Later in life Thomas Hardy, “would recall seeing the silhouette of her riding along the crest of Beney Cliff. He would remember with a feeling of agitation the scene that lay before him, stripped bare of everything, but the most elemental. A bent tree, doubled up by the westerlies; an evening sky exploding in a fiery tempest; and, set against it all, a horse and its rider. She looked magnificent, like Boadicea, thick auburn hair billowing out behind her, standing high in the stirrups. He watched her as she fell off the edge of his view into a furze covered gully and disappeared. Yet it was frozen in his mind, the picture of the high-spirited and unsettling young woman, that he could recall at will for the rest of his life.”
PUBLISHED LATE 2013
A Wonderfully Vivid Historical Novel
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed “EMMA: West of Wessex Girl”. I’m not usually the type of reader who delves into historical biographical novels, but after the book was recommended I decided to give it a chance and actually enjoyed it. Peter Tait has a gift for writing that shines through the book, weaving a fantastically engaging tale of the death of Emma Hardy and how her death played a significant part in reshaping the thoughts and life of her husband Thomas Hardy.
The book is well-written with an eye for detail, a vibrant tone and a clear emotional and historical focus on Thomas Hardy’s experiences and exploration of the woman who was his wife. The writing is swift, sharp, fast-paced and wonderfully engaging… telling an unusual tale of how a man only truly began to know his wife after her passing. It’s well-researched and fantastically thorough, offering a glimpse into the mind of the well-known author who lived a tumultuous life with Emma Hardy.
From beginning to end I found myself swept up in the writing, taking me on a rare journey of discovery and exploration that has me eager to read more long after the book was finished. I would say this was well worth the read and would recommend it to readers looking for a well-written and engaging book to get swept up in for a while.
from Goodreads, June2014 (also R Coker / Amazon)
Any one who likes Thomas Hardy must read this, also explore Peter Taits other insight into Thomas Hardy by reading Florence.
Well worth reading.
Amazon review E Webb
Novel Unveils Thomas Hardy’s troubled relationship with Emma
Peter Tait, Headmaster of Sherborne Prep returns to the life and loves of Thomas Hardy for his most recent novel. ‘Emma: West of Wessex Girl” paints an insightful portrait of the relationship between Hardy and his first wife, Emma Gifford. Tempestuous from the start and blighted by two powerful egos, their story is one of frustration, antipathy and mistrust. Yet it was Emma’s name that Hardy uttered on his death-bed despite and estrangement lasting more than a decade. Peter Tait’s careful prose succeeds in produicing a fair account that resists taking sides or laying blame. It also unveils the power that Hardy’s mother held over her son and his vanity. It is a beautifully written and painstakingly researched novel that will enthral admirers of ill-fated love affairs as much as fans of one of our finest novelists and poets. Emma, West of Wessex Girl is the prequel to Peter Tait’s Florence – Mistress of Max Gate.
FD Blackmore Vale Magazine 24th October, 2014
Florence: Mistress of Max Gate: Questions and Answers
1. You’ve said your love of Hardy’s writings was a primary reason why you left New Zealand for England. Do you recall your first encounter with Hardy and was the effect of his writings on you instantaneous or more gradual?
It was taking a first year English paper at university, a survey paper on the English novel that really set the train in motion. The effect was fairly instantaneous and I proceeded to devour all the novels – and, in turn, the short stories. The poems came later – minus ‘The Dynasts’ which had no appeal whatsoever.
2. Why Hardy in particular? What was it about his works – as opposed to those of his contemporaries such as Dickens, George Eliot, the Brontes, George Gissing or Arnold Bennett – that proved so seductive and compelling?
It was Hardy’s universe that first caught my attention, that and the towns and countryside of the old Kingdom of Wessex. Looking back, place and time were important, as was the lurking presence of an omnipotent fate and the loss and regret that lurks in his novels. I loved the contradictory themes of love and death set in a pastoral idyll, the pantomime characters, his portrayal of women and especially his depiction of nature, notably the brooding Egdon Heath and the Dorset countryside. It was all oddly captivating.
At the same time, I rediscovered Dickens and read most of his canon as well as a number of other authors amongst whom Eliot and James stood out, but it was Hardy that seduced me to read everything of his and I think it was linked inextricably with my desire to go to England at the time.
3. When did you first conceive the idea of writing a novel about Florence Dugdale? Was that your original idea or did it come about as a result of osmosis? What drew you to her?
I had long thought of writing a series of books about author’s spouses, for no other reason than I was always fascinated by the writer and the idea that most were bastards. I was fascinated by some of the muses – Maud Gonne, Yeats’s muse, for instance and the warring spouse, of which Caitlin Thomas is the pre-eminent example.
More specifically, though, it was rediscovering Hardy’s poetry in recent years that led to the crucial question (in my mind), of how she coped with the success of the poems of 1912-1913. The more biography I read (or I could include any books on Hardy), the more I wondered about this shadowy figure who was dismissed with a few asides or summarized in a number of gloomy adjectives and then put to one side. The poems and the failure of other writers to say anything about her by way of mitigation drew me in as counsel for the defence, even if I end up prosecuting her as well.
4. How long did the novel take to write? Did you try to establish a daily work pattern, or did you just write whenever you were able to take time from your already busy schedule as headmaster of Sherborne Prep?
I find I cannot write at all during the term; the days and weekends are subsumed by all else and even the evenings are lost to me. Partly this is because you need to get up a head of steam if you are writing and that is just not possible. I think I started the novel in the July – August of 2009 while also working on two other manuscripts although it was only when I returned to it with a little more intent in 2010 that I wrote the first rough draft. It is not a long book and flowed quite easily although I was conscious how rough it was at the time. In July, having first read the three opening chapters, followed by the rather unpolished remainder, the publisher intimated he would like to publish the book for Christmas, 2011. To do so, meant some ruthless editing and significant re-writing by the end of August which was duly accomplished with the book coming out on 7th November. It was quite a rush!
“Helpmate to genius – getting inside the mind of Florence Hardy.”
To read this short article that appeared in the Blackmore Vale Magazine please click here.
A Hardy Way of Life
PDF of a brief review in The Bournemouth Echo (23 Dec 2011). Click here.
Headmaster launches first novel at new bookshop’ article with photo in the Blackmore Vale Magazine, 8 April 2012.
‘Peter Tait gave a well received talk on Florence Hardy and her relationship with Thomas Hardy at Max Gate, Dorchester, on Sunday
afternoon 8 July, 2012.’
‘A Talk about Florence: Mistress of Max Gate.’
A lecture given at the Twentieth International Thomas Hardy Conference & Festival, Dorchester on Monday, 20 August, 2012
The Two Wives’ An Illustrated Talk on Emma and Florence Hardy’ given by Peter Tait at the first Sherborne Literary Festival, 18 October,
“Fascinating just how many different women Thomas Hardy wrote poems to during his life. Does anyone have a definitive tally?
Pity the wives.”