Happy World Book Night! World Book Night is celebrated every year on Shakespeare’s birthday, 23rd April. As one of Dorset’s most famous sons was the novelist Thomas Hardy and he liked nothing better than to eat Dorset Knobs and write from his home near Dorchester, we thought we’d suggest a few books set in the county for you to enjoy at home with a tasty, local treat or two!
Speaking of Thomas Hardy…
Many of Thomas Hardy’s books were set in Dorset including:
Far From the Maddening Crowd – his first major literary success. Set in the fictional county of Wessex which is instantly recognisable as Dorset, this is a real classic.
BLURB: Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in the fictional county of Wessex, Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.
The Mayor of Casterbridge
BLURB: In a fit of drunken anger, Michael Henchard sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair. Over the course of the following years, he manages to establish himself as a respected and prosperous pillar of the community of Casterbridge, but behind his success there always lurk the shameful secret of his past and a personality prone to self-destructive pride and temper. Subtitled ‘A Story of a Man of Character’, Hardy’s powerful and sympathetic study of the heroic but deeply flawed Henchard is also an intensely dramatic work, tragically played out against the vivid backdrop of a close-knit Dorsetshire town.
Then there are those books with Dorset locations in the title like…
On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
BLURB: It is July 1962. Florence is a talented musician who dreams of a career on the concert stage and of the perfect life she will create with Edward, an earnest young history student at University College of London, who unexpectedly wooed and won her heart. Newly married that morning, both virgins, Edward and Florence arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their worries about the wedding night to come. Edward, eager for rapture, frets over Florence’s response to his advances and nurses a private fear of failure, while Florence’s anxieties run deeper: she is overcome by sheer disgust at the idea of physical contact, but dreads disappointing her husband when they finally lie down together in the honeymoon suite.
Now we’ve got the obvious ones out of the way…
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Austen’s work has covered many a rich countryside and having lived briefly in both Devon and Somerset, it’s not that surprising that she was also inspired by the neighbouring county of Dorset.
BLURB: Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?
The French Lieutenant’s Woman – John Fowles
BLURB: The scene is the village of Lyme Regis on Dorset’s Lyme Bay…”the largest bite from the underside of England’s out-stretched southwestern leg.” The major characters in the love-intrigue triangle are Charles Smithson, 32, a gentleman of independent means & vaguely scientific bent; his fiancée, Ernestina Freeman, a pretty heiress daughter of a wealthy & pompous dry goods merchant; & Sarah Woodruff, mysterious & fascinating…deserted after a brief affair with a French naval officer a short time before the story begins. Obsessed with an irresistible fascination for the enigmatic Sarah, Charles is hurtled by a moment of consummated lust to the brink of the existential void. Duty dictates that his engagement to Tina must be broken as he goes forth once again to seek the woman who has captured his Victorian soul & gentleman’s heart.
Remarkable Creatures – Tracy Chevalier
Hardy’s writings isn’t the only thing that Dorset is known for, Mary Anning, the famous fossil finder lived in the region and put Lyme Regis on the map. This is the story of her life.
BLURB: In 1810, a sister and brother uncover the fossilized skull of an unknown animal in the cliffs on the south coast of England. With its long snout and prominent teeth, it might be a crocodile – except that it has a huge, bulbous eye.
Remarkable Creatures is the story of Mary Anning, who has a talent for finding fossils, and whose discovery of ancient marine reptiles such as that ichthyosaur shakes the scientific community and leads to new ways of thinking about the creation of the world.
Working in an arena dominated by middle-class men, however, Mary finds herself out of step with her working-class background. In danger of being an outcast in her community, she takes solace in an unlikely friendship with Elizabeth Philpot, a prickly London spinster with her own passion for fossils.
The strong bond between Mary and Elizabeth sees them through struggles with poverty, rivalry and ostracism, as well as the physical dangers of their chosen obsession. It reminds us that friendship can outlast storms and landslides, anger and jealousy.
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“That’s how fossil hunting is: It takes over, like a hunger, and nothing else matters but what you find. And even when you find it, you still start looking again the next minute, because there might be something even better waiting.” Tracy Chevalier, Remarkable Creatures When in Lyme Regis you have to read Remarkable Creatures. Also pictured some ammonites I actually found! #remarkablecreatures #tracychevalier #bookstagram #book #regency #maryanning #fossils #ammonites