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Thread: Hardy's place names

  1. #1
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Hardy's place names

    Why did Hardy decide to rename most the towns and cities in south-west England?

    Looking at the map at the front of my copy of Tess, I notice even Reading, the town where I live, seems to have been re-named Aldbrickham. That seems to be a reference to one of Reading's previous industries - bricks. Reading used to be known for the 3B's: bulbs, bricks and biscuits. Of the other nearby towns, Oxford seems to have been renamed Christminster. Wantage seems to have been renamed Alfredston, probably after Alfred the Great, who is said to be born there. Windsor has been renamed Castle Royal. I guess Quartershot is Aldershot, while Kennetbridge is Newbury. I wouldn't like to say for sure where Gaymead represents, most likely Theale. All these places are quite a long way from Dorset where most the main action is. Some quite small towns are shown on the map, while many quite large towns are not shown. I suppose quite a few of the towns not shown were not so large then, for example Basingstoke. Surprisingly, Portsmouth and Southampton have kept their real names. Some geographical features have kept their real names too, but not all I don't think.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Hardy did not exactly make the places he based his locations very hard to guess, especially as he produced a map of them. I think maybe the reason he changed the placenames was that many of these towns and villages were small enough so that someone who lived there might recognise one of its establishments and think, 'Hey, that's my ....! Nothing like that goes on here." Another reason could be that Hardy may have invented something that was not in that place, leaving people scratching their heads.

    I find the renaming a slight hinderance to my understanding though. For example, in a late chapter of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Tess is living in Sandbourne. From the description I imagined Sandbourne to be Bath, but instead it was Bournemouth. Bournemouth is a very different place to Bath. Actually, I should have guessed Sandbourne was on the coast because every placename ending 'bourne' is by the sea.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I suppose another reason could be to suggest his stories take place in a similar, but parallel world in which slight differences exist, and not just people and buildings. It would be a world in which, for example, portents occur, judges never recommend leniency and impossible remedies exist.

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    Registered User paradoxical's Avatar
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    This is really good information. I always trust a local who knows the area rather then some "expert" who has never been there, or maybe visited once before. From what I understand, Hardy took great liberties with geographical distances. I also read that the Wessex area he created was the original name of that part of south-west England. As to why he did this, I think you are right when you say that he wanted to create a kind of parallel world.
    "I have never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude." - Henry David Thoreau

  5. #5
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Wessex was one of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms: Wessex in the west, Anglia in the east, Mercea in the midlands, Northumbria in the north, Essex, Sussex and Kent all in the southeast around where London is now. I am not sure if Cornwall, in the far west, was ever really part of Wessex. The Saxons conquered it eventually, but it took a long time. The Saxons had previously invaded and taken over Essex, Sussex and Wessex from the Britons. Another Germanic tribe, the Jutes had invaded Kent, while the Angles had taken over Anglia. I am not sure who took over Mercea and Northumbria, probably a mix of the Angles and Saxons, but the northern kingdoms were again subject to invasion by the Danes. By the time of Alfred the Great, (iirc) Northumbria, Mercea and Anglia were part of Danelaw, and the rest of the country was threatening to go the same way. Alfred defeated the Danes and eventually united the south of England. His son and daughter (whose names I can't remember) continued the fight after Alfred's death until the Danes sued for peace. Alfred the Great was the king of Wessex, but his son was the first king of England. The Danes refused to let the country be named after the Saxons, and the Saxons refused to have the country named after the Danes. Therefore they compromised and named the country after the numercally inferior Angles.

    If Hardy did take liberties with distances, that may explain one or two anomalies. In Tess, the distances seemed about right.

    I suppose every work of fiction is a parallel world, but Hardy's books seem to contain rather more magic than the real world.

    I noticed when reading Jane Eyre recently, that Charlotte Brontë often did not write out place names. She'd write the first letter and then a long dash. Maybe Victorian writers were reluctant to use real place names.

  6. #6
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    I think the place names things is to establish that this is Hardy's "world", and to emphasise the overlapping characters.

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