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.