Thomas Hardy: The World of His Novels by J. B. Bullen

Thomas Hardy’s Wessex is one of the great literary evocations of place, populated with colourful and dramatic characters. As lovers of his novels and poetry know, this ‘partly real, partly dream-country’ was firmly rooted in the Dorset into which he had been born.

J. B. Bullen explores the relationship between reality and the dream, identifying the places and the settings for Hardy’s writing, and showing how and why he shaped them to serve the needs of his characters and plots. The locations may be natural or man-made, but they are rarely fantastic or imaginary. A few have been destroyed and some moved from their original site, but all of them actually existed, and we can still trace most of them on the ground today.

  • Thomas Hardy, The World of His Novels
  • London. Frances Lincoln. 2013.
  • 256 pages
  • ISBN 978 0 7112 3275 4


Ever since I was assigned Tess of the d'Urbervilles to read when I was in high school over twenty years ago, I have always wanted to learn about Thomas Hardy's life and inspirations behind his writing.  Well, The World of His Novels by J.B. Bullen may help readers and Hardy fans discover more about his fictitious world of Wessex where his novels took place. Instead, I was hoping Bullen would integrate more personal details of Hardy's life growing up in the hamlet of Stinsford east of Dorchester, in Dorset, England. I find it difficult to properly review simply because I gain more knowledge from researching my own aspects of a writer's life. However, Bullen has taken painstaking levels of effort into providing readers with an abundant amount of geographical, and agricultural background into all six of Thomas Hardy's novels:  Far from the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge,  The Woodlanders, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure.   

Bullen cleverly supports each geographical modification with excerpts of Hardy's writings, as well as descriptions of philosophical works. Bullen includes beautiful color landscape paintings of Hardy's Dorset and Wessex throughout The World of His Novels. There are only two photographs of Thomas Hardy. There are no photographs of his family members or wives because they are not included in this novel. It is mainly a discussion of Hardy's novels broken into sections and analyzed using landscape theory and philosophy. No aspect of Hardy's life is mentioned as being inspirational to his writing; it is purely event based. However, we know Hardy was definitely inspired by his neighbors, friends, colleagues, etc.  So, if you are looking for a strictly non-humanized look at Hardy's work then Thomas Hardy The World of His Novels is for you!   I enjoyed it but was hoping for a different aspect of Hardy's works.  There are so many fascinating aspects of his life that he developed into his works it would have been wonderful to read it here as well. For instance, The Hardy Players a theatrical group of people who put on plays of Hardy's works during his lifetime in and throughout England.  Also, the two women who 'supposedly' inspired his writing Tess of the d'Urbervilles aren't even mentioned here because the focus is on the land and region. 

I will be reading and reviewing another work of J.B. Bullen's next, Rossetti Painter and Poet. Let's hope it is more than a geographical retrospective.


Kevin Marsh said…
Good old Wessex; King Alfred's country. We love that part of England, especially Dorset. Sounds like an interesting read.

Thank you Kimberly for sharing.
Kimberly Eve said…
Where would we all be without Wessex :) Thanks for stopping by, Kevin!
Yvette said…
I've just discovered your fabulous blog, Kimberly, and signed up as a follower. I've also added a few of your book recommendations, etc. to my Victoriana Pinterest board. It's only lately (well, the past couple of years or so) that I've really become interested in the Victorian age and your blog is just what I need as a kind of guide to all things Victorian, most especially the literature and painting.

I only wish I'd liked THE INVISIBLE WOMAN as much as you did. Though I did love the costumes and sets very much. :)
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Yvette,
What a wonderful surprise to find your comment waiting for me. Thank you so much for finding and following my blog. I appreciate your kind words and I hope you enjoy my future posts!

Who knows maybe you'll enjoy The Invisible Woman if you go back to it again...maybe not :)