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1990- Edinburgh Festival: Dearest Em, Women Much Missed




The Stage, August 23rd 1990

Thomas Hardy’s wife looks back on years of neglect and disappointment.  Her tongue loosened by drink refuses to be discreet or loyal.  A life that had been both cluttered and confined by class consciousness gradually strips down in front of us, till we come back to the romantic dreams, the blighted hopes, the twisted impulse that still drive her.

Here is the partner of a great writer unable to join him on his journey holding all the more desperately and self-righteously to the standards of her childhood – standards that Thomas Hardy worked hard to destroy.

As his life is more and more fulfilled hers becomes narrower and less realistic. Margaret Jackman gradually peels away layer after layer, the walking cloths down to the house clothes, the anger and the confusion down to the despair and pain.  Because her confidences are so candid and her playing so open, her performance makes us as torn as the character herself.

In writing these last hours before Emma Hardy’s death, Margaret Manuell keeps the past ever present.  The father who rejected her on her marriage to a ‘low born churl’ looms down from a photo frame. Her strict moral code is equally looming and threatening. 

Tinch Mincher

The Scotsman, 21st August 1990

The Wessex novelist, Thomas Hardy, was a lowborn churl according to his bitter first wife, Emma Gifford, who is resurrected in Margaret Jackman’s one-woman show.

This 50-minute insight into Emma’s life, narrated from the attic bedroom of her Dorset home, does not paint Hardy in a very complimentary light. Although in love with her when they married fame soon exposed Hardy to the temptations of willing younger women.  And he didn’t resist.

Working her way through a bottle of sherry, Emma unfurls her many disappointments. Tom let her down by not being gentlemen, by turning down a knighthood and by taking no interest in her own writing.  The final insult was to have read “Tom’s obscene ballads” – his poems addresses to other women.

All in all, the play, by Margaret Manuell is a delicate, thoughtful portrayal of yet another neglected wife of a famous man.

Claudia Stumpfl

Date Venue  
13th Aug – 1st Sept ’90 De Marco’s, Edinburgh Festival  
 June 1991 The Hawth, Crawley Festival  



Cast and Crew

Roderick Field Neil Manuell Margaret Jackman
Robin Manuell Alison Hampshire