Celebrating Hardy's 181st Birthday!

Thomas Hardy Society Birthday Weekend 2021

Celebrating Hardy's 181st Birthday!

It was great to be able to gather this year to celebrate in person the 181st anniversary of Hardy’s birth. The first event was a walk around Michael Henchard's Casterbridge, led by THS Chairman Dr Tony Fincham. ‘From Pummery Ridge to Maembury Rings and Standfast Bridge’ meandered from Maumbury Rings through the town to Durnover and Ten Hatches Weir, returning via Mixen Lane and High Place Hall to finish at Pummery (Poundbury Hill Fort). Comprising forty seven intrepid perambulators and a pooch, this proved to be the most popular walk hosted by the Society in many years!

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The celebrations continued with the birthday lecture which this year was given by Dr Jonathan Memel, lecturer at Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln. His subject was ‘Thomas Hardy: Natural Bookworm?’ In his lecture Jonathan emphasised the fact that although Hardy in his autobiography and elsewhere thought of himself as a ‘born bookworm’ who learnt to read ‘almost before he could walk’, in his fiction education is frequently a source of despair and alienation. Characters such as Grace Melbury, Clym Yeobright, and Jude Fawley were cited as examples. The talk considered this contrast by situating Hardy’s writing within late-Victorian debates about the purpose of education.

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After the lecture those present processed to Hardy’s statue at Top o’ Town to lay wreathes. The Mayor of Dorchester, Gareth Jones, read from The Mayor of Casterbridge before laying his wreath, while the Birthday Weekend lecturer read a poem and then laid the Hardy Society wreath. The procession then moved on to the William Barnes statue outside St Peter’s Church where there were more readings and wreath layings.

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A delicious buffet meal was then served, provided by the wonderful people at Hendover Cafe, which was enjoyed by everyone, and there was the opportunity for some socially distanced socialising!

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Rounding off the Saturday events was an evening of folk music entitled ‘Tess's Folk Songs - A Musical Evening’. This was a delightful collection of music connected to Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles played on a variety of instruments by folk musicians James Findlay (BBC Young Folk Musician of the Year) and Jerry Bird (The Stomping Boondocks, The Dambuskers, State of Undress).

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The celebrations continued on Sunday morning with a service of Holy Communion led by the Archdeacon of Sherborne, the Venerable Penny Sayer, and the Vicar of Stinsford, the Reverend Mark Phillips. Although Penny admitted to not really liking Hardy, she preached very powerfully. After the service Tony Fincham read two poems by Hardy and laid a wreath at his tomb. Prosecco, cakes and biscuits were then provided by Mike and Sue Clarke.

With thanks to Richard Franklin for the text.

Photos supplied by Mark Chutter, Helen Martin, and Tracy Hayes

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