26th Jun, 2022

Historian Fred Reid's new Thomas Hardy book praised by ex-PM Gordon Brown

Ian Hughes 15th Nov, 2017 Updated: 15th Nov, 2017

A LABOUR of love by a Kenilworth historian has won the praise of a former prime minister.

Dr Fred Reid, former head of the History department at Warwick University, has just seen the publication of his book Thomas Hardy and History, which he has been working on for two decades.

And ex-prime minister Gordon Brown was quick to send his congratulations to Dr Reid on his achievement.

Mr Brown, a keen historian himself, wrote: “What a spectacular achievement and a highly literary book – in both its breadth and its depth.

“It’s a magnificent achievement and I will recommend it widely.”

The book’s foundations can be traced as far back as Dr Reid’s teenage years and an early interest in the relationship of literature and its historical context.

This was further fired when he became a lecturer at Warwick in the mid 1960s where the marrying of literature and history was an emerging academic discipline.

Dr Reid, who has just turned 80, did not actually read Hardy until he was 40, but was immediately struck by just how much the 19th century novelist knew about history.

It was reading The Mayor of Casterbridge that inspired him to try and get inside the mind of Hardy to reveal how he actually thought about history and how he interpreted it in his novels.

Dr Reid says while the questions may appear simple, the answers are rather more complex. But his book reveals Hardy as a very modern-thinking writer – more so than contemporaries including Charles Dickens and George Eliot – who saw the Victorian era as a crisis of English civilisation.

While the book may have taken 20 years, Dr Reid has been far from idle. Aside from lecturing, he also penned a biography of Labour party founding figure Keir Hardie, critical essays on Thomas Hardy and other work.

After he retired, he published a book about his grandfather Willie Patterson, and his novel The Panopticon.

Having turned his historian’s eye to Hardy’s novels, Dr Reid is now considering a similar study of Hardy’s poetry.

The father-of-three and his wife Etta are both blind. In the summer, they were both presented with honorary degrees by the University of Warwick for decades of voluntary charity work helping local fellow blind and partially sighted people.

Thomas Hardy and History is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

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