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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars J. B. Bullen, Thomas Hardy: The World of His Novels, 26 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The World of his Novels (Hardcover)
Thomas Hardy: The World of His Novels (Frances Lincoln, 2013) is the latest in a long line of captivating books Barrie Bullen has written and edited in the last thirty years on nineteenth-century literature and culture. The book is exquisitely crafted and its material presence enhances the reading experience by supporting the central argument: that the world Hardy created in his work, the `dream country' of Wessex, is the result of a fine process of artistic transformation, where real places and experiences are recorded, recalled, distilled and modified to become essential elements in the narratives of the novels and in the fabric of the poems.

The book is issued in hard covers bound in sage-green cloth with gilt lettering on the spine. The text block is encased between two copies of the Map of the Wessex of the Novels and Poems printed on the end papers, which re-enacts visually the metaphor of defining and exploring Wessex. The headband, chapter headings and text on the dust jacket flaps match the cloth, in a lighter shade of sage, adding to the sense of distinct identity. The front of the dust jacket is entirely taken by J. A. Grimshaw's picture of The Timber Waggon (c. 1870-90), an eerie interplay of light and shadow in greenish sepia hues. The picture is aptly set with no borders, so the world it presents appears contiguous with ours. This makes it even easier to succumb to the illusion of being physically drawn into the picture towards the point where the perspective lines meet, to accompany the `woodlander' and his waggon deep into the hills, between the moonlight filtered through the night forest mist and its reflection on road and river. The couloirs described by the reflected light are literally sign-posted `The World of [Hardy's] Novels,' as the subtitle sits just above the line where these two access ways disappear into the hills. From the back of the jacket a mature Hardy looks straight out, into a scene his gaze locates just beyond our left shoulder; the intensity of his gaze bestows the weight of reality unto the surveyed scene. The title page photograph of an older Hardy, this time contemplating an inner scene in front of two poppy plants with vigorous seed heads - full of illusions, as it were - complements the cover portrait, pointing to the imaginative transformations out of which Hardy's `dream land' was born.

The seven chapters of the book address six of Hardy's best known 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, and some of his poems, mostly written after the death of his first wife. As each chapter unfolds, Bullen traces the transformation of real places and personal experiences into the `settings' of Hardy's work, and shows how the various aspects of the lovingly constructed Wessex intertwine with the nature and actions of characters, lending symbolic meaning to the narrative. Thus, for example, the great barn where the sheep shearing scene takes place in Far from the Madding Crowd is much more than the Cerne Abbas barn relocated to fictional Weatherbury. It brings together several symbolic strands, uniting `ancient and modern, architecture and rural life' (p. 34) in its fullness, vigour and harmony with the seasonal cycles. In The Return of the Native the darkness and loneliness of Egdon Heath indicate more than Eustacia's sense of entrapment. The gaunt natural beauty of the heath encapsulates in its sombreness the condition of a god-forsaken humanity. Consequently, Eustacia's death appears rooted in her failure to recognise that Egdon is also symbolic of her own darker side. In his new reading of Tess, Bullen identifies the heroine's final resting place on the Sacrifice stone at Stonehenge as an apotheotic rather than an elegiac metaphor for the end of human life brought about by blind, senseless fate. Hardy punctuates the trajectory of Tess's development with references to the sun and to ancient, pre-Christian sun-worship rites. Tess is governed by natural instincts too primaevally strong and `pure' to be accounted for within the framework of Victorian morality. At Stonehenge Tess leaves behind the `angelic', and therefore weak, flawed and ultimately false Apollo, Angel Clare, whose name connotes the narrowness of Christianity and the illusion of enlightenment. Here she finds her `true pagan resting place' and becomes the focal point in the final re-enactment of the broader thematic battle between light and darkness (p. 178).

Thomas Hardy: The World of His Novels is a book as much about the Wessex hills, valleys, heaths, people and their ways, as it is about the nature of Hardy's imagination. For Hardy, `art was "a changing of the actual proportions and order of things" to reflect "the idiosyncrasy of the artist"' (p. 236). In this new book Bullen gives an impeccably researched account of the `things' and `changes', and accompanies it with refreshing insights into the `idiosyncrasy of the artist' - in a series of explorations seeking to reveal the alchemy by which Hardy gave form to what he called `the poetry of a scene' and made it express both the universality of human joys and sorrows, and the `intellectual ache of modernism' (pp. 236-37).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A modern-day Hermann Lea, 22 July 2013
This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The World of his Novels (Hardcover)
J. B. Bullen has created a detailed, and often delightfully surprising, tour guide for Hardy's Wessex, exploring the buildings, places, and scenes that inspired his fiction. Bullen's evidently extensive research identifies and suggests new correspondences between the world Hardy shaped in his novels and the world in which he lived. Bullen's extraordinary eye observes the smallest of details, notably that the engraved names and dates of the previous inhabitants of Melbury house as observed by Giles Winterborne were likely inspired by those still visible today on the doorway of its `real-life' counterpart. But Bullen does more than simply identify these places. He delves into Hardy's imagination that transformed the world in which the novelist grew up, offering a highly accessible way of exploring his knowledge of architecture, art, music, and science. Importantly, however, this book considers not only the locations of Hardy's novels, but also his poems, expanding this interesting study in terms of geography and deepening it in terms of Hardy's emotional connection to place. Bullen takes the reader on a journey through Hardy's novels and poems, mapping out his inspiration.

This beautifully printed book - illustrated with some of Hardy's own sketches, alongside many photographs taken by Bullen himself - is an essential companion for any Hardy enthusiast and for anyone interested in Dorset and other areas of the English landscape which inspired the novelist and poet, including Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Cornwall. Reading Bullen's book leaves you wanting to return to, and read more of, Hardy's work, and to drive, cycle (as Hardy liked to do himself), and walk round these places for yourself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So interesting, 23 July 2013
This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The World of his Novels (Hardcover)
The interesting insights, details and the warmth with which this book is written make it a joy to read. It has really inspired me to reread Hardy's novels. It is beautifully written, illustrated and presented.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New light on Thomas Hardy, 14 Aug 2013
This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The World of his Novels (Hardcover)
Thomas Hardy. The World of His Novels by Barrie Bullen is an excellent, fascinating book; the peak of a lifetime of research - starting with The Expressive Eye, 1986 - dedicated to the visual dimension of Hardy's extensive production, but now more specifically focused on landscapes and locations in the novels. The author not only provides plenty of illustrations, including Hardy's own sketches and beautiful original photographs, but also, and especially, compelling insight into Hardy's language, as the title of the book, "The World of His Novels", emphasizes. According to Bullen, Hardy's language problematically integrates the outdoor scene into the plot of each story. Bullen's study confirms the general opinion that Hardy is one of the greatest writers of place and landscape, but its original argument is that Hardy's Wessex landscape, rather than being used as a background or backcloth to the scenes, is deployed as a living, dialectic agent against the tragic lives of his characters. The study therefore sets Hardy's novels in a vital, positive light, in contrast with the traditional interpretation that stresses only the gloomy, tragic aspect of his world. The world of Hardy's novels, Professor Bullen claims, is rooted in life: the real, concrete historical life in which Hardy lived and wrote - and which the illustrations carefully depict: an immanent, rural world facing the challenge of the historical change and swift transformations of the late 19th century; but also a life that is effectively grafted onto the writer's vision. Hardy's intense depiction of the spirit of place bears an analogy with the Brontės' vision, which tends to undermine the realistic form of the Victorian novel. Like the Brontės, he experiments with a non-canonical language in which narration and vision interact in the universe of fiction. In this light Bullen's critical insight has a revisionary streak, which invites us to listen to Hardy's voice as we would the voice of a writer on the verge of modernism, owing to those "moments of vision" which will become constitutive of his poems after his break from his novelistic career; the book aptly ends with an important chapter on "The Poems". All in all, the perspective adopted in Bullen's latest work provides a valuable key for reappraising Hardy as one of the most challenging Victorian writers.
Rosy Colombo, Senior Professor of English, "Sapienza" University of Rome.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thomas Hardy's Novels Reconsidered, 29 July 2013
This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The World of his Novels (Hardcover)
Whilst on holiday recently and having finished my book, I noticed J B Bullen's book `Thomas Hardy: The World of his Novels' on a table. I had found Hardy's novels to be rather depressing, though his poem The Darkling Thrush is one of my favourites: a dismal scene but with an uplifting end. However, as the first novel considered was `Far from the Madding Crowd' and I had enjoyed it (or was it the film version with Julie Christie that I remember?) I started reading, soon realising that it was giving an extra dimension to the story and an insight into social history. Now, I having bought Professor Bullen's book, I shall use it systematically, taking in what he has to say, reading the novel and then his contribution again before embarking on the next novel. My wife said she would like to go back to Dorset/Wessex to see the places for herself. I don't know how many of Thomas Hardy's novels have been made into films but an interesting television series could be a short documentary based on J B Bullen's comments and references to a Hardy novel and then a viewing of the film.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spirit of place, 24 July 2013
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This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The World of his Novels (Hardcover)
Apparently, the world of Hardy's novels is a rustic one, with events and values set at time before our `modern world'. But in this theatre, cut off from the mainstream of national life, Hardy's Wessex is a microcosm of the universe. Rather than provincialism and naivety, we gleam from his novels how human nature may respond to the often irreconcilable forces of nature and timeless human aspirations. Now `Thomas Hardy - The World of His Novels' adds a new dimension - a new level of understanding. By literally following in the footsteps of Hardy's `peasant good with trees', his `good shepherd', his `dairymaid', his `reddle man', and his `stone mason' Professor Bullen has established how the `spirit of place' provided the novelist with the insights to understand human beings in depth. The unique quality of the environment of Cranbourne Chase and around (an area south west and north east of Salisbury) is the key, rather than a scenic backcloth. This book establishes this persuasively - an excellent read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The World of Wessex, 23 July 2013
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Thomas Hardy described the Wessex he wrote so eloquently about, as a `partly real, partly dream-country'. In this excellent book Barrie Bullen explores this theme by looking at the landscapes and, particularly, the buildings which Hardy uses in his novels; but rather than simply describing them he looks at the way Hardy integrates them into his plots and transforms them to fit his themes and stories.

The research has been meticulous, and end result is one of the most readable books on Hardy that I have ever come across. A great read for anyone with an interest in Thomas Hardy!

Andrew Leah
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure to own and to read, 21 July 2013
This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The World of his Novels (Hardcover)
I have to confess, that inspired by `Hardy, the World of his Novels', to re-read Hardy's novels I've just down-loaded the complete works on to my kindle so I can take them with me on holiday. By contrast this handsome, beautifully designed and illustrated book is a pleasure to hold and to own. Like many readers I admire Hardy for his descriptive powers and enjoy visiting the rural world and characters of Victorian Dorset. If you'd asked me before I read J B Bullen's book to comment on the relationship of the Dorset landscape, its local history and architecture to Hardy's novels, I suppose I should have said that they provide a background and context to the stories and the characters. Prof Bullen reveals that this relationship is much more than that. These elements are woven deep into Hardy's psyche and form the warp and woof of his stories and characters. If, as Prof Bullen has done, you discover and unpick these inter-relationships, you can appreciate their richness and wholeness with new insight.

It's ironic that some of us modern city dwellers, who live an existence which is relatively rootless, tend to form a diminutive and patronizing attitude towards the more bucolic country folk of the Victorian era. Re-reading Hardy's novels with reference to J B Bullen's book might help us to understand these peoples' interconnectedness between their environment (natural and built ) their traditions and local history gave their lives an inherent depth and wholeness that many city people lack.

Many of the photographs in this book have been taken by the author and throughout you sense he's been on the ground, talking to the people who live there and forming a deep connection with this place as it was in Hardy's time, as it figures in his novels and as it is now. Well- researched and scholarly though this book is, it is written simply and succinctly and above all with great fondness and respect.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wessex Revealed, 17 July 2013
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This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The World of his Novels (Hardcover)
A wonderful book: a carefully researched, and beautifully illustrated guide to the world of Hardy's novels.

With his deep understanding of the Victorian world, J B Bullen places Hardy's novels in their cultural, social and geographical context, skilfully drawing connections between Hardy's textual descriptions and the buildings and works of art and music, which inspired him - especially the paintings of J M W Turner.

Well written; easy to read - a 'must have' for anyone with an interest in Thomas Hardy or wanting to learn more about Hardy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Round and About Wessex with Thomas Hardy, 12 July 2013
This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The World of his Novels (Hardcover)
This attractive book looks at the best of Hardy's novels in relation to people and place. Reading it makes you want to reach for the Ordnance Survey maps and get out into the countryside and enjoy not just the writings but discover how they relate to Hardy's Wessex both at the time that Hardy was writing, and now. Bullen's book makes you notice things that might never have occured to you in ordinary readings of Hardy's books. Thus we have immense contasts between the light when Tess is working in the fields with the sun shining on the machinery and the dark of Stonehenge when she and Angel are trying to avoid the police.

Hardy's characters are often homeless and none more so than in The Mayor of Casterbridge when everyone is homeless when they arrive, yet in real life the alleged house in which Henchard settles today has a blue plaque. With Bullen we can search the woodlands for the Woodlanders' homes, wander the heathland where Eustacia has her bonfire and explore Oxford, Salisbury and the tiny villages where Jude and Arabella were brought up. Always we are also reflecting on Hardy's life, how it influenced his writings and Bullen is is sure guide for us in that respect. Bullen emphasizes how Hardy was as good a poet as a novelist and some poems - especially the Boscastle poems also feature.

There are many illustrations, most in colour. There are maps to guide the reader. The coat of arms at Bere Regis church is likened to the ace of hearts which appears on the ceiling after Tess has committed murder. There are historical illustrations to remind us what it was like in the nineteenth century - none more so that the Atkinson Grimshaw painting on the front cover. This book has some amazing insights for the general reader and is a book to read and re-read and get into the countryside and town with - and explore.
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Thomas Hardy: The World of his Novels
Thomas Hardy: The World of his Novels by J. B. Bullen (Hardcover - 6 Jun 2013)
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