Skilful Chiselling

When John Corden visited us in February he was struck by our New Forest landscape which reminded him of studying Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” which he had read at school, where his English teacher had instructed the boys not to skip the first chapters describing the landscape because that countryside was one of the important characters in the book. He asked us whether Hardy had lived nearby. He had, indeed. On October 11th 2013 we had visited the thatched cottage in which he was born, not far away across the county border into Dorset. Jackie sits by the fireside which once warmed the budding writer.

I therefore returned to my Folio Society edition of the novel in which the terrain is indeed a major feature. An informative introduction by R.M. puts the work in the context of the author’s life and work.

Thomas Hardy writes an engrossing and intriguing tale of life and relationships among a few villagers sharing the remote setting. Such geographical proximity as there is does not exclude emotional distance, rivalry, and conflict. The author’s descriptions of the nature of the human inhabitants, the wildlife, and Egdon Heath itself is matched by sensitive dialogue. One might also say that the weather, which certainly reflects the action and moods of the protagonists, is also a significant character.

Peter Reddick’s robust, muscular, woodcuts depict the harsh reality of life at the time, and the noble strength of those who lived there then.

Endpaper maps of the fictional Wessex have Egdon Heath alongside what is The New Forest, and Reddick’s illustrations show a landscape largely unchanged in our National Park.


I have diverged from my usual practise of presenting the illustrations in full page scans because they are so small and so numerous that I would be flooding you with text. This has the advantage of enlarging and making more visible the artist’s skilful chiselling.

This evening we dined on lemon chicken; roasted new and sweet potatoes; crunchy carrots, and tender green beans with which I finished the Pinot Noir and Jackie drank Hoegaarden.

Published by derrickjknight

I am an octogenarian enjoying rambling physically and photographing what I see, and rambling in my head as memories are triggered. I also ramble through a lifetime's photographs. In these later years much rambling is done in a car.

66 thoughts on “Skilful Chiselling

  1. Well Derrick, When we read that book at school we did not have the woodcuts to look at but the views of the Heath as shown on those shots of yours are amazingly similar to modern day photographs. Thank you so much it’s wonderful

  2. I wish books were still illustrated. Though I suppose it interferes a bit with imagination. Mostly I guess publishers find it too expensive. These are lovely, and I liked the 2013 tour of Hardy’s birthplace. It does give one an idea of how comfortable we are now…

    1. When that happens to me I go back to the alert and click the star under the right side – a list pops up and I am added to it. I have passed this on to others for whom it has worked, too. Thanks for trying, Peggy.

  3. Oh Derrick, I cannot thank you enough for sharing these magnificent prints… I will copy and paste these away in a very special folio/folder …..

  4. I’ve not read this book, so I’ve added it to my list. I’m more familiar with Hardy’s poems; his “The Oxen” always is a part of Christmas for me. The woodcuts are fabulous. The fourth from the bottom really intrigued me. It looks for all the world as though the person’s holding a voodoo doll similar to those still found in the backwaters of Louisiana, where certain practices continue to thrive. That illustration itself is enough to make me want to read the book!

  5. I looked at each of the Pictures and thought they reminded me of etchings, I had to go back and read what I’d obviously missed in your text! How wonderful to have such talent.

      1. I can see I shall gave to take up more reading or this will seem like a long three months! On the other hand, I am thinking about what other projects I could take up.

  6. I love these “robust, muscular, woodcuts”, Derrick! I will have to look up Thomas Hardy, I think I would enjoy those books. And thank you for the virtual tour of his home in your earlier post from 2013. I would feel right at home in there.

  7. Wow, I can’t imagine how long it took to carve each of the scene’s from wood for the illustrations. Amazing right? It’s astonishing how far things have come in such a short time, relative to human history. There’s now 3d printers that can make anything from tools to edible food depending on the product used. Interesting.

  8. I have a rather large collection of books I haven’t read yet (I don’t read as much these days as I would like to) and one of them is The Return of the Native. What an exceptional author Hardy was! The woodcuts are wonderful!

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