Winter is a novel which tells the story of the complicated relationship between the author, Thomas Hardy, his second wife, Florence and a budding young actress called Gertrude Bugler. The story takes place in the 1920s and explores a possible version of events which have a root in the real world. It explores the shine which the elderly Thomas takes to Gertrude, who plays the lead character in an amateur theatre group’s production of ‘Tess’. The situation becomes difficult, because of the stress, imagined or real, which this infatuation has on Florence and her relationship with her husband. As a fan of the writings of Thomas Hardy and a visitor to his homes in Dorset, I was drawn in to this book by the descriptions of Max Gate, his home and the locality in which it sits.
Once the scene is set, the early chapters are written in the voice of Florence. She explores the history of her marriage to Thomas, following the death of his first wife, Emma. This gives an insight into what day to day life at Max Gate was like. Florence gives the reader an understanding of the sense of frustration which she has living in the shadow of the famous author, as his biographer. “I think it is as if my husband was a great tree and I am stunted from living in his shadow”. I enjoyed the switches between the voice of Florence to the situation as Thomas saw it. This helped to develop the story and kept me wanting to know what happened next.
The story is taken up by Gertrude, and the outlook from the viewpoint of her and her husband, who supports her theatrical ambitions. Here I must stop to avoid spoiling the ending. For me, Christopher Nicholson has created a believable, readable novel which encapsulates a sense of time in the way he explores the attitudes of men towards women. I found the writing opened up a real feeling of time and space, a window into Hardy’s Wessex, as he draws towards the end of his life.
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Reviewed by Andrew Wilson