Screenplay – “My Lost Prize”
Could this be the face of the woman who launched the career of one of our most famous writers, Thomas Hardy? Was there a doomed love affair between Thomas Hardy and his cousin Tryphena Sparks in 1867?
The story came to light in the early 1960s after retired civil servant Lois Deacon met Nellie Bromell, Tryphena's eldest daughter by her later marriage to Charles Gale. Nellie claimed that Tryphena broke her engagement to Hardy sometime before he married his first wife Emma in 1874. Nellie showed Lois a portrait album that belonged to her mother, which included two pictures of a boy and young man, the latter bearing a distinct resemblance to Hardy. Nellie said his name was “Randy” and “he was Hardy’s boy”.
Lois Deacon and Terry Coleman wrote a book, Providence and Mr. Hardy, published in 1967, which examined the evidence for this and the possibility that Tryphena was Hardy's niece, not cousin, due to previous indiscretions by Hardy’s mother Jemima and his supposed cousin Rebecca Sparks (Jemima’s illegitimate child taken in by her sister Maria and husband James Sparks), supposedly Tryphena’s older sister. The lovers were unaware of this at the time of the affair, but then could not marry legally. No other evidence of this child exists: Hardy went to great lengths to destroy all records relating to his early life. Deacon and Coleman speculated that Hardy’s mentor Horace Moule was also involved romantically with Tryphena, and perhaps with Hardy himself.
The story caused great controversy when it emerged and the Hardy Society has suppressed it quite successfully ever since. Nonetheless the Thomas Hardy/Tryphena Sparks/Horace Moule triangle appears in many of Hardy’s novels, including Under the Greenwood Tree, A Pair of Blue Eyes, The Return of the Native, The Woodlanders and his final, notorious novel Jude the Obscure. Perhaps the best known is Alec D’Urberville/Tess Durbeyfield/Angel Clare in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, published in 1890, the year when Tryphena Gale died aged only thirty-nine.
Tryphena Sparks should be a feminist icon. After her affair with Hardy, and giving birth to his illegitimate child, she attended Stockwell Teachers’ Training College in Clapham, London. Upon graduation from the college in 1871, Tryphena at the age of twenty became Head Mistress of the Plymouth Public Free School (Girls’ Department), Coburg Street, Plymouth, Devon. She held the post for six years. Charlie Gale wooed her assiduously and eventually persuaded her that, as Hardy refused to marry her, she should accept his proposal. She duly did, retired from teaching with several hundred pounds saved up, and moved to the Gale household in Topsham, also in Devon. (It is suspected that Hardy recycled the engagement ring he gave Tryphena, which Tryphena returned in 1873, to Emma Lavinia Gifford, Hardy’s first wife.)
Tryphena may have suggested the story that later became Far from the Madding Crowd to Hardy. Here the heroine Bathsheba Everdene is pursued by three men instead of the usual two in Hardy’s novels. Why should a woman be bound to one man for all her life? Tryphena may be speaking to us in Hardy’s poem The Mound, published posthumously in 1928, the year of Hardy’s death. The mound in question lies near to Hardy’s Cottage east of Dorchester, Dorset and is known as “Rainbarrow”. This is thought to be the location where Eustacia Vye lures Damon Wildeve from the valley below with a fire in The Return of the Native:
The Mound (Winter Words)
For a moment pause:—
Just here it was;
And through the thin thorn hedge, by the rays of the moon,
I can see the tree in the field, and beside it the mound—
Now sheeted with snow – whereon we sat that June
When it was green and round,
And she crazed my mind by what she coolly told—
The history of her undoing,
(As I saw it), but she called “comradeship”,
That bred in her no rueing:
And saying she’d not be bound
For life to one man, young, ripe-yeared, or old,
Left me – an innocent simpleton to her viewing;
For, though my accompt of years outscored her own,
Hers had more hotly flown…
We never met again by this green mound,
To press as once so often lip on lip,
And palter, and pause:—
Yes; here it was!
Hardy set much of his work in his native landscape (Hardy’s Wessex) and has always been praised for his sympathetic depiction of women. Buffeted by fortune and with little control over their own destiny in the nineteenth century, they only seem to act badly by dint of circumstance. Messages go astray or vital information is withheld as his characters blunder towards an uncertain fate. Tryphena’s energy and determination to master her own destiny even as a teenager must have impressed a young man still grappling with his own career as either an architect or a writer in his late twenties. The cause of Hardy’s estrangement from his wife Emma Lavinia from 1890 onwards may have been her discovery of his true love’s identity and the terrible realisation that she could never match the now-dead rival for Hardy’s affections.
For more information on the mysterious child and pictures including Horace Moule see here.
The screenplay is based on the conclusions of “Providence and Mr. Hardy” and includes thirty-three of Hardy’s poems, so is told mainly in his own words. The first eighteen scenes can be viewed as a .pdf here. NB THIS SCRIPT HAS BEEN REGISTERED WITH THE BECTU SCRIPT REGISTRATION SERVICE.