Thomas Hardy: Wife's letters offer 'glimpse of home life'

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image captionFlorence Dugdale wrote that she was "the proud and very happy wife of the greatest living English writer"

Newly discovered letters from novelist Thomas Hardy's second wife have offered a glimpse of their home life in Dorset.

In the correspondence, the children's author and teacher Florence Dugdale said she was weary of media attention.

The three letters, written to former student Harold Barlow, had been kept by his daughter, Josephine Barlow, and were later discovered by his grandsons.

They will feature in a project documenting Hardy and will join other artefacts at Dorset County Museum.

Hardy, whose works include Jude the Obscure, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd, is one of England's most acclaimed novelists and poets. He was born in Dorset and lived in the county for much of his life before his death in 1928, aged 87.

He married Miss Dugdale, who was 39 years younger than him, in 1914, two years after the death of his first wife Emma Lavinia Gifford.

'Genuine love match'

Mr Barlow's grandsons, Ian and Colin Nicol, handed the letters to Prof Angelique Richardson of the University of Exeter, who has been leading the project to create a digital database of correspondence relating to the author.

She said: "It is rare to find such significant letters. They give an intimate glimpse into life at Hardy's home, Max Gate, and the loves and losses Florence shared with Hardy.

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image captionFlorence Dugdale and Thomas Hardy married in 1914

"It also shows us more about Florence, how self-deprecating she was and how devoted she was to her husband."

In the first letter, dated 10 February 1914, shortly after Miss Dugdale's marriage to Hardy, she wrote: "Perhaps you have read, if you have the English papers, that I am now the proud and very happy wife of the greatest living English writer - Thomas Hardy.

"Although he is much older than myself, it is a genuine love match - on my part, at least, for I suppose I ought not to speak for him.

"At any rate I know I have for a husband one of the kindest, most humane men in the world."

image copyrightPA Media
image captionIan Nicol (pictured) and his brother, Colin, discovered the letters written to their grandfather

In another letter, she wrote: "Accounts of me and my portrait have been printed in every paper, I think, in England.

"I have been shown in the Cinematograph, written about all over America and Europe. I am tired of this publicity. I will send you a paper or two I think if you care to see them."

Hardy's relationship with his first wife formed the background to several of his novels and more than a hundred of his poems but his marriage to Florence Dugdale has not been so well documented.

She had met Hardy late in 1905 and in 1910 she typed up a novella, The Maid On The Shore, by Hardy's first wife.

Prof Richardson said: "We are very grateful to Ian and Colin Nicol for sharing these with us and delighted they can now form part of the collection at Dorset Museum, and be seen on the Hardy's Correspondents project website."

Ian Nicol said: "I am delighted that the letters are joining the Hardy Collection. This would have meant a great deal to Josephine, to my mother and, I'm sure, to Harold."

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