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24 September 2014

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Thomas Hardy at Stourhead
Thomas and Florence Hardy
Thomas and Florence Hardy
Tucked away in the books in a library at Stourhead are the letters and postcards that map the 25 year friendship between Lady Alda Hoare and the great man of literature Thomas Hardy...

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Stourhead - The National Trust

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Thomas Hardy Exhibition
28th March - 31st October 2003.

Open daily, except Wednesday and Thursday, from 11am until 5pm (last admission half an hour before closing, 4pm in October)

Admission prices from 1 Mar 2003: Garden & house: £8.90, child £4.30, family £21.20. Groups (15+) £8.50. Garden or house: £5.10, child £2.90, family £12.70. Groups £4.60. Garden only 1 Nov to end Feb: £3.95, child £1.90, family £9.50. Groups £3.70. King Alfred’s Tower: £1.85, child 90p, family £4.25.
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It all began in 1910 when a star struck Lady Alda Hoare of Stourhead wrote to the celebrated author Thomas Hardy for an autographed copy of 'Far from the Madding Crowd'.

Thomas Hardy was already a major celebrity with a series of blockbuster novels including 'The Mayor of Casterbridge', 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' and 'Jude the Obscure' under his belt.

Not only was he the great man of English Literature but he was also in demand socially with people coming from near and far to meet him.

Lady Alda Hoare
Lady Alda Hoare
To Lady Alda he responded: 'I shall have much pleasure in signing the book according to your wish, on which you show a diffidence that is not shared by many who have far more cause for feeling it.'

Lady Hoare was delighted she later wrote: 'This letter was the beginning of my friendship with the great poet & novelist; which was to prove to me of the greatest & most valued, interest and happiness.'

In fact it was the beginning of a 24 year correspondence pursued by Lady Hoare not only with Hardy but with his two wives Emma and Florence.

As the friendship developed the postcards, correspondence, letters and even news clippings were collected, by Lady Alda, and carefully tucked or pasted into volumes of Hardy's work.

It is this unique collection, still to be found in the books in Stourhead's fine regency library, which forms the basis of the Thomas Hardy exhibition.

Although the letters from Hardy himself are fairly perfunctory the correspondence between Lady Alda and Hardy's two wives are far more revealing.

Letters between Emma Hardy and Lady Alda, although of a literary nature, provide a fascinating insight into their thoughts on men, art and their day to day lives.

But in 1912 their correspondence came to an end with the sudden death of Emma.

A letter to Lady Alda from Thomas Hardy
A letter to Lady Alda from Thomas Hardy

Hardy was stricken with remorse.

In a note, to Lady Hoare, he expressed his regrets:
'As you know she was very fond of you, and I regret now that I did not bring her to see you at Stour Head.

'But, alas, I thought her in the soundest health and that there was plenty of time.'

Two years later, hounded by the press of the day, Hardy married his devoted secretary, Florence Dugale, and correspondence resumed with Lady Alda.

Despite the new marriage Hardy remained preoccupied with Emma's sudden death and overcame his remorse by creating in poetry what he had failed to achieve in marriage.

The resulting book 'Satires of Circumstances' distressed Florence greatly as she expressed in a letter to Lady Alda in 1914: 'I must confess to you - and I would confess this to no one else - the book pains me horribly, and yet I read it with a terrible fascination.

'It seems to me that I am an utter failure if my husband can publish such a sad sad book.

'He tells me that he has written no despondent poem for the last 18 months, and yet I cannot get rid of the feeling that the man who wrote some of those poems is utterly weary of life - and cares for nothing in this world.

'If I had been a different sort of woman, and better fitted to be his wife would he, I wonder, have published that volume?'

For another 14 years the correspondence and friendship continued but in 1928 at the age of 88 Thomas Hardy died.

In one of her last letters, to Lady Alda, Florence signs off with a moving candid footnote: 'In the pocket of the last coat T.H. wore I found, after his death, just an old knife, an unfinished poem and a piece of string.'

Thomas Hardy runs all season from March 28th.

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