedition, the only one of this year’s outings to have been slightly marred by a heavy downpour. The rain and the resulting mud prevented most people from taking the planned walk along the Vallency Valley. However there was the usual wonderful welcome from the Searle’s at St Juliot’s Rectory where the party enjoyed Cornish pasties and a tour of the gardens which have become even more wonderful—positively sub-tropical. Hardy would have been greatly impressed. He might not have been so delighted by the size of the coach in comparison with the narrow winding lanes leading to the rectory and St. Juliot’s Church. The driver coped brilliantly, as did Helen and Philip Mallett when some younger members of the group decided to walk the Vallency Valley along the Boscastle Cliffs in spite of the muddy conditions. It’s good to have young enthusiasts on board so no-one was complaining.

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There were a couple of upsets during the week. One American delegate flew home after only a couple of days feeling very unwell while one of her compatriots broke her ankle after falling on a stile during the Fiddler of the Reels Walk led by Tony Fincham and accompanied by fiddlers Ruth and Colin Thompson. We hope both women are now recovered.
All the walks and tours proved popular particularly the ones around Dorchester, which we all think we know so well, but always discover somewhere new. Mavis Pilbeam’s wildlife walk was rightly a sell-out as was Helen Gibson’s houses, the Tess Walks, and the two bus tours to Devon and Portland.

Those fortunate enough to be on the Portland trip fell in love with Pennsylvania Castle which has been magnificently re-furbished and enjoys such stunning views out to sea--- you can stay there or hold a party there, but nobody had the courage to ask about rates--- no doubt a great deal more than the then well heeled Pierston paid when he rented it for the summer on a mission to see Avice in the cottage next door. Ah well, times change, but the new owners are keeping the memory of Hardy and the Well Beloved alive, so if you have a banker’s bonus it’s certainly the place to stay.

Later that day we had the pleasure of meeting , Diana, Gertrude’s Bugler’s daughter and Norrie’s neice who seems fit and well at a mere 88. It was the first conference without a visit from Norrie, who died recently at 105, in many a long year. While becoming frail, she put in an appearance and made a speech at the 2010 conference and invited us all to her 105th birthday party--- what a lady, the last living person to have known Thomas Hardy. Although, of course, it was Gertrude who played the original Tess, directed by Hardy. It was rumoured he fell in love with her, and certainly Florence prevented Gertrude going to London for the West End production of the play.

We saw where Gertrude is buried and then went along the road from Beaminster where Tess is said to have hidden her boots on that tragic descent in to the town to see her in-laws.
But back to the evening entertainments. There was so much music and poetry it is difficult to mention everything. La Nova Singers, an all female ensemble of Bel Canto singers literally raised the roof with their programme that included settings of Hardy and Barnes’ poetry as well as more popular works; while Pam Waddington and Peter Sprosto presented a delightful programme of “Poetry as Lyric: Hardy and Shakespeare” with songs by Finzi, Gurney and Vaughan Williams. And the barn dance led by Colin and Ruth Thompson proved fun for old and young alike. It was amazing how many said they had only gone to watch, who quickly found themselves tripping the light fantastic as Dorchester turned back the clock 100years for some serious rustic entertainment.

In his poem, ‘Afterwards’, Hardy described himself as ‘a man who used to notice such things’. It is a phrase of his quoted possibly more than any other and a very significant one, because it says so much. Roger McGough used it in his launch speech and it was going around in my head as we were entertained by Daljit Nagra and it also it occurred to me when Posy Simmonds was speaking. For me writers and poets take a telescope to magnify everyday things--- they notice such things, what a truly perfect description which must be true of any poet worth his or her salt.

Back then to the academic aspects of the conference. Every morning was to be relished as erudite speaker after erudite speaker discussed various aspects of Hardy’s work. Our academic director, Dr. Jane Thomas had excelled herself this year producing such a fine choice of lecturers. It was the first morning that convinced me that “I want to go back to school.” How I wish I could enrol on a course with Professor Edward Tucker in Virginia, but by the end of the week I wanted to sign up with Michael Irwin, who told us among other things that a good university course was one with a good teacher and a good library. I take your point, Mike, but not if I decide to read medicine or engineering. But like the rest of your audience I was largely on your side and I’ll stick with the arts.

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Mike, I know he will be happy to referred in this familiar way—we all know him so well, not only as a formidable lecturer, but also as our chairman--- quoted some of the dreadful criticism levelled at Hardy in his talk, ‘The Good Little Thomas Hardy---a Century of Condescension’. Henry James, Lord David Cecil, G.K. Chesterton, Robert Gittings and even Michael Millgate had said some terrible things about Hardy which had damaged his image. Hardy was not Eton and Oxbridge educated, he was not one of the club, but neither was he a peasant. He went to grammar school, learned the classics, trained as an architect and was to become one of the most innovative of poets. I defy anyone to say a bad thing about Hardy and Mike will shoot him or her down in flames along with a well argued response. He claims that to write about Hardy’s background is to miss the point altogether; it implies that had he gone to Oxford all would have been well.

Tucker’s class would be gentler than Mike’s but would make a for a very well rounded view of our greatest writer. Perhaps I will spend the next 10 years deciding which class to do.
I have dwelt a long time on this pair, because I found them quite the most impressive, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t find other talks riveting and thought provoking. I can see how Professor Marion Shaw influenced the young Jane Thomas. Her love and understanding of Hardy and his lost loves was palpable.

The edgy discussion about editing, a particularly interesting subject in the light of present day publishing, between Professor Tim Dolin from Australia and Simon Gatrell from the USA which revealed that for many years Hardy had been in his own editor. Both men stressed the importance of careful editing which could so easily change the meaning of a sentence or even a chapter of a book. But they failed agree on who had done the best work on Hardy.

Professor Keith Wilson on ‘Hardy as Correspondent’ described the author’s letters as witty, businesslike and courteous and said that his letters were never meant for public view. He was very much a public figure in a private place. He quoted one of the most well known of Hardy’s letters written in pencil from his sick bed to his friend Edmund Gosse, shortly before his death saying he was relieved not to be eating Christmas pudding and had been advised not to venture out against the east wind; an earlier letter to his sister had offered her a place in a bedroom in Max Gate so she could view the coming and going of the Prince of Wales when he visited.

I could go on and mention every speaker, but I couldn’t be everywhere, so if I haven’t mentioned you, I’m sorry. I am also sorry that I was unable to listen to the post graduate papers which sounded particularly fascinating. It was so good to see so many enthusiastic young people at the conference carrying the Hardy torch. All this increased activity is largely due to the efforts of Rebecca Welshman, who sits on the council of management as our undergraduate representative and Jane Thomas, Dr. Angelique Richardson and Professor Roger Ebbatson.
Like other delegates they came from around the globe with a selection of papers which only great writers like Hardy can inspire . Neelanjana Basu left her native India for the first time to present her paper : ‘The Ghost did not play his part’: Interrogating the Supernatural in Hardy’s short stories.

It is people like her who make conferences so special. New friendships are forged, new countries send representatives and we can all relate to the pleasure that Hardy has brought to the world over the years , sure in the knowledge that there are growing numbers of young people who love Hardy just as much as older generations.

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It only remains for me to say “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you to our chairman Tony Fincham, who seems to find 18 hour days the norm--- he was always at the church before time and always at the late night poetry readings; to Mike Nixon who constantly runs himself ragged carrying out endless tasks from selling tickets, to collecting speakers, to whipping the rest of us into line, to Jane Thomas for the fabulous line up of speakers and above all for the serious amount of work put in behind the scenes and without any public recognition, to Heather Shean, without whom the conference would not be possible. I could go on about Heather for several pages, but there were others, Dee, without whom no conference would be complete, Andrew, Rosemary, the two Helens, the two Sues, Cali, Jacqueline, Peter Mann and Tony Daniel, Malcolm Pfaff along with an army of local people including the wonderful tea ladies who all contributed to a memorable week.

Roll on 2014!

+ Conference Programme 2012

The 20th International THOMAS HARDY
Conference & Festival

Dorchester 18th – 26th August 2012


Leading Hardy Scholars, Poetry Readings, Lectures, Seminars.
Receptions, Suppers, Tastings, New Writing from Wessex, Quiz.
Guided Walks, Coach Tours, Drama, Dance and Musical Performances.
Book Launches, Exhibitions, Antiquarian Book Fair, Awards.

The 2012 International Thomas Hardy Conference will mark the 172nd anniversary of the birth of Thomas Hardy and take place from 18th - 26th August : a little later than in previous years in order to avoid the Olympic Games. Like its predecessors it will be designed to appeal both to Hardy scholars and to the lay readers who attend in large numbers.

Distinguished scholars both in this country and abroad will give the academic side of the programme. Their subjects will include: Thomas Hardy and the law; Hardy and Tennyson; Hardy aestheticism and the visual arts; Hardy the poet and Hardy the letter-writer as well as a lively and provocative debate on the definitive edition of Hardy’s novels. A full programme of seminars, and a General Reader session, will complement the lectures and the extremely successful Postgraduate Symposium will showcase the best of up and coming scholarship in the field of Hardy studies.  

Download the 2012 Conference Poster

Click here to download the Conference Programme and Booking Form


Confirmed Lecturers include:

  • Tim Dolin, Professor of Communication and Cultural Studies, Curtin University, Sydney
  • Simon Gatrell,Professor of Victorian Studies at the University of Georgia
  • Michael Irwin, Professor Emeritus of English, the University of Kent & former Chairman of the Thomas Hardy Society
  • Dr Neil Sargeant, Associate Professor of Law at Carleton University, Ottawa
  • Marion Shaw, Professor Emeritus of English, the University of Loughborough
  • Posy Simmonds giving an illustrated talk on Tamara Drewe
  • Professor Neil Sinyard, Professor Emeritus of Film Studies, University of Hull
  • Dr Jane Thomas, Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Hull & academic director of the Thomas Hardy Conference
  • Herbert Tucker, Professor of Nineteenth-Century British Literature, the University of Virginia
  • Keith Wilson, Professor of English, University of Ottawa

Poets booked for the Festival include:

Roger McGough

'the patron saint of poetry' (Carol Ann Duffy)

As Far As I Know

Take comfort from this
You have a book in your hand
Not a loaded gun or a parking fine
Or an invitation card to the wedding
Of the one you should have married

A new book of poems by Roger McGough is always an event and As Far As I Know is truly a cause for celebration. Hilarious and surreal, he is a poet of many voices. Menace and melancholy there may be, but with plenty of McGough's characteristic wit and wordplay too.

A dirty syringe or a deadly scorpion
A molotov cocktail or an overdose
Not a loaded gun or a parking fine
You have a book in your hand
Take comfort from this

Newly elected President of the Poetry Society, Roger McGough has been honoured with a CBE for services to literature and the Freedom of the City of Liverpool for good behaviour. Lily The Pink, the Aintree Iron, Scaffold, GRIMMS, The Mersey Sound with Adrian Henri & Brian Patten and presenter of the long-running Poetry Please. The beat goes on.

Roger McGough

His poetry is like a supermodel who can complete a Sudoku puzzle moments before swishing down the catwalk --- easy on the eye and smart as a whip.' Birmingham Daily Post

'rueful, unpredictable observation to please the sharpest wits' The Independent

‘a poemy torch in dark corners' Ian McMillan Poetry Review

'profound surprises and lasting images on almost every line' Siân Hughes T.E.S.

'a witty and ingenious chronicler of British life, who manages a range of perennial themes with a deftness and agility that is hard to beat' The Poetry Society

‘He is a true original and more than one generation would be much the poorer without him’ The Times

'Liverpool's own Poet Laureate' Daily Post

Photo, Will Wilkinson


Daljit Nagra

Daljit comes from a Punjabi background. He has published two collections of poetry, both with Faber and Faber. He has won several prizes including the Forward Prize for Best Individual Poem and Best First Collection. He has published poems in New Yorker, LRB and TLS. He is a regular contributor to BBC radio programmes.

Daljit Nagra's vivid tales of immigrant life and love are electrifying the World of poetry (Rachel Cooke, The Observer).


Sean Street

Dorset poet, teacher & broadcaster

He is in the great tradition of Hardy, Thomas and Larkin, and he uses their skills and taut control of word and line and image. (James Gibson)


  • Tim Laycock and the New Scorpion Band
  • Excerpts from the d'Erlanger Tess Opera with Barry Ferguson and company
  • A Barn Dance with Ruth and Colin Thompson
  • A Hardy song cycle with Pam Waddington Muse (Mezzo-soprano) Peter Sproston (Pianist)
  • La Nova Singers
  • A recital by Philip Lange, relating to the Poems of 1912-13
  • A Hardy Quiz
  • The Woodlanders, performed in Maumbury Rings by the New Hardy Players



 Songs by Finzi

 Scorpion Band

Barn Dance 2012

Walks and Tours

Click here to view a list of the Walks and tours

& much more besides..... 

There will be ample opportunity to join in discussions with morning Lectures and afternoon Seminars

Confirmed Keynote speakers include:

Herbert Tucker (Professor of Nineteenth-Century British Literature, the University of Virginia)

Marion Shaw (Professor Emeritus of English, the University of Loughborough)

Dr Neil Sargent (Associate Professor of Law at Carleton University, Ottawa)

Professor Tim Dolin (Professor of Communication and Cultural Studies, Curtin University, Sydney)

Professor Simon Gatrell (Professor of Victorian Studies at the University of Georgia)

Professor Mike Irwin (Professor Emeritus of English, the University of Kent )

Professor Neil Sinyard (Professor Emeritus of Film Studies, University of Hull)

Professor Keith Wilson (Professor of English, University of Ottawa) 

Postgraduate Symposium

Call for Papers

Fourth International Postgraduate Symposium on Thomas Hardy, at the 20th International Thomas Hardy Conference & Festival, Dorchester, UK, 18-26 August 2012

Proposals are invited for papers on any aspect of the life, work and thought of Thomas Hardy for the fourth International Postgraduate Symposium on Hardy which will take place in Dorchester, 18-26 August 2012, as part of the 20th International Thomas Hardy Conference & Festival.

Decisions will be made by the Symposium Convenors Professor Roger Ebbatson, Lancaster University, and Dr Angelique Richardson, University of Exeter.  Proposals of 250 words (max) for papers of 15-minute duration should be sent to by 31 March 2012.

A small bursary will be offered to successful applicants to assist with the cost of attending the conference, and conference fees will be waived. Reduced rates will be offered to postgraduates wishing to attend the conference but not giving papers. This is a unique opportunity to share and debate ideas on Hardy with other new and established scholars. A selection of these papers will be published in the peer-reviewed Thomas Hardy Journal. All attending postgraduates will be expected to join the Thomas Hardy Society at a reduced subscription rate.

Conference delegates (including speakers) are responsible for finding their own accommodation and are advised to do so as soon as possible as accommodation is likely to be scarce in August in view of the Sailing Olympics (29th July to 11 August). Accommodation queries can be directed to Rebecca Welshman, the Thomas Hardy Society Student Representative, University of Exeter,

The Frank Pinion Award

Applications are invited for this award which commemorates Dr Frank Pinion’s contribution to Thomas Hardy studies. His many publications on Hardy include A Thomas Hardy Companion, A Thomas Hardy Dictionary and One Rare Fair Woman. Dr Pinion edited the Thomas Hardy Society Review, which later became the Thomas Hardy Journal. He was a Vice-President of the Society,

Dr Pinion’s entire career was with young people; his own interest in Hardy began when he was a student: the award was founded by his students. For these reasons, it was decided to devote the Award to young people wishing to further their Thomas Hardy studies. It provides financial help to attend the Thomas Hardy Conference, enabling the winner to hear lectures by Hardy scholars and visit many Hardy locations.

Bursary for Biennial Conference

August 2012

As an Educational Charity the Thomas Hardy Society promotes knowledge and appreciation of the works of Thomas Hardy both nationally and internationally; the Society encourages study at school and university level and provides members of the Society with the opportunities for fellowship.

To this end, the biennial conferences are an important element, offering a wide-ranging programme of lectures and seminars, dramatic interpretations, musical events and poetry readings.

The Society is keen to welcome members from as many parts of the world as possible. In past years we have been privileged to have delegates from as many as seventeen different countries. It is sometimes the case, however, that people who are involved in Hardy studies, either as students or teachers, are unable to attend because of the cost involved. The Society has limited funds available that might enable us to make a contribution towards costs in a few cases.

Those who find themselves in this situation are invited to write stating their circumstances, the nature of their interest in Hardy, and their needs in terms of being able to attend this year’s conference in Dorchester (18th -26th  August 2012) including specific details of travel expenses etc. Letters for consideration should arrive at the Hardy Society’s office by 31st December 2011 addressed to the Secretary.

+ The 19th International Thomas Hardy Conference. 24th July – 1st August 2010

Conference Report by Brenda Parry

As with most of you reading this, I am somewhat obsessive about Thomas Hardy. So when I go to Dorchester, especially to conference, I change into another gear. I literally move into a Hardy novel.

The golden cornfields of Dorset and the drive over the stone bridge into the town are so much the scene that Hardy knew and loved more than a century ago that it is impossible not to be immediately transported into his world.

I don’t see Marks and Spencer and Boots, Waitrose and Tesco unless I need them, of course. I’m angered by Waterstone’s who can’t be bothered to put one Hardy novel in the window let alone a window display during conference week, but we were all there--- the members of the Thomas Hardy Society at the 19th International Thomas Hardy Conference and Festival, marking the 170th anniversary of the writer‘s birth…..keeping the great name alive. And Dorchester’s wonderful architecture, even if it houses some less than appealing businesses these days, is still there and not to be missed. You only have to raise your eyes to the bay window and the chandelier at the King’s Arms to be back in Hardy’s Casterbridge

It wasn’t the biggest conference gathering ever, and I was there in 1968, although admittedly not at every conference thereafter, but I came away this year with an especially warm feeling that 2010,  had been one the best conferences I had attended. No wonder there were complaints about the sound system in the hall, delegates were so busy talking about last night’s concert, this afternoon’s walk, or tea at Max Gate, it proved a major problem settling everybody down for the morning lectures. We are sorry if you couldn’t all hear everything you wanted to properly, but getting sound levels just right for all of the people all of the time is very difficult. But we will try even harder next time.

A well balanced conference is what we aim for, offering as much for the academic as the lay reader. And we seemed to have pulled that off in good measure this year with both tragic (Andrew Motion and Christopher Reid) and comic (Brian Patten) poetry; with high profile lecturers including Claire Tomalin, Professor Barrie Bullen and Alan Chedzoy, plus Chedzoy with his  talented granddaughter.

It was a packed programme with something worthwhile going on from 9a.m. to 10.30p.m. Some of you thought it was too busy with parallel events overlapping. Given we only all get together every two years, we would hate it to be otherwise. For what better way to spend a day with all the senses being stimulated by riveting morning lectures---and some were quite outstanding not least from some of the inspirational postgraduate students; a walk taking in some of Hardy’s most magical places--- on occasions with musical accompaniment---followed by an evening concert and then some eventful poetry readings which meandered from the pub, to Maumbury Rings to the cloisters of the Casterbridge Hotel.

Not all of us made it to end of play each day, but one man who did was our current chairman, Tony Fincham. It was his first conference as chair, and did he work hard! His enthusiasm and stamina were quite remarkable.

The conference saw the launch of two new works on Hardy--“Thomas Hardy and the Jurassic Coast,” compiled by Patrick Tolfree and Rebecca Welshman, a quite delightful guide of the coastline that had such an influence on Hardy’s work. It is a conveniently sized book for the walker and beautifully illustrated by Somerset based artist David Brackston.  Published by the Society it costs £5.

Tony Fincham’s “Hardy’s Landscape Revisited” is quite the best read on Hardy for many a year. It is enchanting and if a bit weighty for the rucksack is a wonderful fireside partner enough to encourage the laziest of us to get out and explore Hardy’s Dorset. Fincham’s love for the author is totally laid bare and I defy anyone only partly committed to Hardy not to be bowled over by this. Published by Robert Hale at £25 it is available from Amazon.


It was former poet laureate Andrew Motion who opened the week’s proceedings with some particularly beautiful readings, not only of his published work, but also a preview of new work to be published next year. Many of you felt his work was particularly moving, his references to his parents for instance, while others of you felt it was a rather sad Saturday night programme. Dare I remind you that Motion was greatly influenced by one TH, and his poetry was far from comedy.

But if you were looking for good laugh, then Brian Patten, the Liverpool poet, was certainly your man. You didn’t have to understand his “scouse” to enjoy every minute of his performance. He had most of us rolling in the aisles---not literally, we are talking about the Hardy Society, but you get the picture. Don’t be fooled into thinking Patten is simply a comic poet, read some of his work and you will be amazed by the variety encompassing love and tragedy as well as lots of fun.

The third of the poets, who was to conclude the conference, was this year’s Costa Prize winner, Christopher Reid, who brought a tear to almost every eye with his poems about his actress wife who died an untimely death a few years ago. His pain was obvious, and naturally we compared his work with Hardy’s love poems---but Reid’s were so much more subjective, so new and so raw. We loved him for it, but was not an altogether happy ending to the conference lectures. But no doubt Hardy would have approved---he who rarely sent us away happy and yet managed to secure our everlasting devotion.

The evening entertainment throughout the week was as varied as the conference itself. I won’t write about them all and I hesitate to single out any, but I think the most remarkable was the wonderful Iuventus String Quartet who played for us in the Victorian Gallery at the County Museum. They played works from Haydn, Beethoven and Dovrak and their leader told us that her father, who was in the audience had shaken hands with Hardy when a small child. Needless to say everyone wanted to shake his hand during the interval. And he was more than happy to oblige.

In another concert at the museum, Sarah Deere-Jones (harp) and her husband Phil Williams (cittern and guitars) had set some of Hardy’s poetry to folk music. I think the great man would have approved.

The new Hardy Players performed the Mayor of Casterbridge for us, and on another evening  Alan Chedzoy and granddaughter Jane enacted some wonderful dialect pieces. Jane was quite captivating showing great promise as a future star.

Four talented Dorset poets read from Hardy and a selection of their own work; and in a setting called “Love Lures Life On”, it was good to see our own Furse Swan in action with Bernard Palmer and Margaret Howard, Roy Burton and Sue Theobald accompanied by folk violinist Colin Thompson. Both evenings proved delightful. We were simply sated with fine words----many of them TH’s, and some superb acting. Sue Theobald’s day job might be designing and making silver jewellery, but put her on stage and she is a very different person.

It must be obvious from this report of the conference, that I am one of the lay readers, rather than an academic, but the lectures were far from lost on me----Dr. Sophie Gilmartin’s: ‘Storms in Teacups: Hardy’s Quiet Catastrophes’, was riveting. Professor Barrie Bullen held his audience spellbound  with ‘Expressive Places in Far from the Madding Crowd’ while Claire Tomalin, a Hardy biographer, proved popular when she told us of Hardy’s Cambridge connection and his friendship with Sydney Cockerell. Not surprisingly from Tomalin we heard more about Hardy the man, than Hardy the novelist and poet. It sent most people home anxious to re-read her splendid biography

The talent and obvious love of Hardy amongst the post graduates was terrific to hear proving what we know to be true that Hardy’s work has a significance and relevance for every new generation. There were more post grads than ever this year and may the trend continue.

Max Gate

The only tinge of sadness this year was the fact that we have seen the last of the delightful tea parties hosted by Andrew and Marilyn Leah at Max Gate. They have been a highlight of the conference for many years now and not to be missed, but things are changing at Max Gate and Andrew and Marilyn will no longer be in residence. But have no doubts they will remain very much a part of the Hardy Society, and hopefully the National Trust will arrange for someone to give them tea next time around.

And so the week of lectures, walks and talks, music and dancing drew to a close with the annual meeting, a farewell buffet supper and a barn dance at the Corn Exchange and if that was not enough, the Rev John Travell delivered a fascinating sermon at the United Reform Church Sunday service on ‘Thomas Hardy and the Chapel Folk’ and finally a new work by Peter John Cooper, ‘She Opened the Door’ a play about the women in Thomas Hardy’s life played to a full and appreciative house at the Corn Exchange. And making her traditional one off appearance at the conference, the now 104 year old Norrie Woodhall, the only living survivor of the original Hardy players, came along to applaud the cast.

I think it traditional in this piece to thank everyone for the hard work in making the conference such a great success---Tony Fincham, Mike Nixon, Heather Shean and our Academic director, Dr. Jane. Thomas. It wouldn’t have happened without them. There were, of course, many more of you from tea ladies, to sound men and et al. Thank you.

If you were there, you will know well what you best enjoyed; if you weren’t there I hope this will inspire you to attend in 2012 after any Olympic exertions. In the meantime, if you need to get yourself into a Hardy novel, just take a trip to Dorchester. It’s all there.

+ Conference Programme 2010

The programme for last year’s conference (2010) is typical of the breadth, depth and intensity of these events:

The 19th International THOMAS HARDY Conference & Festival

Dorchester 24th July – 1st August 2010


Saturday 24 July

From 12 noon
Registration at the United Church. Refreshment facilities are available and delegates may purchase light lunches.

7pm for 7.30 pm* *
Conference & Festival Launch, sponsored by Dorset County Council: Reception and Buffet Supper at The Thomas Hardye School for delegates and guests. Andrew Wadsworth, Director of the Brewery Square Development, will speak on ‘Arts in the community.’

8.30 pm
Sir Andrew Motion will present his own poetry, reading from his latest collection of poems, The Cinder Path, and references to Hardy’s writing. With Q&A. Book-signing afterwards.
Tickets: £10, £4 Students


Sunday 25 July

9.00 am
‘Thomas Hardy’s Cornwall’: all day coach trip led by Helen Gibson to Boscastle & St Juliot, 140 years after Thomas Hardy met Emma there. Readings at St Juliot, visiting the Old Rectory, Vallency valley and Beeny Cliff. Cornish lunch included.

9.00 am
‘Thomas Hardy and Archaeology’: all day coach tour led by Rebecca Welshman: Stonehenge, Pilsdon Pen, Devizes, Maiden Castle, other archaeological sites. Picnic lunch or café stop at Stonehenge.

10.00 am
Morning Service at St Michael’s, Stinsford.
Preacher: The Revd John Schofield. Refreshments to follow.

11.30 am
Circular walk from Stinsford led by Sue Clarke, lunch stop at Coach House Restaurant, Kingston Maurward or bring picnic.

3.00 pm
Keith Wilson will talk about ‘The Hardy Players’

3.30 pm
Casterbridge walk led by Helen Lange, exploring some of the places particularly significant to Hardy’s life and work

8.00 pm
United Church: ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’.
A performance by The New Hardy Players
sponsored by dorchester town council Tickets: £10, £4 Students

NIGHTLY at 10PM (APPROX) Informal Poetry Readings At ‘The Royal Oak’, High West Street


Monday 26 July

9.00 am each day: announcements to be given out by mike nixon

9.15 am
Lecture by Prof Philip Davis: ‘’”Of Individuality”: Significant Variation in Hardy’s Poetry’

11.00 am
Lecture by Prof William Greenslade: ‘”Out of the Way
Places”: Hardy’s Symbolic Geographies.’

1.30 pm
Local coach tour led by Furse Swann to Bockhampton, Frome Hill Barrow, with tea at The New Inn, West Knighton.

1.30 pm
Seminar with Prof Davis

1.30 pm
Seminar with Prof Greenslade

2.00 pm
Brian Patten: ‘Poetry for all the family’. Announcement of the winners of the Junior Bard of Dorchester Poetry Competition.
sponsored by dorchester town council

5.00 pm
The Gryphon School Film : ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’

7.00 pm
Corn Exchange (Magistrates’ Room) Cllr Leslie Phillips (Mayor of Dorchester) will open the David Brackston Art Exhibition and Dr Jon Murden will launch Thomas Hardy and the Jurassic Coast, compiled by Patrick Tolfree and Rebecca Welshman, with illustrations by David Brackston.

8.00 pm
A Poetry Reading by Brian Patten
sponsored by west dorset district council Tickets: £10, £4 Students


Tuesday 27 July Antiquarian and Secondhand Book Fair at Conference venue

9.00 am Announcements: mike nixon

9.15 am
Lecture by Prof Penny Boumelha: ‘”Bright Faces of the New”: Bodies, Children and Futures in Hardy’s Novels

11.00 am
Call for Papers: PANEL ONE: main Church:
Professor Keith Wilson (University of Ottawa) ‘Hardy and the Ethics of Looking’
Hugh Epstein ‘Desperate Remedies: the physiology of sensation and literary style’
Uehara, Sanae (Nagoya University, Japan) ‘Re-reading Newson’s and Susan’s Stories’
Professor Simon Gatrell (University of Georgia) ‘“Such a Sad Suit”: Mourning in Wessex’.

11.00 am
Call for Papers: PANEL TWO: Cerne Abbas Room
Dr Peter Robson ‘Hardy’s Dorset Ghosts’
Dr Neil Sargeant (Carleton University, Ottawa) ‘Caught between the Real and the Imaginary of Law: Divorce, Wife Sale and Living ‘Common Law’ in Hardy’s Wessex’
Dr Geoff Doel (University of Kent) ‘Mummers & Maypoles - Hardy’s Dramatic & Thematic Use of Seasonal Customs & Folklore in The Return of the Native’.
Christopher Sparey-Green ‘A Time-Torn Landscape’

1.30 pm
‘Fiddling Folk’, a walk led by Tony Fincham in area of ‘The Three Strangers’ with music and singing by Tim Laycock and Colin Thompson

1.30 pm
Coach tour ’Thomas Hardy: Church Architect’ led by JoAnna Mink, to Wimborne Minster, Hinton Martell and West Knighton.

Postgraduate Symposium: chaired by Prof Roger Ebbatson (Lancaster University):
Demelza Hookway (Exeter University):
Falling Over the Same Precipice: JS Mill and Hardy’
Tyleen Kelly (Oxford University): ‘Reading the Skies: Meteorology in Hardy’s Narratives’
Yekaterina Novokreshennykh (Tyumen State University, Russia): ‘Elements of Human Nature in the Wessex Novels’
Ellie Cope (Hull University): ‘A Symmetrical Existence undone by Ideal Passion: Boldwood’s Monomania’

3-5.00 pm* *
Tea at Max Gate by invitation of Marilyn & Andrew Leah, with poetry reading by Michael Thorpe Tickets: £5

4.15 pm
Reception for postgraduates and new scholars

5.30 pm
‘Love Lures Life On’: a review of ‘Hardy’s ballads and narrative poems’, devised by Bernard Palmer, with readers Roy Burton, Margaret Howard, Furse Swann,
Sue Theobald and Colin Thompson (violin)

8.00 pm
'Wessex Voices’: An Entertainment by Alan Chedzoy, with Jane Chedzoy Tickets: £5


Wednesday 28 July

Antiquarian and Secondhand Book Fair at Conference venue

9.00 am announcements: mike nixon

9.15 am
Lecture by Dr Angelique Richardson: ‘Hardy and War’

11.00 am
Lecture by Prof Barrie Bullen: ‘Hardy, Topography and Space’

1.30 pm
Seminar with Prof Barrie Bullen

1.30 pm
‘The Trumpet-Major and “The Melancholy Hussar”’: walk led by Tony Fincham in conjunction with South Dorset Ridgeway Festival and Jurassic Coast World Heritage Team: from Sutton Poyntz, to Bincombe

1.30 pm
Coach tour to Sherborne led by Helen Lange, to see settings for The Woodlanders, and ‘Anna, Lady Baxby’

2.00 pm
Call for Papers: PANEL THREE: main Church
Philip Budd: ‘Encounters with Ecclesiastes: Thomas Hardy and Old Eccl’iastes’ Ink Bottle’
Parris Bushong, United World College: ‘Sue Bridehead’s Theological Odyssey’
Dr Trevor Johnson, ‘Hardy and the Book of Common Prayer’
Dr Julia Courtney, Open University: ‘Too ‘Parsonical’? Religion and Region in Hardy, Barnes and T E Brown’

2.00 pm
Call for Papers: PANEL FOUR: Cerne Abbas Room
Professor Roger Ebbatson, ‘“In Front of the Landscape”: The Lyric Poet in a Destitute Time’
Frances Causer (Seijo University, Tokyo), ‘Thomas Hardy’s “Drummer Hodge” takes a starring role in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys’
Dr Ilaria Mallozzi, ‘When Literature meets Science’
Dr Emanuela Ettore, (G. d’Annunzio University, Italy) ,
‘The Paradoxes of Science and the Indeterminacy of the Visible’

4-5.30 pm
Postgraduate symposium: Chair: Prof Rosemarie Morgan
Indy Clark (University of Queensland):
Arcadia, Wessex and the South Country in Hardy’s Poetry’
Marianne Burton (Royal Holloway, London University):
‘“The Bride-Night Fire”: Hardy’s Erotic Fascinations’
Claire Potter (University of Paris VII):
‘A Picnic in Hades: Revisiting the Emma Poems’
Kitty Zhang (University of Hong Kong):
‘The Lover as Artist: The Well-Beloved and Poems 1912-13’

7.45 pm
The Iuventus String Quartet: a programme of music by Haydn, Beethoven and Dvorak. The Victorian Gallery at the Dorset County Museum
sponsored by dorchester b i d Tickets (includes wine etc): £10, £4Students


Thursday 29 July

9.00 am announcements: mike nixon

9.15 am
Lecture by Dr Sophie Gilmartin: ‘Storms and Teacups: Hardy’s Quiet Catastrophes’

Postgraduate Symposium: Chair: Dr Angelique Richardson
Thomas Paterson (Hull University): ‘Miasmatic Fog, Vice and Mixen Lane: Disease Imagery in The Mayor of Casterbridge’
William Abberley (Exeter University): ‘Language and the Extinction of Rural Consciousness in Hardy’s Fiction’
Samantha Briggs (Leicester University):‘Marriage and Survival in Jude the Obscure’
Rosalyn Gregory (Oxford University): ‘Projects for Staging The Woodlanders and Jude the Obscure’

1.30 pm
Seminar with Dr Gilmartin

1.30 pm
Coach tour led by Helen Gibson with Brian Caddy: ‘Two Fine Houses and a Rector’s Retreat’

1.30 pm
Coach tour led by Angela Bell to Swanage, Purbecks and Wareham including a five mile walk

2-3.30 pm
Postgraduate Symposium: Chair: Prof Roger Ebbatson
Jane Bownas (Open University):‘Primitive Wanderers,
Civilised Settlers? Breaking the Binary in Hardy’
Joel Hawkes (Bristol University): Corfe Castle and the Tourist: The Ritual Performance of Wessex’
Rebecca Welshman (University of Exeter): “Prehistoric Times”: Marriage and the Ancient Earth’
Zach Samalin (City University, New York):‘Boulders on a Plain: Casterbridge and the Languages of Critique’

3-5.00 pm* *
Tea at Max Gate by invitation of Marilyn & Andrew Leah, with poetry reading by Michael Thorpe Tickets: £5

6.00 pm
Book Launch: Hardy’s Landscape Revisited by Tony Fincham at Waterstones Bookshop

7.30 pm
Four Bridport poets present ‘Who’s in the Next Room’: poems by Hardy and other poets. sponsored by the National Trust Tickets: £10, £4 Students


Friday 30 July

9.00 am announcements: mike nixon

9.15 am
Lecture by Claire Tomalin: ‘Hardy and the Cambridge Connection’

11.00 am
Lecture by Dr Tim Armstrong: ‘Hardy’s Maths’

1.30 pm
Coach tour with 2 walks: ‘East of Egdon’, led by Tony Fincham in countryside of The Return of the Native

1.30 pm
Coach tour led by Sue Clarke, exploring Bridport, Beaminster, Abbotsbury and the Jurassic Coast

2.00 pm
General Readers’ Seminar: ‘A Forum for Hardy Enthusiasts' convened by Jeanie Smith and Ann Bliss

7.45 pm
Recital: Sarah Deere-Jones(harp) & Phil Williams (cittern & guitars). Folk settings of Hardy’s poems. Victorian Gallery, Dorset County Museum sponsored by blanchards bailey Tickets: £10, £4 Students

Saturday 31 July

9.00 am announcements: mike nixon

9.15 am
Poetry reading by Christopher Reid: ‘Woman Much Missed’

11.00 am
Thomas Hardy Association Forum chaired by Prof Rosemarie Morgan

3.00 pm
Thomas Hardy Quiz, introduced by Chris Rowe

5.00 pm
Annual General Meeting

7.30 pm* *
Corn Exchange: Farewell Buffet Supper, followed by a Barn Dance with the Climax Ceilidh Band


Sunday 1 August

10.30 am
Morning Service at the United Church. Preacher: The Revd Dr John Travell: ‘Thomas Hardy and the Chapel Folk’, with reader, Brian Caddy.

3.30 pm
Corn Exchange: World Premiere of ‘She Opened the Door’, a play about the women in Thomas Hardy’s life and literature, by Peter John Cooper, working with Jane McKell and AsOne Theatre Company.
Tickets in advance from the Conference/Festival Box Office or on the door: £10

* these events are for full conference & festival members only*