Sunday 3 July 2022

The Strange Fate of Mr Hardy's Heart

 Browsing in one of my late uncle's very well organised scrapbooks (mostly newspaper cuttings about politics and theatre, alas), I came across a splendidly macabre tale of what happened – or might have happened – to Thomas Hardy's heart after he died. Hardy, bleak atheist (or God-hater) though he was, wanted to be buried in the churchyard of Stinsford, Dorset (the Mellstock of his Wessex), 'unless the Nation strongly desires otherwise' – which inevitably it did, demanding a Westminster Abbey burial. So it was decided that Hardy's heart would be taken for burial in Stinsford churchyard and the rest of his body cremated for an urn burial at the Abbey.
When Hardy died at his home in Dorchester (the hideous Max Gate), his heart was duly removed and the undertaker Charles Hannah, who had buried both Hardy's parents, wrapped it in a tea towel and placed it for safe keeping in a biscuit tin. Alas, the tin proved less than secure, and a household cat managed to get the lid off and eat the greater part of the heart (cats, for the record, are averse to human flesh – unlike dogs – but will eat human offal). Charlie Hannah, discovering this, took an executive decision. 'Mr 'Ardy wanted 'is 'eart buried at Stinsford,' he declared, 'and buried at Stinsford Mr 'Ardys 'eart shall be.' With which he wrung the poor cat's neck and crammed it back into the biscuit tin, which now contained Mr 'Ardy's 'eart nestled in the stomach of a dead cat. If this it true, then that curious combination is what was interred, with due ceremony, in Stinsford churchyard (in the grave of Emma, Hardy's much-wronged first wife). It would explain why, instead of being presented for burial in the modestly sized urn prepared for the occasion, Hardy's heart was buried in a polished wooden box large enough to contain biscuit tin, cat, heart and all. So the story may well be true. Either way, Hardy would surely have relished the tale. 


  1. Max Gate looks like those horrible old asylums where poor souls once went and got lobotomized. What is with those tacky, slapped on windows? What is with the slapdash, irregular roof? I think I'd rather live in the footworn house from "The Self Unseeing."

    1. Absolutely. And Hardy designed it himself – clearly he was no great loss to the world of architecture...

  2. Ah, are you digging on my grave?