Dorset in Classic Literature

Dorset has long been featured in classic literature, including classic novels by Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and John Fowles, and with books set in and around Lyme Regis, Dorchester and Bridport.

Persuasion, by Jane Austen

Persuasion is the last novel fully completed by Jane Austen.

It was published at the end of 1817, six months after her death.The story concerns Anne Elliot, a young Englishwoman of 27 years, whose family is moving to lower their expenses and get out of debt, at the same time as the wars come to an end, putting sailors on shore. They rent their home to an Admiral and his wife.

The wife’s brother, Navy Captain Frederick Wentworth, had been engaged to Anne in 1806, and now they meet again, both single and unattached, after no contact in more than seven years.

This sets the scene for many humorous encounters as well as a second, well-considered chance at love and marriage for Anne Elliot in her second “bloom”.

Note: Written whilst Jane Austen was living in Lyme Regis.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles

Widely acclaimed since publication, John Fowles’ most beloved novel is the ultimate epic historical romance.

Charles Smithson, a respectable engaged man, meets Sarah Woodruff as she stands on the Cobb at Lyme Regis, staring out to sea.

Charles falls in love, but Sarah is a disgraced woman, and their romance will defy all the stifling conventions of the Victorian age.

Note: The story is based in and around the town of Lyme Regis.

The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy

A haunting study of guilt and lost love in Penguin Classics, Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge is edited with an introduction and notes by Keith Wilson.

In a fit of drunken anger, Michael Henchard sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair. Over the course of the following years, he manages to establish himself as a respected and prosperous pillar of the community of Casterbridge, but behind his success there always lurk the shameful secret of his past and a personality prone to self-destructive pride and temper. Subtitled ‘A Story of a Man of Character’, Hardy’s powerful and sympathetic study of the heroic but deeply flawed Henchard is also an intensely dramatic work, tragically played out against the vivid backdrop of a close-knit Dorsetshire town.

This edition includes an introduction, chronology of Hardy’s life and works, the illustrations for the original serial issue, place names, maps, glossary, full explanatory notes as well as Hardy’s prefaces to the 1895 and 1912 editions.

Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with evocative descriptions of rural life, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.

Its heroine, Bathsheba Everdene, takes up her position as a farmer on a large estate, where her confident presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, the soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak.

Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and when tragedy ensues, the stability of the whole community is threatened.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy

With its depiction of the wronged ‘pure woman’ Tess and its powerful criticism of Victorian hypocrisy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles is one of the most moving and poetic of Hardy’s novels.

When its heroine, Tess Durbeyfield, is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D’Urbervilles, meeting her ‘cousin’ Alec proves to be her downfall.

A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent in the hope of a peaceful future.

Fellow Townsmen, by Thomas Hardy

“During a certain damp evening five-and-thirty years ago, before the twilight was far advanced, a pedestrian of professional appearance, carrying a small bag in his hand and an elevated umbrella, was descending one of these hills by the turnpike road when he was overtaken by a phaeton. ‘Hullo, Downe—is that you?’ said the driver of the vehicle, a young man of pale and refined appearance. ‘Jump up here with me, and ride down to your door.’ “

Note: Set in Bridport

Moonfleet, by J. Meade Falkner

Orphaned John Trenchard grows up in the village of Moonfleet with his aunt, entranced by the local legend of the ghostly Blackbeard, who rises each winter night to search for his lost diamond.

While conducting his own hunt for the treasure, John is trapped in the church crypt and discovers the true secret of the village: smuggling.

Taken under the wing of the gruff innkeeper and chief smuggler, Elzevir Block, John begins a dangerous adventure which will see him in a hair-raising chase along a precarious cliff path and deciphering a hidden code in an ancient castle.

Moonfleet is thrilling story of revenge and betrayal, of loyalty and great sacrifice, but it is above all a story about friendship.

Note: Probably based around the village of East Fleet by Chesil Beach

Dorset in Classic Literature

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