Literary Lives: Mr Hardy and Mrs Henniker – An Enduring Friendship in Letters by Helen Angear

Thomas Hardy LettersCome and join us on Thursday 27 July 2017 at 7.30pm, for an interesting talk by Helen Angear who has been working on the Thomas Hardy Correspondence Archive at Dorset County Museum. 

“It occurred to me the other day that this year completes the eighteenth of our friendship. That is rather good as between man and woman, which is usually so brittle” (Aug. 1911).  So wrote Hardy to Florence Henniker, an aristocratic lady and fellow writer he met in 1893. Hardy’s comment might make you think of the 1989 film ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and the unresolved question of whether men and women can ever be ‘just friends’.

In fact, Hardy and Henniker’s platonic friendship lasted almost thirty years and both sides of their correspondence exist within the archive to tell the story. Henniker’s gift of an inkstand, sent in the post in 1893, can also be seen in Hardy’s study upstairs in the Museum. This talk examines the important role that letters played in their enduring friendship. I seek to dispel the assumption that this is simply a story of unrequited love and reveal how their dialogue provides an understanding of intimate, but non-marital, social bonds between the sexes at the turn of the century.

A selection of the letters will also be on display.

Helen Angear

Helen Angear

Helen Angear is an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award student at the University of Exeter, in collaboration with Dorset County Museum.  She is working on the Hardy correspondence archive, and her PhD is called Thomas Hardy’s Correspondents: Proximity and Distance in Postal Communication’. Helen is also an Associate Lecturer at Exeter College.

The forthcoming lecture will take place on Thursday 27 July 2017 in the Dorset County Museum’s Victorian Hall and is FREE to the public; however a donation of £3 encouraged to cover costs. Doors open at 7.00pm and talks start at 7.30pm.

For further information contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, why not head down to Dorset County Museum and discover Dorset’s own answer to Romeo and Juliet.

Cupid drawn by William BarnesIf you were asked to name great romance stories, you would not be alone in recalling tales of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. However, on our own Dorset doorstep, one of the most epic love stories took place which not so many people may be aware of. This is the real-life love story between William and Julia Barnes.

The story began one morning in March 1818 where a chance encounter led William Barnes to first set eyes on a young Julia Miles as she stepped down from her stagecoach outside the King’s Arms Hotel in Dorchester. At which point he was described as being smitten immediately and even ‘involuntarily muttering to himself “that shall be my wife” (Chedzoy, 2010: 27). Their courtship was one worthy of any Shakespeare play or Hollywood movie script. Their love was forbidden by Julia’s disapproving father so the couple were forced to express their feelings in a series of intense love letters.

Shown below are two authentic examples of the handwritten letters from William to Julia.

William Banes Love letter

This letter c. 1820, points out the difficulty for the couple to have a conversation face-to-face. However, this obstacle does not stop the love-struck William from attempting to entice Julia into ‘granting him the happiness’ of attending a concert with him.

William Banes Love letter

This letter divulges William’s attempts to arrange an ‘accidental’ meeting with Julia. This highlight the need to keep their courtship a secret because it was strictly forbidden. It is this forbidden love and the couple’s determination to follow what their hearts desired which is so reminiscent of Shakespeare’s famous ‘Romeo and Juliet’ story. William and Julia both use phrases such as, ‘Yours devotedly’ and ‘Yours faithfully’ to end nearly all of their communications, showing the deepness of the star-crossed lovers’ feelings for one another.

This exchange of letters and series of ‘accidental’ meetings continued over an incredible nine years. (A time span not many modern men would have the patience to withstand nowadays!) Until, they finally married in 1827. So whatever romantic plans you have for your Valentine this February, be sure to remember true love can last much longer than one lifetime.

These love letters make up a small part of the extensive collection held by Dorset County Museum on the life of William Barnes. The Barnes’ gallery is due to undergo an extensive redevelopment where Barnes’ love life, poetry and achievements are to take a more prominent place. The refurbished gallery is expected to be opened in August 2015. For more on the lives and love story of William and Julia Barnes please visit Dorset County Museum.

To find out more information about Dorset County Museum’s Barnes collection or to plan your next trip to the museum, please visit www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

Gabriella Crouch

Further reading:

  • Chedzoy, A. (2011), The People’s Poet: William Barnes of Dorset. The History Press: Gloucestershire.
  • Lindgreen, C. H. (ed.) (1986), The Love Poems and Letters of William Barnes and Julia Miles. Dorset Record Society: Dorset.

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