Thomas Hardy and his writings as a source for the study of traditional culture in Dorset
Thomas Hardy's fiction and verse contain numerous references to traditional culture, in all its aspects, but this body of material has attracted very little attention since Firor's Folkways in Thomas Hardy, published over seventy years ago. The neglect of Hardy's work by folklorists is judged to stem from a suspicion of fictional material and a belief that Firor's seemingly comprehensive review leaves no scope for further consideration. This study sets out to establish the importance of Hardy as a source, first by assessing the reliability of the folklore references in his work and, secondly, by considering all examples of his writings, both published and unpublished, many of which were not available to Firor for her study. References by Hardy to traditional culture are set out in chapter 2, classified on a basis developed at the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition. Chapter 3 then demonstrates that, with very few exceptions, the traditions recorded by Hardy are likely to be genuine. A review of the range and significance of Hardy's references follows, from which it is clear that the detailed consideration of a restricted range of subjects is likely to be more profitable than a general commentary in assessing Hardy's worth in this field. The subject of west gallery bands is then considered in detail and Hardy's writings on this subject are compared to other accounts, mostly brought together here for the first time, to demonstrate how Hardy complements and extends knowledge of the subject. A similar approach is then adopted, first in respect of mummers' plays and then of witchcraft. These major chapters are followed by some shorter notes on other traditions, less extensively documented by Hardy, but equally illustrative of the value of his testimony. Finally, the extent of Hardy's contribution to the subject is appraised and further avenues for research are outlined.