Helpmate to genius - getting inside the mind of Florence Hardy
SIGNS at both entrances to Acreman Street displaying ROAD AHEAD CLOSED warnings did not deter around 80 people from making their way to Sherborne Prep School where, in the school library, the pre-publication launch for 'Florence - Mistress of Max Gate' by Peter Tait took place.
Born and raised in New Zealand, Peter recounted how, inspired by his love of Hardy's novels, short stories and poems, he decided to make his home in "this most beautiful place" - Dorset.
In a short talk, Peter described some of the challenges of writing a novel about real living people (Thomas Hardy and his two wives, Emma and Florence) commenting, "thankfully they had no children" but adding it was nevertheless "a trail fraught by difficulties and potential land mines" but he believed that "no harm is done to history by making it something that someone would want to read."
The catalyst for writing the novel was Peter's admiration for Hardy's eighteen poem sequence 'Poems of 1912-13', inspired by the death of his first wife Emma in 1912. Within a year of marrying his second wife, Florence - he was 73 and she was 35 – the publication of these poems had a profound effect upon both Florence, who had not been forewarned, and their marriage.
Her fate was to be remembered in by her obituary tag in a national newspaper - "helpmate to genious."
The novel is an attempt to get inside the mind of Florence revealing an infinitely more complex and subtle personality than most previous biographers have acknowledged.
Finally, Peter told of a letter, one that Hardy had written to Florence on the eve of their wedding, which she kept until her death, when, under instructions, it was destroyed … 'And with it died part of the secret, the secret that helped explain Florence. For, as Thomas found out to his cost, there was more to Florence than was evident from their first meeting. And so began their trail of deceptions, first of Emma, then of their friends and, finally, of us all.'
Following the talk, Peter signed dozens of copies of the book.