THS London Lecture 2021 by Professor Mark Ford
Four Poems about London by Hardy: 'Coming up Oxford Street: Evening', 'The Broken Appointment', 'In St Paul's a While Ago', 'The Woman I Met'
A Review by Mark Chutter
In early December, members of the society were delighted to welcome Professor Mark Ford, Head of the English Department at UCL. Mark holds a DPhil from the University of Oxford and has published widely as both a poet and as a critic. His most recent monograph is Thomas Hardy: Half a Londoner (2016). He is currently at work on a second book on Hardy to be called Woman Much Missed: Thomas Hardy, Emma Hardy and Poetry.
For our lecture Ford considered four bespoke poems about London- ‘Coming up Oxford Street: Evening’, ‘A Broken Appointment’, ‘In St Paul’s a While Ago’ and ‘The Woman I Met’. Of course, Hardy lived in London from 1862-1867.
In ‘Coming up Oxford Street:Evening’ Ford had questions of the ‘ladies’ with their ‘laughing eyes and teeth’ and rouge and whitener - are they bourgeois women out shopping or is the ‘oldest profession’ at work here. Members might recall the satirical poem by Hardy ‘The Ruined Maid’ (1866) which shares similar subject matter about women during the nineteenth century .
Furthermore, we know that ‘A Broken Appointment’ was also prompted by a woman - Florence Henniker. The poem concerns her failure to attend a rendezvous at the British Museum and explores the ‘sublimation of desires’, particularly in relation to Hardy’s paradoxical experience of the extreme polarities of sex in the city.
The poems gave a clear framework and focus for this lecture by Ford including ‘ In St Paul’s a While Ago’ and ‘The Woman I Met’. The talk was illuminating and made members think about the texts and how the topography of place and character is inextricably linked in Hardy. Arguably, it is challenging to extrapolate or separate the two as gender, relationships and the position of women are at the heart of this writer and poet.Thank you to Professor Ford for an innovative Christmas lecture and we look forward to reading his new publication forthwith.
Mark Damon Chutter