The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Hardy’s places in pictures: The Hand of Ethelberta

David Bailey follows the cast of characters from Hardy’s comedy in chapters around Dorset

Ethelberta, going to visit her aunt in Cherbourg, boards the little steamer Speedwell at Knollsea Pier. Here is the Waverley at Swanage bay.

Thomas Hardy’s The Hand of Ethelbertaa comedy in chapters, was written in 1876 in serial form, for the Cornhill Magazine, which was edited by Leslie Stephen, a friend and mentor of Hardy’s.

Ethelberta is a guest of Lord Mountclere at his family seat, Enckworth Court, which is Encombe House. Photograph taken when they used to have a summer fete.

It tells the tale of Ethelberta Petherwin – a young society widow and her suitors. It is written with a lighter note than much of Hardy’s work, although ‘comedy’ is perhaps not best interpreted in the modern sense; perhaps satirical critique might be a more appropriate description.

Christopher Julian .....'passed into the hamlet of Little Enckworth ...and drew up at a beer house at the end'. The Scott Arms, Kingston.

It has been said of The Hand of Ethelberta, that this was a novel written four decades too soon, in that it treats the affairs of the ‘downstairs’ characters as every bit as important
as the ‘upstairs’ characters.

Ethelberta, making an undignified journey on a donkey, takes an unfrequented route to Corvsgate Castle over Nine Barrow Down (Corfe Castle with Nine Barrow Down behind from West Hill)

It’s certainly an entertaining piece of writing, and Hardy drags his characters all over Dorset in the process of its telling.

Sol Chickerell and the Hon. Edgar Mountclere, travelling from Sandbourne to Knollsea, pass near Havenpool (Poole Quay)


Ethelberta, setting out on an evening walk, pauses on a bridge before heading northwards from the town. North Bridge, Wareham, over the River Piddle, has one pointed arch of mediaeval origin, but the bridge was largely rebuilt in 1670.


Christopher Julian and his sister are engaged to play music for a ball organised by Wyndway House. Wyndway is Hardy's name for Upton House, on the shores of Poole Harbour. It is a dignified Georgian house built early in the 19th century. Its grounds now form Upton Country Park.


On leaving Knollsea Pier, the Speedwell first took a short easterly course ‘to avoid a sinister ledge of limestones jutting from the water like crocodile's teeth,’.....


Dorset Directory