Caroline Butler and Dave Townsend of ‘The Mellstock Band’ perform

Tess’s Sisters: Songs from the working women of Hardy’s Wessex

Thursday 3rd October Doors open 7pm for a 7.30pm start

Tess’s Sisters celebrates the vigorous singing tradition Thomas Hardy knew, bringing to life the songs and stories of the rural working-class women of nineteenth-century Dorset. The songs are accompanied by concertina and fiddle, linked together with spoken material from the era which sheds light on their lives.

Thomas Hardy’s deep sympathy with the women of rural Dorset is expressed in so many of his novels, stories and poems. In his youth he played the fiddle for them to dance, listened to their songs, and helped them by writing letters for the illiterate, gaining a unique understanding of their lives and emotions. He often alludes to their singing, and lists or quotes the songs they sang. By a happy accident, in the early 1900s two assiduous folksong scholars were collecting in Dorset from people of Hardy’s generation – the brothers Henry and Robert Hammond, whose informants included many women who had worked the fields, married working men, borne children and lived with the hardships and tragedies of the lives of Tess Durbeyfield, Car’line Aspent, Marty South and countless others as told by Thomas Hardy.

The Hammonds found a rich source of songs among these women, songs remembered from their younger days, passed on in the family, and sung whilst working outside or in the home, to lighten labour or pass the time. This repertoire of women’s songs is not at all what might be expected; there are of course songs of courtship, lost love and the nature of a woman’s lot, but they are equalled by tales of courage and endeavour in military and naval contexts, yarns of trickery and subterfuge, and songs of the realities of country life. A number of the songs are comic and downright bawdy, and many tell their story from a male perspective. There is little complaining about their lives, but plenty of practical guidance on how to make the best of a situation. Like much of the rural singing tradition of the time, a wide range of emotion, tone, style and form is to be found. Tess’s sisters were not oppressed, lamenting females but fully engaged with their local tradition, themselves tradition bearers, enjoying the byplay of different roles and situations through their songs, all leavened with wry wit and good humour.

Doors open 7pm and bar will be serving wine, beer and soft drinks, snacks and hot drinks. Please note only food and drinks purchased on the evening are to be consumed on the premises.

This is a fundraising event and all profits go towards the running of the museum

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