This map plots the settings and references in Tess Of The D'Urbervilles

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A map of Hardy's Wessex
Public DomainA map of Hardy's Wessex

Thomas Hardy's Wessex covers most of the southwest of England. It started out as a fictional rendering of the area of Dorset in which Hardy grew up, but expanded during his writing career to encompass the counties of Devon, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Somerset, parts of Berkshire and Oxfordshire. The furthest north-easterly point is Oxford, which Hardy renamed "Christminster" in his last novel, Jude the Obscure.

Like Christminster, most of the places mentioned in Tess of the D'Urbervilles correspond to real locations. For example, Sanbourne, where Tess and Alec put up at a guesthouse in the closing chapters of the book, is the seaside town of Bournemouth. This renaming gave Hardy the freedom to borrow elements from real-life towns and places without being obliged to portray them exactly as they were. You can find a comprehensive list of Hardy's place names and their real-life equivalents here.


A view across North Devon, part of Hardy's Wessex
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeA view across North Devon, part of Hardy's Wessex - Credit: Manfred Heyde

Hardy's Wessex is a deeply nostalgic place. Although Tess of the D'Urbervilles was published in 1891, it is set some years earlier, before mechanisation and the coming of the railways had fundamentally altered the countryside. The old traditions are being eroded on every side, from the dialects spoken by the villagers to the methods used to gather the harvest. Hardy records these dying customs in such loving detail that for many people (and many tourist gift shops in southwest England) his name is synonymous with rural life in pre-modern Britain. In fact, Hardy's views on modernisation are probably more complex than most people give him credit for; while he clearly regrets the loss of the old ways, he also makes the naivety and ignorance of many of his rural characters a pivotal factor in their downfalls.