Title: She Opened the Door: The Wife and Women who Haunted Thomas Hardy
Author: Peter John Cooper
Sale Price: £3.99
Publication date: 16 August 2012
Format: 212 x 152mm
Number of pages: 104
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Bringing the world of Thomas Hardy to life
She Opened the Door has already proved controversial and aroused discussion, as it attempts to understand something of the Great Man by looking at the women who surrounded him. It provides a different view of Hardy from the more conventional biographies, and the chance to read an actual working play script and understand how such a work is put together. Peter John Cooper presents a more understanding view of Emma, Hardy’s first wife, imprisoned by society, circumstance and self-view within the high walls of the garden at Max Gate, the house that Thomas built for them both and which may have come to represent everything that was wrong with her life. The unhappy relationship between Emma and Jemima, Hardy’s mother, is vividly portrayed, along with the dawning of feminism in the form of ‘The Other Woman’ and ‘The Maid’, who are both equally restrained by their situations. Hardy fans will enjoy spotting references and quotations from Hardy’s own novels, poems and short stories, which Peter has cleverly interwoven into his writing
She Opened the Door Premiere Production
Dramatis personae and setting
Afterword – Writing She Opened the Door:
The historical context – 1895
Hardy and women
What I learned about the characters
The Other Woman
Thomas Hardy himself
Thomas Hardy, the playwright
Fitting it all together
Places to visit: Max Gate and Hardy’s Cottage; Dorset County Museum; The Hardy Trail; Egdon Heath; The Dorset History Centre
About the Author
The Thomas Hardy Society
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
|Peter John Cooper is a playwright, poet and theatre director whose work has been seen throughout the UK during the past 40 years. Among his prolific output are two adaptations of Hardy novels which have been published online.|
EXTRACT FROM THE INTRODUCTION
… Hardy was not only a great and accurate recorder of the rural scene but also a contemporary writer writing about contemporary issues, and when we consign him to the rural backwater of Wessex in our imaginations we are missing something vital and immediate. What those issues were have become clearer to me over the years. Not through any great attempt at scholarship; there are swathes of Hardy landscape where I have never trodden and where I have been it is only by following the paths of the biographers and academics. No, anything I have understood is through my attempts at interpreting his works for the stage.
Some years ago I was commissioned to write a couple of adaptations of Thomas Hardy novels for the theatre. Whilst working on these I was struck by the pivotal role that women play in the dramas. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, for instance, it is Susan Henchard’s decision to go with the sailor that sets the whole drama in motion. And her decision to return that fans the flames of the tragedy. I also noticed how many strong women surrounded Hardy in his own life, all of whom could have been said to have Opened the Door to his talent (I’m sure you know where that line comes from). And in later years his attitude to women has been the source for considerable debate, much of which I disagree with strenuously. So when Jane McKell invited me to write a play about Hardy’s women I had the theme and subject matter ready to go. I also realised there was a whole story to be investigated about how Jude the Obscure became his last complete novel. Something happened around 1895, the time that Jude was published in novel form that affected his desire to write novels and changed his relationship with his wife Emma dramatically. This was one of those great turning points in a life that we dramatists seek out. We snuffle about in our imaginations asking how this or that might have come about and what the outcome may be.
She Opened the Door is a fantasy. The events are fabricated but I have tried to slip my story into the little chinks and crevices between recorded facts. There is no record that Hardy’s mother and Florence Henniker visited Max Gate on the day in question but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they could have done so. At the same time, the characters represent more than just the real-life personalities of historical record. In order to show something of Hardy’s relationship with his family I have conflated some of the recorded views of his actual mother with those of his grandmother and sisters. Similarly ‘The Other Woman’ is based around the character of Florence Henniker but also includes material from some of his other adoring admirers and helpers.
EXTRACT FROM THE PLAY
Go to Hell, the lot of you.
Mrs Hardy ... Mrs Hardy.
I’m burning it. Getting rid of the obscenity once and for all.
I opened the door and it was gone.
How could he?
That’s Mr Hardy’s book you’ve got there. Mr Hardy asked me to take it down to the post office. When I’ve finished here. He left it on the hall table. But when I opened the door to come out it was gone.
It’s a fantasy. A tissue of lies. It’s all lies.
It’s the truth. On the Bible ...
The book, girl. It’s a tissue of lies.
Isn’t that what all books are, Mrs Hardy? Pardon me for speaking out. I think you ought to be careful, Mrs Hardy. If that gets burnt I’ll get into terrible trouble.
This is my life.
Your life? It’s my job.
No, I don’t mean that. Well yes, in a manner of speaking. No. You’re twisting things.
It’s my life. Mine and that woman. That other woman. Those other women.
WHAT REVIEWERS AND INTERVIEWERS HAVE SAID
‘Fact and fiction interweave in Peter John Cooper’s powerful study of the tensions that may have taken Thomas Hardy’s first marriage close to breaking point. It was deservedly a huge success. Fine acting, superbly crafted dialogue, an excellent musical score from Roderick Skeaping and intelligent direction from Peter John Cooper himself make this a play to treasure.’
Jeremy Miles, Bournemouth Echo
‘Four women weave fact with fiction and mix real people with characters from Hardy’s novels in a fascinating insight into the troubled relationship between the author and his first wife Emma ... a tale that blends beautifully some of Hardy’s own words into the largely fictional story and includes a neat sub-plot in which the original script of the writer’s final novel, Jude the Obscure, teeters on the brink of extinction as it is tossed around between all four women ... a play that is almost certain to become a theatrical treasure in the future.’
Marion Cox, Dorset Echo
‘This play is an exciting take on Hardy’s women: the playwright has very cleverly interwoven the real and fictional women of Hardy’s life and work.’
Mike Nixon, Secretary of the Thomas Hardy Society
‘The scene unfolds and is driven entirely through the engagement of the four women in a story that explores in an extraordinary way what reality “might have been” for them as well as for Thomas … Through the struggles of these women, Peter points at what was perhaps the contemporary issue and principal force that drove Hardy to write: that of the “iniquity of stifling social hierarchy” which he had himself battled most of his life … She Opened the Door is arresting, intriguing and delightful, engaging our fascination with the personal lives of eminent figures past and teasing our contemporary hunger for insight and speculation. The characters are larger than life, the dialogue and plot fast-moving, so it’s useful as well as pleasurable to be able to read the script at leisure. It makes me regret not having seen the production when it was originally performed at the Corn Exchange in Dorchester as part of the 19th International Hardy Conference in August 2010, or in the grounds of its actual setting at Max Gate in September 2011.’
‘Hardy’s views of women have been presented in many different ways and this book has a slightly different slant on first wife Emma and Hardy’s mother Jemima, posing the thought that Hardy’s writings were reflecting the dawning of feminism by involving the maid and the ‘other woman’... there is an interesting section in which the author explains his reasons for depicting the characters and dialogue as he did. A cheerful, lively, attractively produced book with a real Dorset flavour; written, the play produced and presented, and the book printed and published all in Dorset.’
Somerset and Dorset Family History Society
CLICK HERE to read PURBECK! Journal's full review.
CLICK HERE for more details about the AsOne Theatre Company.
CLICK HERE to read an interview with Peter on the Literature Works website.
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