Hardy's Wessex

The landscapes that inspired a writer

Wiltshire Museum

Ancient Wessex - Superstition and old beliefs

Venture into the ancient landscape of Wiltshire, to see how the burial mounds and beliefs of Wessex seeped into Thomas Hardy’s writing. Old beliefs died hard and Hardy’s plots are set against a background of superstition.

Star loan object at Wiltshire Museum

On loan from: The British Library

Tess of the D’Urbervilles is one of Hardy’s best known novels. The handwritten manuscript is covered with Hardy’s scribbles and re-writes, including a change to the title of the book. Fittingly, it will sit in Wiltshire Museum, less than an hour’s drive from Stonehenge where the climactic scene of the novel is set.

The manuscript will be displayed alongside a moonlit painting of Stonehenge, as well as Hardy’s comments on the proposal to move Stonehenge to America in the 1920s. 

Our star loans were made possible by support from the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles manuscript


Handwritten manuscript
Courtesy of the British Library Board.
Image number: add_ms_38182_f001r

Torn between past and present

Hardy was a man torn between two worlds – the ancient past and his life in a time of rapid scientific advances. You can see this conflict by comparing two fascinating items. One is his hand-annotated copy of Einstein’s new theories. The other is his ‘Book of Facts’, in which he recorded old beliefs and superstitions.

Hardy wove these old ways of life into his plots, and also campaigned to maintain our ancient landscapes.

Explore these questions:

  • Was Hardy a rationalist, a dreamer, or a bit of both?
  • When is fact stranger than fiction?
  • How did Hardy try to save Stonehenge?

Highlights for visitors

  • See a real West Country wax poppet (doll), as used in his novel Return of the Native to curse the beautiful Eustacia Vye.
  • Peruse some of the pages of Hardy’s ‘Book of Facts’, where he noted down the stranger-than-fiction real-life events from newspaper clippings. These would later inspire his plots.
Watercolour painting of Rainbarrow mounds and surrounding heathland
Hardy's watercolour of the ancient burial mounds at Rainbarrow.
Notebook with neat handwriting of Thomas Hardy
Hardy's 'Book of Facts' where he noted strange real-life events.

Planning your visit

For details of opening times, admission prices, facilities, directions, etc, please visit Wiltshire Museum’s website.

We are hugely grateful to Battens Solicitors for sponsoring this exhibition. 

Our star loans were made possible by support from the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund

We are hugely grateful to Battens Solicitors for sponsoring this exhibition. 

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