Thomas Hardy’s second wife describes her love for him in unearthed letters

Newly discovered letters show Thomas Hardy’s second wife’s joy and happiness at her marriage and her sadness and loneliness after his death.

Hardy’s early romance with his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford, forms the background to several of his novels.

It was also the inspiration for over a hundred of his poems, including the elegiac Poems Of 1912-13.

Ian Nicol reading the Thomas Hardy letters (Bridget Nicol/PA).
Ian Nicol reading the Thomas Hardy letters (Bridget Nicol/PA)

But his marriage to Florence Dugdale has received less attention.

In the three letters to a former student, Harold Barlow, the children’s author and teacher writes that her marriage is a “genuine love match” and her husband is “one of the kindest, most humane men in the world”.

They had been kept by Mr Barlow’s daughter, Josephine Barlow, and were discovered by his grandsons Ian and Colin Nicol.

Ian recently passed the letters to Professor Angelique Richardson, from the University of Exeter, who is leading a project documenting Hardy.

The first letter was sent to Mr Barlow on February 10 1914, not long after Miss Dugdale’s marriage to Hardy.

Florence Dugdale wrote to her friend describing her love of Hardy (Ian Nicol/PA).
Florence Dugdale wrote to her friend describing her love of Hardy (Ian Nicol/PA)

“Perhaps you have read, if you have the English papers, that I am now the proud and very happy wife of the greatest living English writer – Thomas Hardy,” she wrote.

“Although he is much older than myself it is a genuine love match – on my part, at least, for I suppose I ought not to speak for him.

“At any rate I know I have for a husband one of the kindest, most humane men in the world.”

Miss Dugdale also described how she was weary of celebrity culture and the media.

“Accounts of me & my portrait have been printed in every paper, I think, in England,” she wrote.

“I have been shown in the Cinematograph, written about all over America & Europe. I am tired of this publicity. I will send you a paper or two I think if you care to see them.”

Miss Dugdale had been introduced to Hardy late in 1905 and by 1910 she was typing up a novella, The Maid On The Shore, by Hardy’s first wife.

Prof Richardson said: “It is rare to find such significant letters. They give an intimate glimpse into life at Hardy’s home, Max Gate, and the loves and losses Florence shared with Hardy.

“It also shows us more about Florence, how self-deprecating she was and how devoted she was to her husband.

“We are very grateful to Ian and Colin Nicol for sharing these with us and delighted they can now form part of the collection at Dorset Museum, and be seen on the Hardy’s Correspondents project website.”

Ian Nicol added: “I am delighted that the letters are joining the Hardy Collection. This would have meant a great deal to Josephine, to my mother and, I’m sure, to Harold.”

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