If you love books and are interested in all things literary then the Bridport Literary Festival is the festival for you. This year it runs from the 4th to 11th November. An eclectic mix of writers of both fiction and non-fiction are coming to West Dorset to talk about their writing. It attracts audiences of all tastes and all ages from all over the county as well as visitors from much further afield. Most of its venues are in Bridport with a couple in Sladers Yard, just around the corner from our cottage.
Authors and Books Connected With West Dorset
Do you find that a familiarity with the locations in a book helps you picture the story more vividly? Do you like to visit the places mentioned in books you’ve enjoyed? The Literary Festival has authors and subjects from near and far but it has made me wonder about the authors who have been inspired by, and the books set within, the landscape of West Dorset. Here are some suggestions of books to read, and story locations to explore, during a holiday in the area.
Jane Austen’s Persuasion
Jane Austen visited Lyme Regis in 1803 and 1804. In September 1804 she declared the “Bathing … so delightful … I believe I staid in rather too long”. Austen set several chapters of her final novel Persuasion (1817) in the seaside town. The main characters arrive in November, and the description of the out-of-season town is still recognisable today. The book’s dramatic events led to a flow of fans to the town. The poet Tennyson is said to have gone straight to the Cobb saying “Show me the exact spot where Louisa Musgrove fell!”
With the rolling hills of the Dorset countryside often called Hardy Country, Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) probably requires no introduction. He is one of the greatest Victorian novelists and Dorset’s most famed author and poet.
Here’s a post which gives a brief account of his life and novels. It has useful links if you want to explore the towns and villages he knew so well and used as settings and inspiration for the “Wessex” of his tragic stories.
A friend of Hardy, J. Meade Falkner (1858–1932) wrote Moonfleet, the classic children’s adventure tale of shipwrecks and smuggling, first published in 1898. He grew up in Dorset and based much of the story there, set a hundred years before his birth. The name Moonfleet is a merging of the old family name Mohune and the village of Fleet, by Chesil Beach. The headland in the book, called The Snout, is Portland Bill.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle‘s famous detective novel The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1901), featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes, takes place largely on Dartmoor in Devon. However it may have had several local sources of inspiration for the ghostly, murderous hound. Conan Doyle was staying at Parnham House near Beaminster when he first heard a mysterious hound baying in the night. Local folklore may have influenced the concept. There’s tales of a spooky “Black Dog of Uplyme”. Portlanders tell of a spectral black dog, “The Row Dog”, with large saucer shaped eyes prowling the island during the hours of darkness.
In Far From The Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy drew on local belief that the black hound is a protector of vulnerable young women. Conan Doyle used this idea too. His ghostly hound appears first as a protector of a persecuted woman, forming the basis of the Baskerville curse.
The Tale of Little Pig Robinson by Beatrix Potter
For a smaller member of your family – West Dorset featured in the drawings of Beatrix Potter‘s final book, The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930). In 1904 she spent a family holiday in Lyme Regis, staying at the Mariners Hotel in Silver Street. During her time there Beatrix did a sketch in sepia ink of a steep street leading down to the sea. Years later it became the background drawing for the tale. She combined several Devon seaside towns and Lyme to create the settings of the story.
John Cowper Powys
John Cowper Powys (1872 – 1963) was a British philosopher, writer, lecturer, literary critic and poet. Weymouth Sands (1934) was the third of his “Wessex” novels, which include Wolf Solent (1929), A Glastonbury Romance (1932), and Maiden Castle (1936). Powys was an admirer of Thomas Hardy and these novels are set in Somerset and Dorset, part of Hardy’s mythical Wessex. As with Hardy’s novels, the landscape plays a major role in his works. This modern classic draws on his vivid childhood memories of the seaside town of Weymouth.
Critics consider Powys one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century. An article in the Guardian describes his work as a “form of literary marmite”; he is not a writer everyone can stomach but admirers are always hungry for more. Consider yourself warned, his books do not sound like typical holiday reads.
Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male
West Dorset is the central setting and a backdrop for a relentless manhunt by German agents operating on British soil in London and Dorset in the classic thriller novel Rogue Male written by Geoffrey Household in 1939. The book was reissued in 2014 to mark it’s 75th anniversary.
The geography of West Dorset described in the book can be followed on a real map, including a local holloway.
The author John Fowles (1926 – 2005) moved to Lyme Regis in 1968 and lived there for the rest of his life. His 18th century villa, Belmont, is now a holiday let.
Fowles set his most famous novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), in and around the town. The film of the book made Lyme’s Cobb harbour famous too. Remember Meryl Streep (or her stunt man!) standing hooded and windswept, staring out to sea?
The writer said that his 1963 book The Collector was based on “a bizarre real-life incident that happened in the 1950s” in Dorset.
Fowles was curator of the Lyme Regis Museum for ten years and did much to ensure its survival.
Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse in The Way Through The Woods
The Inspector Morse series by Colin Dexter (1930-2017) includes one story, The Way Through The Woods (1992), partially set locally. Morse has gone on holiday to Lyme due to the area’s literary associations saying”it’s where some of the scenes in Persuasion are set.” “And The French Lieutenant’s Woman”. He visits Dorchester’s Kings Arms Hotel (a Hardy site) and the County Museum there, Moreton Cemetery (grave of TE Lawrence) and stays in Lyme’s seafront Bay Hotel. While in Lyme, Morse meets a woman who calls herself Louisa Hardinge after Hardy’s own lost love.
Colin Dexter said Lyme Regis was his “favourite place on Earth”.
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan‘s tells the tale of a disastrous honeymoon, set in the early 1960s, in his novel On Chesil Beach. It was nominated for the Booker Prize award in 2007.
Chesil Beach is the 18-mile shingle spit, part of the larger Jurassic coast. In an interview McEwan mentioned that he took a couple of stones from the beach when researching the novel. He was later criticised for removing items from a site of special scientific interest!
Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier
The life of Lyme Regis’s Mary Anning, the greatest fossil hunter ever, is captured in the novel Remarkable Creatures (2014) by author Tracey Chevalier. Read this post to learn more.
Top crime writer Minette Walters lives in Whitcombe, near Dorchester. With a change of genre to historical fiction, The Last Hours (2017) focuses on a small Dorset estate. Walters set the story in 1348 at the time of the Black Death, a subject she became fascinated with after learning that it entered England nine miles from where she lives, at what is now Weymouth. (One historical fact unlikely to encourage visitors to this part of the country!)
Can you recommend any other books inspired by the beautiful landscape and coast in this area? If so I’d love to hear about them. Please leave a reply below.
Stay with Us for the Bridport Literary Festival
Do you want to attend some of the events at the Bridport Literary Festival or explore some of the most beautiful literary heritage sights in England? If you do and you haven’t yet booked accommodation, we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage, or head to our Book With Us page for availability, the rates and how to book.