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Exploring Dorset’s Literary Past

With its breath-taking natural beauty and invigorating sea air, it is no surprise that Dorset has been a haven for writers. The county has seen some of the greatest works of British literature created within its borders.

From Dorchester to Lyme Regis, Dorset has been a “writing room” of sorts for the likes of Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Enid Blyton and more. Its rugged coastal towns and rolling pastures have also inspired such faraway lore as Lawrence of Arabia and may have inspired the creation of the famed Frankenstein.

For readers, bibliophiles and lovers of amazing destinations, there is nothing more satisfying than a literary-based adventure at a Dorset holiday cottage. With so many choices, visitors can settle into the perfect home away from home to start walking in the footsteps of these literary greats.

Thomas Hardy

Internationally known as a poet and novelist, Hardy lived most of his life in Dorset. Born in Dorchester, he went on to write such marvels as Tess of the D'Urbervilles and The Mayor of Casterbridge. He grew up in a remote cottage in Higher Bockhampton. The small thatched cottage is now a museum and part of the National Trust. Built by his grandfather, it was Hardy’s home as he went through school and studied as an architect’s apprentice.

- Image credit J Fliss

At the cottage, Hardy wrote several of his earliest works, including early short stories, poetry and novels such as Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd. Many of Hardy’s works of fiction were initially published as serials in magazines. They are set in Wessex – based on the Anglo-Saxon kingdom that covered much of the area in medieval times. Hardy’s work often touched on themes that explored the lives of tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances.

For those looking to see how Hardy worked, the Dorset County Museum's Hardy Exhibition includes a reconstruction of Hardy's study. Max Gate, the Dorchester townhouse where Hardy lived much of his later years is also a great attraction.

Visit Dorset has offered visitors a detailed plan to enjoy the author’s influence and life on the country.

Enid Blyton

Writing in between the world wars, Dorset writer Enid Mary Blyton has entertained millions upon millions of children all over the world. With popularity as one of the world's best-sellers children’s authors since the 1930s, her books are still immensely popular, and have been translated into almost 90 languages.

Blyton’s first book, Child Whispers, is a 24-page collection of poems, and was published in 1922. From topics ranging from education to natural history, fantasy, mystery, and even Bible stories, she is best remembered today for her Noddy, Famous Five, Secret Seven, and Adventure series. The story of Blyton's life was dramatised in a BBC film entitled Enid, featuring Helena Bonham Carter in the title role. There have also been several adaptations of her books for stage, screen and television.

- Image credit Corrie Barklimore

Follow the Enid Blyton trail for your own Dorset adventure. The famous children's author stayed in Purbeck regularly and some of her best-known works were inspired by the area. One of the more unique stops for fans is the Ginger Pop in Corfe village. This tiny shop is dedicated to the work of Blyton.

Festivals to celebrate literary brilliance

The region has a growing reputation for exciting and thought-provoking literary festivals. Each year, literary luminaries and enthusiasts gather at Purbeck, Weymouth, Dorchester and other places to discuss the latest in the writing craft.

The Purbeck Literary Festival recently enjoyed its third exciting year.

One of the highlights of this year’s festival was an afternoon with storied adventurer Jason Lewis. Lewis is an explorer and award-winning author. He is also an advocate for sustainability. He is recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the first person to circumnavigate the globe using only human power: walking, cycling, and inline skating on five continents.

For more information on the Purbeck Literary Festival, please have a read of our earlier piece.

Another great event is this month’s Weymouth Leviathan. The country’s first-ever maritime literary festival, attendees will get the opportunity to meet and learn from some of Britain’s best and well-known nautical-themed writers.

Image credit - Kosala Bandara

A selection of confirmed authors and talks featuring in the Weymouth Leviathan programme include Dr James Davey, Curator of Naval History at the National Maritime Museum and writer of In Nelson’s Wake. There is also Barbara Tomlinson, Curator Emeritus at the National Maritime Museum, and author of Heroism of the Shipwrecked. Please visit the festival website for more information.

Later in the autumn, the Dorchester Literary Festival will enjoy its second year. The festival programme focuses on the latest books by some of today’s newest, and most original, authors. There will be sessions dedicated to historical fiction, crime and romantic novels. Time will also be set aside for screenwriting, documentaries and biographies.

Main Image Credits: Jack Pease, Birkan ÇAĞHAN

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