Friday, August 02, 2013

From the more cryptic letters of Thomas Hardy

I've been flipping through Volume Two of Thomas Hardy's letters, which covers the years 1893 to 1901, and there are many pleasures to be found within, particularly Hardy's flirtatious letters to Florence Henniker--which, were it an era when women were wearing pants, you'd be hard pressed not to read as a sustained effort to get into hers. Ahem.

That's a good note on which to lead into the first of the two letters I want to highlight today. Both are short, almost to the point of being cryptic, and both are amusing. The first, to Havelock Ellis, was sent on July 29, 1895:
Dear Mr Ellis
Pamphlet received. Shall read it with interest.
Yours very truly,
Thomas Hardy
Ellis, you probably know, was a pioneering sexologist, and the pamphlet? Editors Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate helpfully note that it was likely Sexual Inversion in Women. If a famous sexologist sends you, unsolicited, that pamphlet, in that less open era, what other response is possible? (And presumably he kept it hidden from his wife?)

The second letter is from May 4, 1895, and it reads:
Dear Sir,
I am in receipt of your note. I will if possible call on you about 5 this afternoon.
Faithfully yrs,
Thomas Hardy
What makes this one of interest is that it is to an unknown recipient. Oh, sure, it's probably innocuous. But what if it's not? Couldn't that be the response to a blackmail demand? To a note from a private detective who has some information that he's sure will be of interest to the eminent Mr. Hardy?

Could May 4, 1895 have been the day Thomas Hardy met Sherlock Holmes!

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