Thomas Hardy by Jane Drake (Wessex Books)

Wessex Books are a publishing house based in Wiltshire who specialise in books about the history, mysteries and legends of the Wessex region of South West England. I was unaware of Wessex Books until they contacted me before Christmas to offer me a review copy of one of their titles, Thomas Hardy by Jane Drake, and as Hardy is one of my favourite authors I was very happy to receive this beautiful 32 page guide to his life and work.

Thomas Hardy, as you probably know if you’ve read any of his books, set most of his work in a fictional Wessex and Jane Drake’s book begins with a useful fold-out map and a list of the place names found in his writing. The pages that follow give some basic biographical information about Hardy with a focus on how his life related to his work. There are also some beautiful illustrations and photographs (many of them in colour) showing some of the places that were important to Hardy, including his birthplace at Higher Bockhampton, near Dorchester. And interspersed throughout the books are some of Hardy’s poems: Tess’s Lament, The Ghost of the Past, After the Last Breath, and a few others.

With all the poems, extracts from his novels, quotations, photos and captions taking up so much space, there’s not a huge amount of original text to read in this book. It’s not a comprehensive biography and at only 32 pages it’s obviously not intended to be. However, the book is lovely to look at and I’m sure it would make a nice gift either for someone who is interested in Hardy’s work or who is planning a visit to that part of the country.