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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Far from the Madding Crowd at the Dorset County Museum

Far From Madding Crowd CostumesThe Writers Gallery at the Dorset County Museum is currently embellished by three striking costumes from the new film adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd, currently on loan from Fox Searchlight Pictures and Cosprop costumiers. These are outfits worn by Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba, the headstrong yet vulnerable heroine of the story, 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. These costumes were designed by BAFTA Award winner and four times Academy Award nominated costume designer Janet Patterson (The Piano, Bright Star)

Bathsheba Everdene and Sgt. Frank Troy illustrated by Helen Allingham for 1874 The Cornhill Magazine serial of Thomas Hardy's Far From Madding Crowd

Bathsheba Everdene and Sgt. Frank Troy illustrated by Helen Allingham for 1874 The Cornhill Magazine serial of Thomas Hardy’s Far From Madding Crowd

On display too is a section of the novel written in Thomas Hardy’s own hand, illustrations from the original publication by Helen Allingham. Among much else to be seen is a first edition, and reproductions of scenes of rural Wessex by Henry Joseph Moule, Hardy’s friend and watercolourist, and the first curator of the Dorset County Museum.

Thomas Hardy would surely have welcomed the new film dramatization of one of his greatest novels. Adapted for the screen by novelist, David Nicholls, it is directed by the acclaimed Thomas Vinterberg. It is a powerful film, which reflects the essence of this great novel. The photography is stunning, giving a strong sense of place in the atmospheric shots of Dorset landscapes throughout the seasons. We see the inner turmoil of the characters in close up as the drama unfolds, and their outward reactions to the danger when the farm is under threat by fire or violent thunderstorm. This is a film full of action and drama.

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

Above all, Far from the Madding Crowd is a love story about the beautiful Bathsheba Everdene and the three men who desire her. A young woman of spirit and vitality, she has the courage to take on challenges presented by her romantic relationships, and in becoming a successful woman farmer. Carey Mulligan brings Bathsheba to life in a remarkably sensitive manner. We feel her strength and spirit, and her youthful disregard of danger and consequent vulnerability, which will resonate with modern audiences.

Far from the Madding Crowd was written when Hardy was 33, and was his fourth published novel. It first appeared in serial form in 1874 in The Cornhill magazine with illustrations by Helen Allingham. The novel became so popular that Hardy could afford to give up architecture, to marry Emma Lavinia, and to become a full-time writer.

Hardy’s acute sense of colours and beauty and detail make his writing easy to visualise. For instance, Gabriel’s first view of Bathsheba:

…It was a fine morning and the sun lighted up to a scarlet glow the crimson jacket she wore, and painted a soft lustre upon her bright face and dark hair.

Later, the season for sheep-shearing having finished:

It was the first day of June …Every green was young, every pore was open and every stalk was swollen with racing currents of juice. God was palpably present in the country and the devil had gone with the world to town.

Bathsheba’s meeting with Troy is vividly expressed as she sees him lit up by a lantern as ‘brilliant in brass and scarlet ’and

His sudden appearance was to darkness what the sound of a trumpet is to silence.

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene and Tom Sturridge as Sgt. Frank Troy in the new film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel Far From Madding Crowd - Fox Searchlight Pictures © 2015

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene and Tom Sturridge as Sgt. Frank Troy in the new film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From Madding Crowd – Fox Searchlight Pictures © 2015

This is a dramatic story, full of pivotal moments, changing fortunes and expectations. Bathsheba’s inheritance of her uncle’s farm provides her with great opportunities, whereas Gabriel’s loss of his sheep does the reverse. When Bathsheba sends a Valentine card, as a joke, to Boldwood it awakens a doom-laden obsession, whereas the chance encounter between Troy and Bathsheba sets them on the path of their passionate affair, with consequences beyond their own fate.

The setting is rural Wessex with its farms, villages and market towns and a way of life virtually unchanged for centuries, dependant on the livestock and crops grown by those who worked the land. People travel by foot, horseback, or horse-drawn vehicles, and are thus mostly rooted in their locality.

The lives of the main characters are played out against the backdrop of a close-knit community and the wider natural world. This local community includes workers, the farm owners and wealthier land owners, their lives interwoven as the drama unfolds. Even the dangerously attractive Sergeant Troy has his roots in the world of farming, as have Gabriel Oak and gentleman farmer, William Boldwood. In this tale happiness and sadness, comedy and tragedy, light and dark, and the sheer variety of moods, combine to make it compelling.

In the words of Virginia Woolf, talking about Hardy’s Wessex Novels:

Our imaginations have been stretched and heightened; our humour has been made to laugh out; we have drunk deep of the beauty of the earth.

The costumes from the film are currently on display at the Dorset County Museum and on display until 8th June 2015. For further information contact the Museum on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

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