Local Literature Section - Home Page
This section of the website covers writers and works with a strong connection to the south-central region.

On The Trail Of The Bloomsbury Group In Wessex

 

The press reports that BBC2’s recent 3-part drama Life In Squares [pictured] has prompted ‘a tourist rush on the trail of the Bloomsbury Group’. Though this pursuit seems limited to the Sussex farm where some of the group were based, and the serial was mainly filmed, it is less well-known that the group also frequented our area.

Read our feature On The Trail Of The Bloomsbury Group In Wessex.


Setting The Scene In Wessex - The 'Country House' Saga

Updated [30-8-15]: ITV's hit drama Downton Abbey completed filming its final episode this month, having reached 1927 as the final and 15th year covered by the saga. Its creator, actor-scriptwriter Julian Fellowes, made a [Tory] peer for services to the nation, is a Dorset resident, but avoided a local setting for his story. However there is no shortage of local-interest examples of the 'country house saga', as the genre is known. Here, we present a look at some of the many earlier local-interest examples, in literature and drama.
Go to “Setting The Scene In Wessex - The 'Country House' Saga”

'Cultural Capital' Gallery of Creative Figures
Online is a new section to the overall website, a 'Cultural Capital' gallery section, listing selected "cultural contributors" with a separate webpage for each. It is inspired by the remark that "The chief glory of every people arises from its authors," by Dr Samuel Johnson (given a state pension at the instigation of local landowner Lord Bute of Highcliffe). It will also cover other creative types, such as painters and filmmakers. These will all be creative figures who have made a cultural contribution in their chosen medium and have a personal connection with what is now the region's main conurbation - its 'capital' in the geographic sense. (This is a topical phrase, and we also have a blog item up on the debate over its double-meaning aspect, here.) The first individuals to be covered, with their own separate webpages, are Woodes Rogers, Rupert Brooke, Grantley F. Berkeley and Mary Eleanor Bowes. To check for updates, the 'Cultural Capital' Gallery section of the site has its own homepage, here.
Purbeck Literary Festival 2104
The newest of our local literary fests is now set with the first-ever Purbeck Literary Festival. Hopefully it will fare better than the Bournemouth and Poole LitFests [qv - scroll down]. On the positive side, Purbeck has had a film festival running every autumn since the 1990s, and it is now the largest rural film festival in the UK, and on the literary side has a heritage of attracting writers to the district since the days of the Bloomsbury set. Details here.

Wimborne Literary Festival 2014
Wimborne Minster

Often local literary fests don't make it past their first or second years. The Bournemouth-Poole conurbation's two independent literary festivals, which ran back-to-back in the autumn for several years, ended a couple of years ago. Around the same time, a new contender emerged, the Wimborne Literary Festival [Nov 1-20], and is now its in its 4th iteration. The first year was a one-day test run, and the 2nd a 3-day affair, but this time it runs 9days of events over a 20-day period.
Wimborne Minster, as a historic market town older than neighbouring Bournemouth (and probably Poole) has a lot of cultural background, with organisation and tickets organised via a well-established local independent bookshop run by an ex-mayor, Gullivers. The town has also been running folk and music festivals for a number of years. Details of the WiLF's 'deliberately diverse' lineup, from national figures to local authors like Bev Naidoo, are here,

Jane Austen 2013

With international promotion of the bicentenary of the publication of "the nation's favourite novel," Pride And Prejudice, we've bumped up our 2007 'Austen Season' item here on Jane [original item is below] , with recent developments. One item of particular interest here is the publication this month [Jan] of The Real Jane Austen: A Life In Small Things by Dr Paula Byrne, which is also a Radio 4 Book Of The Week this month. It examines Jane's life via a series of objects, the last of which is the only authenticated picture of Jane, the famous 1804 watercolour by her sister Cassandra, showing her only from the back, which was used as the cover image of Poole-based biographer Dr Andrew Norman's 2009 bio, shown left. Dr Byrne argues this was painted during the sisters' August 1804 visit to Charmouth, and has Jane looking westward from Stonebarrow Hill across Lyme Bay, an area she would write of in her Persuasion. Dr Norman's bio argues for an underlying sadness in this scene - that Jane had had another, previously unknown, romantic disappointment while visiting resorts just down the coast here, in 1798. A photo of the view she was probably looking out at is the banner image for our updated Local-Interest Guide To Jane Austen Novels & Screen Adaptations web-page, which compares original literary settings with filming locations.

Original 2007 item: As well as the new BBC adaptation of Sense And Sensibility in the autumn (see "Jane Austen 2006" below), BBC-TV is showing Miss Austen Regrets, a 90-minute follow-on, in narrative terms, to the biographical drama Becoming Jane, this one depicting the older Jane (Olivia Williams) looking back as she nears her 40th birthday to her youth and lost loves. (In it, she self-consciously describes herself as ''someone who can't cook writing a recipe book".) Jane of course died not long after this. It’s a co-production (as usual) with US Public Television, which is showing a “Complete Jane Austen” in its Masterpiece Theater slot in spring 2008, with the latest adaptation of each of the 6 completed novels, plus Miss Austen Regrets.
Further to the previous two MediaScene blog entries regarding this winter's film-TV adaptations ("Jane Austen 2006"), and coverage of the Jane Austen TV season and the first screen biography of the author ("'England's Jane' Takes Centre Stage"), there is also an item on the recent controversies in the press, mainly reaction to an attempted hoax involving passing off Austen novels to see if she would get published today ( 'Publishing, The Jane Austen Way').
I've also compiled a [now updated] Local-Interest Guide To Jane Austen Novels & Screen Adaptations, on a web-page of its own.   

 

Setting The Scene In Wessex: The Crime Novel & Drama
Now up is the second part of our 2-part guide to local-interest crime novels and film/tv dramas. It had to be divided into two pages since in terms of sheer output, it is the biggest literary genre of all, with work ranging from novels about old-time smugglers through the Golden Age of the Detective Story, to the latest 'forensic' thrillers.
Part One, covering up to 1945, is here, and Part Two, covering up to the present day, is here.

 

100 Local-Interest Writers - Bibliography [updated]
Although Hardy remains the author most associated with the region, many other writers have set novels etc in the area, often after living here themselves. The focus on Hardy, towering literary figure that he is, has tended to leave all the other writers in the shade.
We thus have been compiling an annotated bibliography onsite which (when completed) will list 100 writers who have produced local-interest works - contemporary novels, historical sagas, detective stories, published stage-plays and film scripts, children's adventures, pastoral essays, poetry, travel guides deemed to have literary merit, horror and fantasy - hopefully, something for everyone.

Note that this is a work in progress, and we are adding works from time to time. (There currently are about 95 writers listed.)

[Most recent update: 10-10-14]

Click here to view

 

Setting The Scene In Wessex: The Pre-Historic Era
- Local-Interest Literary & Dramatic Works Set In The Pre-Roman Era
Since by definition there are no written works before the 'historical' era, this guide looks at works created since, going back to old legends and the novels and dramas based on them. Topics include the world of the 'cave man', the neolithic 'Stonehenge' people, the Bronze Age, and the Celtic Iron Age warrior society which ended with the coming of the Romans. View page here.

 

Pictured: a US edition of Henry Treece's The Dark Island. Despite the US publisher's re-titling it and adding a lurid cover, the novel was, like Treece's other such works, a realistic treatment of its subject.

Hobbes's Leviathan


 

Setting The Scene In Wessex: The 17th Century In Literature And Drama

The latest addition to our "setting the scene in Wessex" series covering local-interest novels, plays, films, tv dramas etc focuses on the 17th Century. This is regarded by some historians as the era when modern Britain was born. It was a time of shifting political alliances, popular leaders who rose to fame only to fall from grace, repressive laws, civic upheavals, the breakdown of law and order, the creation of a police state, clamors for reform etc. - only settled in the end through constitutional reform. It was certainly a time of lengthy debates about the nature of society and power (cf Hobbes's 1651 Leviathan, pictured left). and conflicts which split apart family and friends. These debates and conflicts are naturally reflected in novels and dramas about the era, with key events as usual often playing out in Wessex.

Go to Setting The Scene In Wessex: The 17th Century In Literature And Drama
We also have a separate webpage listing related 17th-C. local sites of historical interest you can visit, here, and another page telling the story of the two main events of the period that have attracted novelists and dramatists, the 'royal flight' episodes of 1651 and 1685, here.

Pictured: Hobbes's 1651 political treatise Leviathan


Shelley family tomb, one of the points of interest in the Bmth Literary Heritage WalkBournemouth and Poole Literary Festivals - R.I.P.

The conurbation now has two literary festivals running back to back.
Freedom, Books & Imagination is the theme of 2010’s Bournemouth Literary Festival, 22-28 October. Details and updates on the BLF site.

Update: Sadly, the organisation behind the BLF has been put up for sale and the website is down. (There is now an annual officially-backed 'Bournemouth Festival of Words' in May, but this past year, nearly half the events seem to have been cancelled [Update: the site seems now suspended by its registrar]. )

Poole Literary Festival: Poole's debut festival (hopefully to be an annual event like the BLF) is a 3-day event, running October 29 - 31, covering new as well as traditional media.
Update: Again, sadly, the Poole Festival announced it had no funding to run in 2011, and the official PLF site is no longer maintained, being used for ads.


Pictured: The Shelley family tomb at St Peter's Church, one of the points of interest in the Bournemouth Literary Heritage Walk.

Pillars Of The EarthSee The Film/TV series, Read The Source Novel
Screen adaptations of several locally-set novels are due to appear over the next year, which will mean they will be back in the public eye. Though set in west Wilts, in the market town of ‘Kingsbridge,’ the first was largely inspired by the building of Salisbury Cathedral: a 6-hour, $40-mn miniseries from Starz Entertainment of Ken Follett's 1989 Pillars Of The Earth, which is premiering this month in North America. (Follett spent part of his youth locally, in the 1960s attending what was then Poole Technical College.) Set in the 12th-C, KF's 900-plus page doorstopper novel is now to be part of a trilogy (part two was World Without End, 2007, 3rd title TBA soon), and the TV version is what they call an "event" miniseries, with updates on Oprah etc. (Ridley Scott is an executive producer; it's being billed as the ‘epic event of the summer.’) The production website features an interview with Follett at the Cathedral.
This Canadian-German project may have pre-empted a similar British project based on a earlier novel, William Golding's 1964 The Spire, announced in 2008 as soon to be filmed at Salisbury (where Golding lived for a time) by director Roger Spottiswoode. The current production was shot abroad [Budapest]. However, even where a production is not filmed locally, the film-tv adaptations always generate interest in the novels, which invariably appear in mass-market tie-in editions, i.e. with a still from the film on the cover, as with the image at left, which is from the author's website.
The release of this new Penguin Books /Starz edition will also blur the line between novel and tv-adaptation novelisation, as well as upping the market profile of e-books. A new electronic [iPad/iPhone/iPod] edition, labelled the Amplified Edition, already out in the US “combines the novel with new content from the upcoming mini-series.” This includes video interviews with the author, interactive menus leading to clips from the miniseries etc. (In other words, the eBook edition has the sort of material you find on a DVD as “extras”.) This is (says Penguin), “the next step in Penguin Group’s ongoing efforts to take advantage of new technology to bring writers to readers in ways they have never experienced before.” More info here.

Famous Folk Of Bournemouth, Poole And The Surrounding Area Bournemouth's Literary Heritage

2010 is Bournemouth’s official bicentenary, and the first of the commemorative books has appeared. Bournemouth's Founders And Famous Visitors by Dr Andrew Norman, the Poole-resident biographer of local-interest literary figures like Jane Austen, Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle, Hardy, and TE Lawrence is out from The History Press. It covers the town’s history as a health spa, where invalids like Robert Louis Stevenson and D.H. Lawrence came to recuperate, and others, like Tolkien, to retire (and die). It also has chapters on the Shelley family, Darwin, Keble, Hardy, Lillie Langtry, Churchill, and Flora Thompson.
The official Bicentenary book, From Smugglers To Surfers, with chapters written by different local historians, from Dovecote Press in Wimborne, is now on sale.
There doesn't seem to be a bicentenary book solely on the area’s literary figures, but Famous Folk Of Bournemouth, Poole And The Surrounding Area, which came out a year or so ago, by local historian Elizabeth Edwards, covers Baden-Powell, Blyton, Tony Hancock, Hardy, Lillie Langtry, Robert Louis Stevenson, Paul Verlaine etc, and is available from Natula in Christchurch.

 

Dennis Wheatley Rides Again
Dennis Wheatley issue of Fortean Times MagazineOnetime [1945-68] Lymington resident Dennis Wheatley, once known as ‘the Prince Of Thriller Writers’ but since gone out of favour, is back in the news. He is now the subject of a biography published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of his breakout black-magic thriller, part-set in Wiltshire, The Devil Rides Out. The current [Dec 09] Fortean Times Magazine has a tie-in cover [pictured] feature, by the biographer, phil baker, “How Dennis Wheatley sold black magic to Britain.”
The background to this was the sheer popularity and influence of his work. In his heyday, he was only outsold by Agatha Christie, his work selling somewhere between 20 and 50 million copies. As the saying goes, for those that like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like.
Dennis Wheatley (1897-1977) had begun writing thrillers after losing his family-wine-trade fortune in the 30s Depression. He tried various genres, from experimental ‘dossier’ format crime novels (with evidence in a cardboard folder for DIY sleuths), to anti-republican /pro-monarchist historical novels like Old Rowley, on Charles II (who escaped from Cromwell’s men across Dorset and Wilts in 1651) to satanic thrillers. Out of his 50+ novels, it was his ‘occult thrillers’ which would become his trademark genre.
His black magic thrillers came not with a till-then-dominant 'Gothic' setting of ruined abbeys etc, but a definitely modern one, with all the trappings of the pulp crime thriller of the day, such as car chases. The contemporary setting also allowed him to promote his political ‘author’s message’ about leftwing totalitarian governments backing satanic cabals as a means to an end. The first, his breakout bestseller The Devil Rides Out, has the co-protagonist, an Anglo-French Duke, is hounded out of France for being an aristocrat. You might think this would be set in the 1790s, but it’s the 1930s. The anti-monarchists are depicted as a sort of secret dynastic fraternity using Satanism to gain power, and when the Duke disrupts a ceremony, they pursue him across southern England, ending up with a complicated car chase through Wiltshire, which is mapped out on the book's endpapers.
In 1939, Wheatley submitted a 15,000 word paper to the Cabinet on the Nazis’ barbaric plans for Britain, and how to fight a ‘total war’ against them, including using black counter-propaganda, which got him a place on a think-tank Whitehall committee. (His WWII papers were published postwar under the title Stranger Than Fiction.)
The Nazis’ interest in the occult is known to have a certain factual basis, but their defeat in 1945 did not faze him, as he thought Soviet communism to be fruit of the same poison tree, and he kept his thrillers contemporary throughout the Cold War. He simply depicted the political forces who threatened his chosen aristocratic lifestyle as secret backers of Satanist groups; the Nazis (whose incursions had ended his wine-collecting days in France) were now replaced by the Socialists in power and their trade union masters, both in league with the Soviet. (Dan Brown’s Opus Dei and Illuminati were dilettantes compared to these Cold War cabals bent on destroying democracy.)
When the war ended, he left London to take up residence in Lymington, at Grove Place, an 11-bedroom Georgian-style house (now demolished, replaced by townhouses), where he could live the baronial lifestyle he aspired to. His postwar home on the edge of the New Forest prompted him to set scenes locally in at least two of his novels. First, in 1947, was The Launching Of Roger Brook (1947). In the first of this Napoleonic-era series of novels, the dashing anti-Republican secret-agent hero grows up in the same Georgian-era Lymington house DW had bought during WWII. And in The Ka Of Gifford Hillary (1956), the persecuted aristocrat, head of a Southampton boat-building firm, and member of a Whitehall defence committee, is on trial for a murder at his stately home, ‘Longshot Hall,’ near Lepe on the Solent. (Another scene is set at Buckler’s Hard.) As well as being imprisoned of murdering his wife’s lover, the aristocrat (perhaps we should say plutocrat) is himself left for dead (or apparently so) by the murderer part-way through, the story being narrated thereafter by his ‘ka’ (ancient Egyptian priestly term for ‘etheric double’). The rest of the novel deals how he and his associates still manage to defeat the leftwing cabal promoting unilateral nuclear disarmament as part of their grand scheme for Soviet domination. (Whew!)
The Ka Of Gifford Hillary cover From 1961 on, Wheatley supervised a complete reprint set of his 55 novels, known after his adopted home town as The Lymington Editions, which were colour-coded according to genre, with the black magic thrillers in black cloth bindings with gilt lettering. He also sponsored The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult, a selection of 45 paperback reprints which re-introduced a range of older esoteric novels and nonfiction works dealing with supernatural themes, from works of Bram Stoker to Sax Rohmer (Fu Manchu) to Helena Blavatsky, all with intros by him, aimed at the new reader. By the time of the post-Exorcist, post Rosemary’s Baby, Satanist boom of the 1970s, the bookshops were stuffed with his black-cover paperbacks headed “A Black Magic Story,” with near-identical imagery showing in soft-focus a nude young woman about to sacrificed in some satanic rite. (See cover right; this is also the inspiration for the Fortean Times cover shown above.)
His work also got a late boost from the Hammer horror film versions of The Devil Rides Out (1968), starring Christopher Lee, and the more explicit To The Devil—A Daughter (1976), co-starring Christopher Lee, Richard Widmark, and a nude teenage Nastassia Kinski. Angry that his political message was removed and the plots changed for the screen, he refused Hammer permission to film the sequel novel, The Satanist, to star Lee and Orson Welles. Instead he gave his friend Christopher Lee screen rights to all his occult novels, to form the basis of Lee’s Charlemagne Films; but this folded in 1975 after its first production (Nothing But The Night) failed.
He died soon after, still working on his 3-volume autobiography The Time Has Come (1977). The new 600pp biography, The Devil Is A Gentleman: The Life And Times Of Dennis Wheatley by Phil Baker, published last Hallowe'en, apparently attempts to clarify some of the key issues left unanswered by Wheatley’s unfinished memoirs. Did he realise that his market - readers interested in satanic rites involving nudity and orgies - was fundamentally at odds with his own puritanical political-reactionary author's message? His paperbacks with their sensationalist covers seemed to have helped create interest in occult rituals (he is said to introduced the work of his former acquaintance Aleister Crowley to a new generation). Did he really know anything at all in fact about ‘satanic’ groups and rites? The New Forest was then home to at least one ‘witches’ group, according to another writer living there, Sybil Leek, who had fled France when the Nazis invaded, knew Aleister Crowley, and ‘came out’ publicly as a witch in the Sixties. Wheatley of course thought Wiccans were Satanists.
Not long ago, builders discovered a document buried in his Lymington garden while redeveloping the site where he had his home until 1968, when he left grumbling about the high cost of servants these days, not to mention taxes under a Labour government. As far back as 1947, he had written and buried a "Letter to Posterity" warning that Labour were a totalitarian government in the making, and that the British people would one day have to rise up against them and overthrow them, by force if necessary. (What, I wonder, would he have made of the post- Cold War Big Brother state, where left and right-wing no longer have much meaning?)

Dear Mr BigelowLetters To America, From Bournemouth

Serialised on Radio 4's Book Of The Week 26-30 Oct , with intros spoken by the author (who was then still active, age 95), Dear Mr Bigelow: A Transatlantic Friendship, is a newly published [1 Oct] collection of 1950s letters by Bournemouth resident [then working at the Pier Approach Baths] Frances Woodsford.

These letters, rescued after being tucked away in various basements for four decades before being returned to her in 2006, were missives sent to an elderly wealthy American widower. Originally, the letters were a thank-you for a care package of clothes sent to Frances after she went to the USA and met some Americans who were horrified at her tales of rationing. Frances has said her inspiration was partly hearing Alastair Cooke's Letters From America on the radio. (She had applied to work at the Echo, but was told they only hired men.) This long correspondence [1949-61] with someone she never met (shades of 84 Charing Cross Road) describe in an insightful style what she calls "the Bournemouth Soap Opera."  

Frances herself can also be seen and heard telling the background to how the letters began on You Tube, here. Frances Woodsford died in March 2013.

 

WWII And Local Literature

This autumn is the 70th anniversary of the start of a conflict which would affect everyone living in the Wessex region - men, women, children. A webpage on the varied ways this was covered in local-interest literature since, is now up, part of our "Setting The Scene In Wessex" series:

The WWII Era In Local-Interest Literature

Scientific Romance Comes Of Age
book of AR Wallace writingsWith a range of media tie-ins commemorating the Darwin Bicentenary, 2009 will be a year of science-themed fiction and nonfiction works and events, including some with local links.
With wide-ranging commemorations in 2009 of both the 200th anniversary of the birth of the long-controversial scientific pioneer Charles Darwin, and the 150th of the birth of Conan Doyle, Science is the theme of a number of local-interest works and events.
Part of this is built around the choice for 2009's UK 'Big Read' - Conan Doyle's dinosaur-survival classic "Scientific Romance" The Lost World, which libraries will be promoting from this month on. The term Scientific Romance was coined to convey the excitement offered by the new ideas these public figures wrote of, to do with evolution and natural history. (Before that, we had the 'Gothic' view with Mary Shelley's mad scientist Dr Frankenstein in 1816. Later on, disillusion with the side-effects of technology such as industrial pollution and atomic radiation would turn the SF genre to a broader anti-science worldview.) There are two new 'Big Read' editions of The Lost World: a reprint of the original 1912 novel as a paperback and a children's adaptation with a Wallace & Gromit cover. Free copies are meant to be distributed through schools and libraries, together with a simplified biography of Darwin done in 'graphic' style. Darwin only visited the area once, staying in Bournemouth in 1862 at a cottage where the BIC now stands, whereas Wallace lived out his final years in Poole, and now has a memorial at his grave in Broadstone Cemetery. Local libraries put on commemorative events in early 2010, and the official Jurassic Coast website also has a What's On page with guided walks etc. introducing people to the role of fossils in his field of study.
Looking beyond the local media scene, there are also tie-in books and films to these 3 figures who popularised scientific ideas, inspiring fiction from The Lost World to Jurassic Park. AR Wallace also appears in the recent film biopic of Darwin's life starring Paul Bettany, Creation, shot partly in Wiltshire. Wallace's previous screen roles seem to have been limited to a 50-minute dramatised documentary (partly shot locally) by Richard Elson, which came out on video in 2003 but is not currently available. However he now has at least 7 recent books devoted to his life and work. Conan Doyle's local links were covered onsite earlier, when a new book by a local biographer raised controversy, and last year in the item below, re a new biography and a literary prize in his name.

Conan Doyle Literary Prize
Conan Doyle - never a dull moment even beyond the graveThe latest biography, Conan Doyle: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes by Andrew Lycett (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 432pp, £20), is based on Doyle's papers, which were kept locked up till 2004. These were also the basis of Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life In Letters, edited by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower & Charles Foley. This should prove useful in putting his life and work more in perspective. For Doyle has been the object of various biographical speculations over the past few years, that he was a plagiarist, a murderer, a madman etc.  He was accused of poisoning his friend and 'Hound of the Baskervilles' collaborator after denying him co-author credit, and of later going mad in his New Forest home where he held seances, after having conspired to murder Houdini, who had threatened to expose Spiritualism [more on this here].
This time the main revelation picked up by the reviewers is merely one of adultery, which was more of a scandal then than today. (I've read that the first Sherlock Holmes Society,  formed in 1934 by A G Macdonell , author of  the classic satire England, Their England, had foundered over AGM's own 'indiscretion' with the wife of the Society's president.) This was in fact with his future 2nd wife Jean Leckie, with whom he now shares a grave at Minstead in the New Forest. He had got to know her during his first wife's lengthy terminal illness, remarrying in 1906 and cutting ties with the adult children of his first marriage.  Any incriminating correspondence having been burned by one family member or another long ago, biographer Andrew Lycett had to do his own detective work to establish the facts about ACD and Jean. Apparently the not-too-discreet liaison angered relatives like his brother-in-law EW Hornung, the creator of Raffles, and family sensitivities were the reason the bulk of the surviving papers were not sold off till 2004.
Then leading Sherlockian scholar Richard Lancelyn Green, who was trying to obtain Conan Doyle's papers for a planned definitive 3-volume biography, was found garroted at home after complaining he was being followed and watched. This mystery was not officially solved, though the theory endorsed by Lycett and other 'Sherlockians'  is it was a self-dramatising suicide staged to create a Holmesian-style mystery (it echoes a Holmes story), to cast guilt on wealthy American rivals after the same papers, and thwart their sale abroad. Those papers which were owned by R.L. Green have since gone to the U. Of Portsmouth. (Doyle had set up, unsuccessfully, in the town as a doctor when he qualified, his idle hours leading to doodling out the first Holmesian sketch.) The University have recently established the Arthur Conan Doyle Prize for New Fiction, to encourage new authors of adventure and detective fiction. And yet another nonfiction study has appeared [March 2008]: On the Trail of Arthur Conan Doyle by Brian W Pugh and Paul R Spiring, this one focussing on the creation of  The Hound Of The Baskervilles and its links to places in south Devon.
Update: Another new biography, by Poole-based biographer Dr Andrew Norman, is now out: Arthur Conan Doyle: The Man Behind Sherlock Holmes.

Candleford Christmas specialMore Ladies In Bonnets
The first two series of Lark Rise To Candleford being both a critical and ratings success, a 3rd BBC series of Lark Rise To Candleford has been commissioned for 2009 and is in production, probably kicking off with another Xmas special similar to last year's, but inching the story along without rushing any fences in case a Series 4 proves viable. (Details of episodes etc on the official LRTOC site here.) The BBC seems as fond as ever of nostalgic heart-warming Xmas specials. Settings involving ladies in bonnets being popular at the moment, the BBC has found a solution to the fact it has run out of Austen novels (though yet another Emma is on the way, a holdover from a previous commissioning regime). Even the award-winning hit from last year, Cranford, is getting a 2-parter Xmas special, with Judi Dench et al back on location at Lacock in Wilts in June. (Xmas specials are always shot in summer, usually necessitating artificial snow being used while the actors swelter in their heavy costumes.)
Judi Dench in Cranford The two series are set at opposite ends of the Victorian Era. BBC's Cranford (officially The Cranford Chronicles) has interwoven strands taken from three novels and a nonfiction reminiscence by Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-65). It has an early Victorian setting in the 1840s, as the start of the Industrial Revolution sees the railway pushing out from Manchester, which "bring fears of migrant workers and the breakdown of law and order" [BBC press release]. Lark Rise (adapted from two novels) is set officially in the mid-1890s (i.e. costumes and sets are patterned for this decade). But this is merely a reflection of its autobiographical basis (the teenage "Laura" figure is based on author Flora Thompson, born 1876). Otherwise it's rather timeless, set in a rosy yesteryear (no dire poverty here) of self-enclosed village life.

This would in fact vanish with the new, 20th, century - partly as many of the new generation, including authors like Flora Thompson, moved away as the Victorian age brought greater mobility and work opportunities. (See item below on Flora Thompson in Bournemouth.) This continuing TV popularity at least means interest in other Victorian-Edwardian authors as alternatives to Jane Austen will also continue, perhaps leading to discoveries by TV producers of other women writers from this key era.

Blue plaque ceremony at 2 Edgehill Road, Winton Flora Thompson
A plaque commemorating the author's sojourn in Winton, north Bournemouth, was unveiled in April by Olivia Hallinan, who played the young lead in BBC1's 10-part adaptation of her autobiographical novel "Lark Rise To Candleford," with the mayor and local historians in attendance. Flora Thompson credited her access to a range of books through the new local Public Library (opened 1907) as a key development in her writing. 'For the first time in my life I had access to a good public library, and I slipped in like a duck slipping into water and read almost everything.'
Flora Thompson lived at several addresses in Winton, and actually has 2 blue plaques commemorating her years in Bournemouth. One is at the site of her first address at #4 Sedgley Road, and says  simply, "Home to the writer Flora Thompson 1876 – 1947". The other is around the corner at #2 Edgehill Road [pictured here], and says "From 1909 to 1915 home to writer Flora Thompson / 1876 – 1947 /Author of Lark Rise To Candleford / The nearby Winton Library fostered her writing career which began with award-winning essays written here in 1911."
[For more images and info, see here and here].
 

Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, UK cover On Chesil Beach
On Chesil Beach (Cape, April 2007), by Ian McEwan (whose wartime novel Atonement reached the big screen last year), is set in Dorset, in an (evidently fictitious) large hotel overlooking Chesil Bank beyond Portland, back in 1962 (ie pre-Sexual Revolution). As the blurb puts it, “ a newlywed couple sit down to dinner in a Dorset hotel, each anxiously contemplating the wedding night to come.” The New Yorker magazine published a sample chapter online, also available as a PDF file [right-click to download] from the author’s own website.
Update: a film version of the novel is in development, from a script by McEwan.

 

Thomas Hardy
Hardy is of course our premier writer. So far online, besides various blog items, we have an introductory guide to his life, and another to his work:

An Introduction To Thomas Hardy
The author's life, from humble beginnings to literary lion.

Reader's Guide To Hardy's Works
The author's work, including essays and poetry as well as the famous Wessex Novels.

 

Download e-texts of  Hardy's works in the public domain from Project Gutenberg.  

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