the sundial press, sherborne dorset, sherborne publisher
David Garnett Alyse Gregory H. A. Manhood Elizabeth Myers Phyllis Paul Littleton Powys Llewelyn Powys
Philippa Powys T.F. Powys Forrest Reid Gamel Woolsey Supernatural A. N. L. Munby C. Woodforde
Brenda Parker Roger Norman David Tipping Peter Tait


A tale of betrayal, of simmering resentments, growing estrangement
and the forging of a literary reputation.

emma west of wessex girl, peter tait, the sundial press, sherborne prep school, sherborne literary festivalemma west of wessex girl, peter tait, the sundial press, sherborne prep school, sherborne literary societyEmma Hardy had been estranged from her husband for more than a decade before her death in 1912. Labelled as ‘half-cracked’ and ‘phenomenally plain,’ disliked even by members of her own family, few mourned her passing. And yet, almost as soon as she was buried, Thomas set out to rediscover the high spirited and timeless West of Wessex girl that he had fallen in love with, more than forty years earlier.
    What sequence of events, what deceptions, what unravelling led to the state of affairs that enabled her to become his muse in death, while having been his antagonist and his antithesis while she was alive?
    Who was this unusual woman who, after her marriage, had satisfied neither her husband’s desires, nor his ego, who publicly railed against his final novel and humiliated him at his own hearth, yet also had strangely provoked him into writing his most enduring works of fiction, and his greatest poetry?
Jacketed Hardback 978-1-908274-06-9 • Price: 16.50 • Published: 21 October 2013




Later in life Thomas Hardy, would recall seeing the silhouette of her riding along the crest of Beney Cliff.  He would remember with a feeling of agitation the scene that lay before him, stripped bare of everything, but the most elemental. A bent tree, doubled up by the westerlies; an evening sky exploding in a fiery tempest; and, set against it all, a horse and its rider. She looked magnificent, like Boadicea, thick auburn hair billowing out behind her, standing high in the stirrups. He watched her as she fell off the edge of his view into a furze covered gulley and disappeared. Yet it was frozen in his mind, the picture of the high-spirited and unsettling young woman, that he could recall at will for the rest of his life.  

Time can give a gentle wash to memory, that he knew. It can smooth out the rough edges and make mellow the astringent, destroy the glass cage. But Tom knew in that one vivid snatch that what he had seen was real and that whatever else changed in time, that image would remain indelible. A rider on a horse skirting a cataclysmic sky. A heart aloof and vagrant, one and the same. His West of Wessex girl! He felt the first drops of rain. What had become of them? What had happened to pry loose the grip that once held him so tightly?  What had led him to betray her?

Jacketed Hardback 978-1-908274-06-9 • Price: 16.50 • Publication: 21 October 2013

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PETER TAIT interviewed by Jenny Devitt for Abbey Radio Feb 2014
Peter Tait discusses the relationship between Thomas Hardy and his first wife Emma with specific reference to his biographical novel EMMA West of Wessex Girl


sherborne literary festival , the sundial press

peter tait, sherborne literary festival, emma west of wessex girl, emma hardy, the sundial press
The Sherborne Literary Festival: Sunday, 20 October, 11.00am

emma west of wessex girl, peter tait      emma west of wessex girl, peter tait

45-46 South Street, Dorchester DT1 1DQ
Wednesday, 6 November, 7.00pm

8 Cheap Street, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 3PX
Thursday, 14 November, 7.00pm

waterstone's dorchester, emma west of wessex girl, peter tait Enjoy a glass of wine with
Peter Tait who will give a talk on
 EMMA West Of Wessex Girl 

at WATERSTONE'S in Dorchester 
on Wednesday, 6 November, 7.00m
followed by a book signing.

EMMA West Of Wessex Girl 
winstone's bookshop, sherborne A talk on
West Of Wessex Girl

by Peter Tait
followed by a book signing at WINSTONE'S in Sherborne
on Thursday, 14 November, 7.00m
winstone's bookshop, sherborne

From the BVM: 

"New PETER TAIT novel caps Sherborne's Hardy month"

"Peter Tait to showcase new Hardy book at Winstone’s in Sherborne"

Visit PETER TAIT’S Website here
Follow Peter Tait on Twitter here

An excerpt from Chapter Five: A LOW-BORN CHURL

Encouraged by this success and the first significant earnings from his burgeoning career, Tom and Emma agreed that the occasion was ripe for the couple to present themselves before her parents, who lived at Kirland House near Bodmin.

They travelled down together from St. Juliot, full of optimism. Emma had arranged for them to stay with an old family friend, Sir William Serjeant at St Benet’s, before calling on her parents the following morning. She had told Thomas little of the host family, other than that she had once stayed there whilst convalescing after nursing her sister. The family, she assured him, had good intentions and would support them in their venture, though contradictorily, this only served to fill Thomas with unease. Nevertheless, their evening was joyously expectant, and the conversations with their hosts so reassuring that when they set off the next morning, it was with an inflated confidence which would only serve to exacerbate all that was to follow.

The visit proved to be a galling experience. After a few moments of pleasantries that seemed cordial enough, despite Emma’s mother doing little more than nodding at the couple, Thomas made the request to speak to Emma’s father, Charles Gifford, ‘in private’. He was duly ushered into his host’s study and was but a little way into presenting his credentials, when the older man launched a bitter attack at him.

‘I would beseech you to stop there, Mr Hardy. This purpose of this visit was not unexpected, for I have known of your existence, and it was never welcome. You have been presumptuous in coming here thinking that you could marry into my family - a family of considerable standing, a professional family, a family with connections in the church and law. Even if you wrote books that were not unsavoury, which I gather is the case, you are little more than a tradesman, a hack, a low-born churl who is unworthy to presume you have the right to ask for my daughter’s hand.’

There was no space for rebuttal, no hint that Thomas would be allowed to speak at all. When he tried at one point to interject into the stream of invective, he was talked down as the older man sallied onwards, his words bruising and contemptuous. The ferocity of the attack, its unexpectedness and sheer persistence, gave him little option other than to take his leave, with the tail ends of her father’s words, and finally Emma, flushed and horrified by the exchange, trailing in his wake.

‘We do not need his permission, Thomas, we do not!’ she cried, half-stumbling, as she attempted to keep up with his striding pace down the pathway. ‘He is wrong in this and we will prove him so.’

Thomas said nothing until he had slammed the gate to the house behind him, when, at last, he turned to her, his face ashen.

‘Be that as it may, but for families not to sanctify a union bodes ill for any man.’

‘Don’t say that, Thomas, don’t,’ she urged.

He turned on her, grasping her firmly by the shoulders, fixing his eyes with hers.

‘Then tell me Em, what am I to make of it? The man was more than unreasonable. He seemed unbalanced, like someone possessed.’

Remembering himself, he relaxed his grip and let his arms fall limply to his side.

‘I fear he was under the influence too, Em, for he stank of it.’

Emma lowered her head.

‘You must tell me, Emma, what I should already have known of your family. For this is not what I expected, not in the least.’

Emma turned away for several seconds, as if gathering the resolve to answer his question, before turning back and looking straight at him.

‘I will tell you all I know Tom, for of course you must, although it is not much. One hope’s that such intemperance is peculiar to the person afflicted, but it is in my father, I confess. There. It is of no great matter, but I should have told you, nevertheless.’

Thomas stared at her, not sure what to make of the ambiguity in her answer. Her eyes began to redden as tears welled, and he could feel himself soften.

‘There, there, Em, it is of no matter. It is you and I that plan to marry, not our families,’ he reassured her. ‘They are of no consequence.’

With that, he took her hand and led her down the path, away from the house. She could see Thomas was upset, and while the hurt was his own, she felt equally diminished by her father’s exchange. They wended their way back to Lavinlet along the Saints’ Way, arm in arm. No words passed between them, only the spirits of both, crucified by the sentence that her father had passed upon the couple.

EMMA Full jacket layout
emma West of Wessex Girl, peter tait, full jacket layout, the sundial press,
EMMA Full jacket layout


When he returned to Max Gate in late July, there was little communion between them. Lillian had been staying for some short time, although she had moved out when she heard the master was returning. Occasionally he and Emma rode in the vicinity of the cottage, she on ‘Grasshopper’, her sky blue bicycle which occasionally she had trouble controlling whenever the paths were ridged or rutted, he on his Rover Cobb.

   Yet in August, when Thomas went with Henry on a cycling tour of Lincoln, Ely, Cambridge and Canterbury to study the cathedrals, Emma was left behind. Instead, in protest, she rode about Dorset, ignoring an unseasonable heat wave that had driven everyone else inside, painting local scenes of Bulbarrow and Durdle Door, knowing as she did so, that they would only be hung, if anywhere at all, in her own secluded part of the house.

   Emma was a very capable artist and had once sold paintings to aid the restoration of the church at St. Juliot, but while Thomas had praised her then, he had given little encouragement thereafter. She often wished that Thomas would speak of her talent, but she had learnt that Thomas would never notice, let alone encourage any other person, apart from occasionally, the scribbles of his latest paramour, and even then only until he tired of them, for he was too consumed by his own genius to bother with the incipient gifts of another.

emma gifford hardy, bulbarrow, peter tait, sundial press
An accomplished artist, many of Emma's paintings are in private collections but several are held by the Dorset County Museum; the above, featured on the front cover of EMMA, is one.

peter tait, emma hardy,west of wessex girl, thomas hardy, the sundial press

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