Friday, September 29, 2006

I am rather in love

with Hardy in any case but this bit of Claire Tomalin's new biography excerpted at the Guardian pretty much clinches it. Here's a taste:

He liked to work in old clothes, and particularly a pair of trousers that went back to the turn of the century and which he mended himself with string. He also kept an ancient shawl, crocheted from fawn or beige wool, to put over his shoulders, and sometimes his head too, against the cold. There was an open fire, laid but not lit by the maid because he liked to get it going himself. No other heat, since neither gas nor electricity had reached Max Gate, and light was provided by oil lamps. No telephone, although one was installed downstairs in 1920, which he refused to answer. In the same year the house acquired a wireless set, of which Wessex, his dog, became so passionately fond that Hardy sometimes got up early and went down in his long night-shirt and short dressing-gown to turn it on for him. He slept in an unheated bedroom and had his hot water brought up in jugs. His second wife Florence would join him for early morning tea at 7.45, coming through the dressing room between their rooms.

My English grandfather (1910-2004) had an amazing anecdote about Thomas Hardy: when Hardy died in 1928, there was an immense funeral in Westminster Abbey, and my grandfather illicitly took the day off school to go to it and pay his respects (the story has more details that I don't remember: him helping an old Dorset relative of Hardy's into a seat in the pew?). The thing I find extraordinary, of course, is to think of Hardy as living so long into the twentieth century. But then you can feel very close to the past this way: my grandmother's grandfather was a Unitarian minister at the church in Cross Street, Manchester at the same time as Elizabeth Gaskell's husband. Strange thoughts about English literature!

(Oh, and as someone who hates shopping, I like the idea of someone saying about my fifty-years-from-now future self--supposing I live so long, and that anybody in any case cares what clothes I would wear which is singularly unlikely--that I wore a pair of trousers dating back to the last century which I mended with string! Though I think string is not so useful with current fashions for mending purposes; duct tape, more likely....)


  1. Claire Tomalin's biography of Austen has a line something like "she would have rejoiced in the freedom of an old pair of trousers" - interesting.