The Fires at Max Gate, Professor Dante Blythe’s biography of Thomas Hardy (1840–1928), would not be the last word on the Victorian novelist. There was always room for more speculation. Yet, any material evidence of controversy was burned in the author’s garden at Max Gate, Thomas Hardy’s residence since 1885. The fires, destroying all personal papers of a writer who became as controversial as he was acclaimed, were ignited initially by Hardy late in 1927 and, early in 1928, after the author’s death by his second wife, Florence.
Two things obsessed Blythe about Hardy: why had Hardy ceased writing novels at the heart of his literary fame in 1885, just as he and his first wife, Emma, moved into Max Gate? And what, nearly half a century later just before his death, was the last of the great Victorians trying to hide in those fires in the garden of Max Gate? Blythe’s long-held hunch is of a connection between the end of a novel-writing career and the fires.
Blythe’s tenacious investigation takes him back into his own history and to his first love, Beatrice Lambe, and to where they had first met one winter’s night beside that lake on those stately grounds of Clay Castle.