New online resource to explore fashion in Thomas Hardy’s writing

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene in the new film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel Far From Madding Crowd

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene in the new film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From Madding Crowd – Fox Searchlight Pictures © 2015

The new film version of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd feeds into the ongoing fascination for fashion depicted in classic novels and their modern adaptations for TV and film. A new online facility has been developed by the University of Exeter and Dorset County Museum to catalogue references to clothing in Hardy’s writing and the time in which he lived.

The costumes worn by the actress Carey Mulligan, who stars as Bathsheba Everdene in the latest Far From the Madding Crowd production, will be on display at the Dorset County Museum until the 8 June and the stunning red bustle dress worn by Thomas Hardy’s sister Katharine also exhibited at the museum will provide an exciting compliment to the new online resource.

Far From Madding Crowd Costumes

Costumes worn by Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, in the wedding scenes in the film. There is the smart dress and hat of the runaway wedding day, the gold striped silk dress and embroidered silk jacket of her homeward journey, and a dress worn at the wedding party. Jonathan North /DCM © 2015

The ‘Thomas Hardy and Clothing’ project will highlight the importance of fashion in Hardy’s writing by providing references to clothing in his fiction, poetry, letters and biographies. It will also provide a greater understanding of the historical, social and political context in which Hardy wrote and lived.

The database project was initiated by The Dorset County Museum for the research into a forthcoming major exhibition ‘Thomas Hardy: Fashion, Fact and Fiction’. This exciting collaboration between the University of Exeter and The Dorset County Museum builds upon extensive research by Exeter students, instrumental in producing this unique online resource

Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy © Jonathan Gooding 2014

Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy © Jonathan Gooding 2014

Lucy Johnston, Costume Curator of the Dorset County Museum said ‘I am fascinated by the way Thomas Hardy brings his characters to life through their clothes. He dresses his heroines in colours to evoke spirit, passion and drama, clothing Bathsheba (Far From the Madding Crowd) in a crimson jacket lit to a ‘scarlet glow’ by the sun. Hardy associates Tess (Tess of the d’Urbervilles) with white and red to suggest her innocence and eventual downfall. He also provides an intimate picture of rural life through his detailed descriptions of shepherds, farmers and milkmaid’s costume, reflecting the wearer’s relationship with the Wessex landscape.’

Thomas Hardy expert, Professor Angelique Richardson of University of Exeter, and who supported the project said: ”Dress is crucial in Hardy’s fiction for indicating a character’s profession, social and economic status or role, for bringing colour to local scenes, for expressing but often subverting custom and transgressing gender norms. Bathsheba flouts Victorian convention, not least dress code, by not riding side-saddle in the opening scenes of Far From the Madding Crowd, when she also allows her hat to fly off, in disregard for propriety: ‘It went over the hedge, I think’, she remark.”

"There stood her mother amid the group of children, as Tess had left her, hanging over the Monday washing-tub, which had now, as always, lingered on to the end of the week. Out of that tub had come the day before—Tess felt it with a dreadful sting of remorse—the very white frock upon her back which she had so carelessly greened about the skirt on the damping grass—which had been wrung up and ironed by her mother's own hands. "  A Herkomer illustration for the Graphic serialization of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, December 1891.

“There stood her mother amid the group of children, as Tess had left her, hanging over the Monday washing-tub, which had now, as always, lingered on to the end of the week. Out of that tub had come the day before—Tess felt it with a dreadful sting of remorse—the very white frock upon her back which she had so carelessly greened about the skirt on the damping grass—which had been wrung up and ironed by her mother’s own hands.”                                                
A Herkomer illustration for the Graphic serialization of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, December 1891.

Professor Richardson added: “The database will show for the first time what such attire looked like and by whom it was worn. As well as providing a useful resource to students, allowing them to connect their academic learning with historical objects, the online facility will raise a greater awareness of the significant archive and costume collections in the South West. Hardy enthusiasts from around the world will be able to view our research and add their thoughts.”

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