the sundial press, sherborne dorset, sherborne publisher
David GarnettAlyse Gregory H. A. ManhoodElizabeth Myers Phyllis PaulLittleton PowysLlewelyn Powys
Philippa PowysT.F. PowysForrest ReidGamel WoolseySupernaturalA. N. L. MunbyC. Woodforde
Brenda Parker Roger NormanDavid TippingPeter Tait
   News Visit PETER TAIT’S New Website here

The Sherborne Literary Society
Our next event is another in the ‘Words with Wine’ series, on Tuesday 23 September at 7 pm in the Raleigh Hall (next to the Digby Memorial Hall in Digby Road). Peter Tait will be the speaker on the subject of ‘Thomas Hardy’s Women’. Tickets cost £5 and are available through the website or from Winstone’s bookshop.
A drink and light buffet supper are included in the cost of the ticket. 


emma west of wessex girl by peter tait, emma gifford, emma hardy, thomas hardy, max gate, the sundial press

(Click on image above 
to visit the EMMA page)

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 978-1-908274-25-0 • Price: £16.50 • Publication: 21 October 2013
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EMMA West of Wessex Girl

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EMMA West of Wessex Girl
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peter tait,emma west of wessex girl, emma hardy, the sundial press, sherborne prep school

Peter Tait appeared at this year's Sherborne Literary Festival 

on Sunday, 20th October, 10.30am-2.00pm

and gave a talk at the Publishers' & Authors' Showcase at 11.00am 

signing copies of EMMA West of Wessex Girl

sherborne literary festival , the sundial press


waterstone's dorchester, emma west of wessex girl, peter tait
Enjoy a glass of wine and a talk by Peter Tait on the relationship between 
Emma & Thomas Hardy at WATERSTONES in Dorchester 
on Wednesday,
 6 November at 7.00pm 
The event is free.

EMMA West Of Wessex Girl 
winstone's bookshop, sherborneA 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
Peter Tait to showcase new Hardy book at Winstone’s in Sherborne

EMMA West of Wessex Girl
Visit PETER TAIT’S New Website here
Follow Peter Tait on Twitter here

Read more about EMMA here

florence mistress of max gate, florence hardy, peter tait
FLORENCE Mistress of Max Gate



From the moment she first met Thomas Hardy in 1905, having written him an admiring letter, Florence Dugdale seemed destined for controversy. Her presence at Max Gate, both before and after the death of his first wife Emma, and her clandestine courtship with a man nearly forty years her senior sparked suspicion among the locals and scorn from the Gifford family. She had wanted to be a writer herself, but was drawn into Hardy’s life as his ‘secretary’ and companion, and within a year of their own marriage was humiliated by his publication of poems commemorating the late Emma and his painful relationship with her.

florence hardy, florence dugdale, florence mistress of max gate, thomas hardy, wessex, max gate, peter taitYet in the posthumous biography of her husband that bore her name she would tell the ‘truth’ and at last achieve the acclaim she sought – or so she had imagined, until that fiction too began to unravel. After fourteen years of marriage, and despite her own gifts and her life thereafter, her fate was to be remembered by her obituary tag in a national newspaper – ‘helpmate to genius’. Her love life stunted, her literary ambitions thwarted, disowned by the Stoker family and satirized by Somerset Maugham – Florence’s lot was an unenviable one. Why did she put up with it all?

 In his compelling recreation of Florence’s life, Peter Tait tells of a letter, one that Hardy had written to her 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.’ 

Price: £16.50   Hardback ISBN-13: 978-1-908274-08-3     Book Dimensions: 201 x 148 mm     Publication date: 07 November 2011 

(We have a few remaining FLORENCE bookmarks dispatched only with orders from our website.)

Order Below for a copy SIGNED by the AUTHOR  and IMMEDIATE DISPATCH
Please select UK or Overseas Delivery
florence hardy, florence dugdale, thomas hardy, max gate

Follow Peter Tait on Twitter here:

peter tait, thomas hardy society conference 2012

Peter Tait delivered a talk at this year’s Thomas Hardy Society Conference 2012 
afterwards signing copies of 'FLORENCE Mistress of Max Gate'.


Visit Peter Tait's website here

peter tait at max gate, florence mistress of max gate peter tait at max gate
Peter Tait gave a well received talk on Florence Hardy and her relationship with Thomas Hardy at Max Gate, Dorchester, on Sunday afternoon 8 July.

Kindle eBook edition now available on Amazon UK and Amazon US (both links will open in a new window).
peter tait underneath the sundial at max gate, florence hardy
It is also available at Amazon sites in: Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, India, Japan, Luxembourg, Monaco, San Marino, Switzerland, Spain.
Peter Tait: a Question & Answer webpage on the inspiration behind, and the writing of, Florence Mistress of Max Gate.

The Twentieth International Thomas Hardy Conference & Festival, Dorchester.
Monday, 20 August, Peter Tait: a talk about Florence: Mistress of Max Gate.
Peter Tait will be speaking at the first Sherborne Literary Festival: 'a big, four day event (18 - 21 October); one which is worthy of the town with authors of national standing'.

'Headmaster launches first novel at new bookshop' article with photo in the Blackmore Vale Magazine, 8 April 2012, page 4. 

peter tait, winstone’s bookshop, Sherborne, florence hardy, mistress of max gatepeter tait, winstone’s bookshop, Sherborne, florence hardy, mistress of max gate
Peter Tait gave a warmly received short talk on the relationship between Florence and Thomas Hardy, followed by a lively Question & Answer session, subsequently signing copies of FLORENCE Mistress of Max Gate at Winstone's Bookshop in Sherborne 22 March from 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.

Order directly from The Sundial Press on our Webshop page
where a number of copies signed by Peter Tait, with bookmarks, are currently availale

Now also avaliable from Amazon Marketplace here
(link to Amazon will open in a new window)

Alternatively, download and print an order form here.)

florence mistress of max gate kindle ebook, florence hardy, peter tait
eBook edition cover

florence mistress of max gate by peter tait bookmarkPreamble 

Poor Florence. When she died the best she could do by way of an epitaph was that of 'helpmate of genius'. Her life had always been measured in relationship to that of her famous husband for whom, as she lamented, she was neither muse nor (as she complained to Siegfried Sassoon), the first-called. The only man she truly loved, so we are told, died when she was only thirty two. Throughout her friendship, courtship and marriage with Thomas, she was subjected to the taunts and animosity of the Gifford family and their coterie of servants, and the townsfolk of Dorchester suspicious of the nature of her relationship with their favoured son. When they eventually married, within the year she felt betrayed by her husband's public declaration of affection for his late wife. Dull, gloomy, dreary, neurotic, these were the epithets used to describe her. Why did she endure it? And continue to endure it. There was a letter. It was one Thomas had written to Florence on the eve of their wedding in 1914 after he had read the diaries. It remained with Florence until her death when, under instructions, it was burnt by her sister, Margaret. And with it died the 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 began their trail of deceptions, first of Emma, then of their friends and, finally, of us all.


The novel opens with Florence Dugdale hearing the news of the death of Emma Hardy in November 1912. For the next seven chapters, the storyline focuses on the relationship between Florence and Thomas Hardy as it evolves over four tumultuous years including the major events of their lives, most notably their marriage on 10 February 1914, the publication of his elegiac sequence to Emma in November 1914 and their life at Max Gate during the early years of the First World War.

florence and thomas hardyBy 1916, when the relationship had reached an impasse, the story jumps back to 1905 and for the next seven chapters (Chapter 8 - 14) traces the life of Florence Dugdale throughout the time from when she first made the acquaintance of Thomas Hardy in 1905 until the death of Emma. In these chapters, Florence's relationships with two other men, Alfred Hyatt and Sir Thornley Stoker are inter-woven into the story alongside her relationship with Hardy.

The final three chapters focus on the state of the marriage in 1916 and events that allow for a truce of sorts - perhaps the closest Florence was ever to get to real happiness in the course of her marriage.

While the book is based on the chronology of events dating from 1905 - 1916, the story concentrates on the complex relationship between Florence and Thomas and, in particular, the psychological make-up of Florence, her attitudes, feelings and personality. In the course of the novel, a number of major and minor characters are introduced who influence the lives of Thomas and Florence, both singularly and collectively. The novel concludes at a time when there are still twelve years of married life ahead, but with the compact in place. Childless, often alone and isolated, her lot was not a happy one, yet she was resolute and determined in asserting her own ambitions, resisting the role that Hardy and others had apportioned to her as a "helpmate to genius.'

sherborne prep school, peter tait, florence mistress of max gateBook Launch
We are delighted to announce the pre-publication Book Launch of FLORENCE Mistress of Max Gate
by Peter Tait.

Date: 05 November 2011 from 11.30 am - 12.30 am
Venue: Sherborne Prep School, Acreman Street, Sherborne DT9 3NY
Meet the author: signed copies and light refreshments.

peter tait, sherborne prep school florence mistress of max gate, peter tait
(Photo and Updates appear on the News page.)

An excerpt from Chapter Two


  Florence need not have worried. As soon as the funeral was over, a letter arrived from Tom urging her to come back to Max Gate. She took little time in agreeing that she would do so, quickly packing her suitcase and making the necessary arrangements. It was early December and the journey to Dorchester was not straightforward, involving as it did two changes of train, first at Woking and then at Chichester. But when eventually she arrived at the station, he was there waiting for her. A cold wind was coming from the north-east and a damp fog was starting to settle in the air and he had, most sensibly she thought, wrapped himself in a long overcoat with a fawn tartan scarf wrapped tightly twice about his scraggy neck. She saw as she alighted that he was wearing his black hat that rode high on his temples, covering his thinning hair, with the effect – no doubt desired – of making him look taller than he was. She smiled inwardly at his vanity, and how his head was more like that of a petulant bird and how much older he seemed to be than she remembered. Death, even a welcome one, must age one, she thought. It was not an unkind observation although she knew she was not beyond harbouring ill-feeling, but only what she earnestly believed to be so.

‘Tom,’ she said. ‘You could have sent someone else.’

‘My dear,’ he answered holding both her hands, ‘I would not allow anyone else this privilege.’ He smiled weakly. ‘It is so kind of you to come to help an old man in his time of need.’

She looked at him. His hooded greenish-black eyes were dull, vulnerable, set, it seemed, deeper into his face than she remembered; his head appeared to have shrunk so that the skin that once fitted comfortably no longer did so, settling instead in loose folds around his jowls. He appeared limp and tired, in need of being looked after.

Much of the journey back to Max Gate was conducted in silence although he held her hand tightly. Only as they neared the house did he tell her that Emma’s family had been meddling and that his sister Kate and Emma’s spinster niece Lilian Gifford were encamped inside, and that he was being driven to distraction by their constant interference and was growing ever more fearful of the arrangements that they had in store for him. Grief, if it was anywhere near the surface, was eclipsed by the impending domestic crisis and all the arrangements that had to be sorted out. He was irritable, scared of how to cope despite having ostensibly done so for so long. Emma had been a hindrance, an impediment to his writing, and now he had someone who understood the process of writing, who would work for him, not against him, someone who would allow him one last great hurrah, one final flourish, for at seventy-two years of age he felt it tempting the Immortals to plan too far ahead. 

florence mistress of max gate, peter tait, max gate, sherborne prep school

Back, Spine, inner flaps & Front cover of FLORENCE

peter tait, florence hardy, sherborne prep school, winstone's bookshop, sherborne literary festival

Peter Tait was born in New Zealand and gained his Masters degree in History at Massey University. After a career teaching at junior and senior schools in both New Zealand and England, he finally moved to England in 1998 to take up the position of Headmaster of Sherborne Preparatory School.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a long-time devotee of the writings of Thomas Hardy as well as the Powys brothers, John Cowper, Theodore and Llewelyn.

florence mistress of max gate, book launch, peter tait, peter tait, florence hardy, sherborne prep school, winstone's bookshop, sherborne literary festival
St Antonin Noble Val Peter has previously written a biography of Sir John Ormond (‘In The Chair: The Public Life of Sir John Ormond’); numerous articles on education and the Introduction to The Joy of It by Littleton Powys (a previous headmaster of Sherborne Prep). With his wife, Sarah, he owns and, in the summer months, helps run The English Bookshop in St Antonin Noble Val, France. Florence is his first novel. sherborne preparatory school, peter tait, florence hardy
Visit Peter Tait's website here

florence mistress of max gate, book launch, peter tait, sherborne prep school    
florence mistress of max gate, book launch, peter tait

From the FLORENCE Book Launch 05 Nov 2011 (more images here)

“Helpmate to genius - getting inside the mind of Florence Hardy

To read this short article that appeared in the Blackmore Vale Magazine please click here: (all external links will open in a new window)

A Hardy way of life

PDF of a brief review in The Bournemouth Echo (23 Dec 2011). Click here to open.

Max Gate was Thomas Hardy's home for over 40 years from 1885 to his death in 1928
and Florence's home from 1913 until her death in 1937.
Hardy bought the 1.5 acre site, on the windswept ridge a mile from the centre of Dorchester, from the Duchy of Cornwall.
The cottage in Higher Bockhampton where Hardy was born.
The Sundial Press
Sundial House, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 4BS
Email: Contact  Tel: 01935 814113