Adapted from the book jacket: On a street in Dorchester, England, there is a gateway between real and imagined lives. A plaque on a Barclays Bank identifies the building as “lived in by the Mayor of Casterbridge in Thomas Hardy’s story of that name written in 1885.” Floyd, an American writer, and his wife, Beverly, are pondering the enigma of a fictional character living in a factual building when Floyd is approached by Hardy himself—despite his death in 1928.
This phantom—or is he just a figment of Floyd’s imagination?—tasks Floyd with finding out what Hardy missed in love. Floyd and Beverly set out to discover what they can, visiting Hardy’s birthplace, home, and grave, exploring the Dorset landscape and the famous novels with their themes of tormented love, and meeting characters deeply invested in Hardy’s life and reputation. Peering into the Victorian past, they slowly fold back the clutter of screens that Hardy placed around his private life to uncover long-hidden truths about his romantic attachments and creative work. At the same time, Floyd and Beverly’s own love story unfolds, filled with healing and hope.
1. The Phantom of Thomas Hardy is such a unique and beautiful novel-memoir hybrid. I know you based some of it on an actual trip that you and your wife Beverly took to England to visit Hardy territory a few years ago. From there, the fictional aspects took off. What were the seeds of this novel? Was it the trip itself or did you take the trip to do research with this book already in mind?
Our trip to England in the spring of 2012 wasn't planned to be research at all. We just rented a car and drove through southern England with the idea that we'd include for Beverly visits to some great gardens and areas she'd long wanted to see and also allow me to pay homage to some writers whose work had been significant in my life. I made a grand list of writers, but since we only had about 2 1/2 weeks, we both had to make hard choices about what to include and exclude. For me, it boiled down to visiting Dylan Thomas' home in Wales and Thomas Hardy's territory in Dorset. I figured it was likely that after such a journey I'd write an essay about it all--and I did do that, publishing "To Land's End and Back" in Boulevard two years later--but I didn't have any idea that a book would emerge as it did.