Monday, May 13, 2019

Thomas Hardy’s Obsession with Ghosts

Thomas Hardy the author of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Return of the Native, and Far From the Madding Crowd is considered one of the best Victorian English novelists.

In his later life, Hardy only wrote poetry. His poems were even more widely read than his books. They reflect his genius as a writer.

Hardy was born in Dorset, England in 1840. All his writings reflect where he grew up.

Hardy had a strong belief in ghosts, one reason for this, was Dorset, a rural part of England, defied the modern world and managed to hold on to its traditions for over a hundred years.

Before Hardy actually encountered ghosts late in life, he wished for this type of experience. In 1904, he told William Archer, a journalist that interviewed him---

“I would give ten years of my life. .to see a ghost—an authentic, indubitable spectre.” Hardy went on to point out that he was “cut out by nature to be a ghost-seer . . . If ever a ghost wanted to manifest himself, I am the very man he should apply to.”

Emma Lavinia Gifford
One of my favorite poems he wrote is entitled The Voice. Hardy wrote this poem soon after his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford died in 1912.

He and Emma had been estranged for twenty years at the time of her death, so this poem reflects his regret at the failure of their marriage.

The Voice

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day is fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.

This poem also reflects Hardy’s lifetime desire to encounter a ghost.

But some mistakenly think Hardy is claiming in this poem he did actually hear Emma calling him after her death. So he was accused of being delusional.

I think Hardy was actually just expressing his wish to encounter the ghost of the woman he once loved.

It is not through Hardy’s writings we know today that his wish for an encounter with the afterlife did eventually, come true, but from his second wife’s letters.

Florence Emily Dugdale
visiting seashore.
In 1914, Hardy married his secretary, Florence Emily Dugdale, who was 39 years younger than him. In 1919, Florence wrote a letter to a friend that Hardy had seen what he felt was a ghost.

Hardy and his sister Kate had been in the Stinsford churchyard on Christmas Eve. He had placed a sprig of holly on the grave of his grandfather, which he had never done before.

A strange man then greeted him, “A green Christmas” at which Hardy replied, “I like a green Christmas.” Hardy then watched as this stranger went into the church.

Curious, he followed this figure that wore old fashioned, 18th-century clothing. But no one was in the church. So Hardy saw and spoke to a Christmas ghost.

In 1927, Florence shared another encounter he experienced several years before his death. Hardy, Florence and five friends were having tea at Max Gate, his beloved home when he noticed a man he didn’t recognize standing right next to him.

Max Gate
He later asked Florence who the man was who had stayed so close to him during the party. She told her husband she had not seen this stranger.

Grave at Stinsford.
But Hardy insisted there was another person in the room. He told Florence he could still picture this stranger’s face.

Thomas Hardy died at the age of 87 in 1928. Only his heart was laid to rest at Stinsford, in the same grave with Emma, the rest of his body was cremated, and the ashes were placed in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abby.

Florence died the same year as Hardy and is buried next to him.


Leona Joan said...

This is so interesting. I didn't know Hardy was so interested in ghosts. He reminds me of Conan Doyle. Yes, I agree with you, Virginia, I think his poem you posted here is about his deep longing to see his wife's ghost, but he doesn't really say that he saw her ghost.

Virginia Lamkin said...

He grew up hearing ghost tales in Doset. Everyone around him believed--so he did too.🙂