As the sun sets for the last time over the cliffs of TV’s Broadchurch, (West Bay) a programme written by its creator, Chris Chibnall as a ’love letter to the scenery of the Jurassic Coast’ it is as good a time as any to reflect on how the county has inspired other creative writers to put pen to paper. Whereas Broadchurch captured the drama of the rugged coastline, the timeless landscape of the interior, the beautiful rolling countryside, iron age forts and barrows, unspoilt rural villages, and sweeping country estates have also played their part.
Thomas Hardy. No one writer has left their footprint on Dorset as firmly as Thomas Hardy. His revival of the notion of ‘Wessex’ as the geographical backdrop for his works both romanticised the area and allowed him to create a smokescreen around his use of specific places and landscapes. He wrote from his home, whether it be in Higher Bockhampton, or Max Gate near Dorchester and most of his landscapes are to be found close by. Novels which are firmly based around Egdon Heath include Return of the Native and Tess of the D’Urbevilles. That said, Hardy was a great walker and he also drew inspiration from elsewhere in Dorset- Bere Regis to the east, the villages of Evershot and Melbury Osmond (where his mother was born), an area which featured in The Woodlanders and also the Jurassic Coast.
Places to visit : Hardy’s Cottage https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hardys-cottage
The Dorset County Museum http://www.dorsetcountymuseum.org/writers_dorset
John Cowper Powys, TF Powys and Llewelyn Powys. All three brothers featured Dorset in their works. John and TF Powys both wrote novels based in Dorset and Llewelwn composed a series of essays considered to be among the best written on Dorset.
John Fowles. The writer lived in Lyme Regis, in Belmont House, now a holiday home, and was curator of the Lyme Regis Museum for a decade in the 1980s. ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’, published in 1969 and made into a hugely popular film starring Meryl Streep, is set in Lyme Regis and tells the story of one man’s obsession, Charles Smithson, an amateur palaeontologist, with the mysterious Sarah Woodruff. The tale features the spectacular undercliffs, The Cobb and the fashion for fossil- hunting which made Lyme Regis such a popular destination during the Victorian era.
Places to visit : Lyme Regis http://www.lymeregis.com/
Lyme Regis Museum http://www.lymeregismuseum.co.uk/
Tracey Chevalier. Author of ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ amongst other best-selling novels, was inspired to write ‘Remarkable Creatures’ in 2009, the story of Mary Anning, the pioneering fossil hunter after she took her son to an exhibition in The Dorset County Museum in Dorchester about Mary, finding success and acclaim in Victorian England as a working-class female in an environment dominated by middle class men.
Places to visit: The Dorset County Museum http://www.dorsetcountymuseum.org/jurassic_coast
Lyme Regis Museum- http://www.lymeregismuseum.co.uk/about-us/mary-anning-wing/
The museum is due to open a new Mary Anning Wing in June 2017
Other Lyme Regis literary links include Jane Austen, who stayed in the town in 1804 and set some of her novel ‘Persuasion’ in Lyme. A century later, another visitor, Beatrix Potter based ‘Little Pig Robinson’ around the town.
If the Jurassic Coast is famous for its fossils another rich vein of inspiration has been piracy and smuggling
J Meade Faukner. Wrote ‘Moonfleet’ in 1898 as an eighteenth-century smugglers’ tale along the Chesil Beach. The hero, young orphan John Trenchard, dreams of finding Blackbeard Mohune’s treasure and becomes involved in a daring adventure. The title is taken from the real-life Mohun family seat – Moonfleet, on the banks of the Fleet lagoon, now a family hotel. The story has been made into a film in 1955 and more recently in 2013, into a TV mini-series.
Daisy Goodwin. Daisy wrote the screenplay for the recent ‘Victoria’ TV series, but has also written several novels including ‘The Last Duchess’ a historical romance based the late nineteenth century American heiress, Cora Cash who married an English Duke and lived in Lulworth Castle.
Minette Walters. An award-winning, Dorset based author has drawn inspiration for many of her psychological thrillers from both the landscape and buildings of Dorset. These include ‘The Ice House’ ‘Fox Evil’ ‘The Breaker’ ‘The Devil’s Feather’ and ‘The Shape of Snakes’ Her website has an excellent interactive map to help readers explore the links between her novels and ‘Minette’s Dorset’
Natasha Solomons author of ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ summed it up in answer to a question posed on her website
Why do you write about Dorset? What’s so special? Should we come and visit?
I have a profound connection to this landscape. It’s old Wessex – an ancient place and its history is literarily etched into its surfaces in long barrows and iron aged hill forts and medieval field systems. I live in a hamlet under the shadow of Bell Hill (either named because it resembles a bell, or for the pagan god Beltane, no one really knows). I like to write looking at it – the way the clouds and weather form along the ridge always feeds into my work. When it rains, tiny amenities like miniature stone baseballs imprinted with sea creatures, wash their way loose from the chalk, reminding us that hundreds of millions of years ago our own hill was part of the ocean floor. This is the landscape of my dreams and my imagination.