As the newest re-make of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ hit the cinemas this Bank Holiday weekend, audiences across the country have been captivated by its tragedy, its romance- the novel was described by the Guardian as one of the greatest love stories of all time- and its evocative account of rural life in nineteenth century England.
Far From the Madding Crowd was Thomas Hardy’s first major literary success and like many of his novels, it’s set within one of the most picturesque (but often also one of the most overlooked) parts of the UK- West Dorset. Hardy used Dorset’s ancient Saxon name, Wessex, in his work and described it as a “partly real, partly dream country”. For a long time, Dorset has been in the shadow of its honeypot neighbours but thanks to the likes of the new film release of Far From the Madding Crowd and ITV’s Broadchurch, Dorset is deservedly taking its place in the limelight. Much of rural Dorset has remained unspoilt and unchanged over the years, making it the perfect place to step back in time and visit some of the places that inspired Hardy’s masterpiece.
The pretty Dorset village of Puddletown, just 5 miles from Dorchester, was Hardy’s inspiration for Far From the Madding Crowd’s setting, Weatherbury. Many of Hardy’s family came from this village, including his grandfather and great-grandfather. St Mary’s Church in Puddletown is where his grandfather played cello in the gallery and where his uncle is buried. The church features regularly in Far From the Madding Crowd; Fanny Robin was buried in St Mary’s churchyard and Troy sleeps in the church porch overlooking her grave.
The county town of Dorchester is the centre of Hardy’s Wessex and it features in many of his novels, though throughout he refers to it as Casterbridge. Many of the town’s buildings are associated with Thomas Hardy’s characters including the Corn Exchange, (pictured above) where Bathsheba shocks everyone by selling her own wheat and where she meets William Boldwood. There are also plenty of buildings here that are associated with Hardy himself such as Max Gate, a house that he designed and his brother built, where he lived from 1885 onwards. The Dorset County Museum also holds a fantastic collection of Hardy memorabilia including the original furnishings of the study in which he wrote Jude the Obscure and Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
Although not featured in Far From the Madding Crowd itself, it was in Higher Bockhampton that Hardy was born and lived for the first 22 years of his life. The cottage in which he lived was built by his great grandfather; now owned by the National Trust, it remains largely unchanged since the family left. It was at this cottage that he wrote his first five novels, including Far From the Madding Crowd, in his bedroom. You can still visit the cottage today and look out of the right hand dormer window of his bedroom to see Hardy’s view while he wrote his first literary masterpiece.
You can read more about locations in Dorset associated with Thomas Hardy and his other novels in the Hardy Trail guide created by Visit Dorset. If you’re visiting on holiday then make sure you also check out our fantastic collection of holiday cottages in Dorset. Sykes Cottages have a dedicated team of reservations specialists that are on hand to help seven days a week, from 9am until 9.30pm.