Tolfree Student Essay Competition, “Hardy and the Anthropocene” (The Thomas Hardy Society; Deadline: 16 Aug. 2020)

The Thomas Hardy Society Patrick Tolfree Student Essay Competition


Welcome to this year’s Patrick Tolfree essay competition, open to students of any academic level over the age of 18 and living anywhere in the world.

Humanity’s relationship with nature is not a new theme for students of Hardy, but the discussion is being reframed by growing awareness of the planetary scale of the impact of human activity. For 2020 the competition invites entries of between 4,000 and 5,000 words on any aspect of Thomas Hardy and the Anthropocene, including but not limited to:

  • physical and temporal scales in Hardy
  • human/non-human interactions, continuities, habitats, politics
  • impacts of human industry and activity on the natural world – visible, invisible, imaginary, or real
  • affective consequences of environmental change
  • Hardy and the earth sciences
  • “the pattern in the great web of human doings […] from the White Sea to Cape Horn” (The Woodlanders).

The winning entry is likely to show engagement with Hardy’s writing practices (for example, his choice of formal devices and vocabulary) as well as his themes, plots, and characters; and to reference some recent scholarship. Useful starting-points for the latter could be the essays in Anthropocene Reading: Literary History in Geologic Times, edited by Tobias Menely and Jesse Oak Taylor (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017), especially ‘Scale as Form: Thomas Hardy’s Rocks and Stars’ by Benjamin Morgan; and ‘Instrumental Optics: microscopic and telescopic lenses in Thomas Hardy’s Two on a Tower’ by Patrick Armstrong in The Thomas Hardy Journal (vol 33 – Winter 2017).

Entries may follow any standard referencing style for foot- or endnotes and bibliography.

The author of the best entry in the opinion of the judges will receive £250 and one year’s free membership in the Thomas Hardy Society. The winning entry will be published (following the usual process for feedback and amendments) in the Thomas Hardy Journal.

Please send your entry by email to
or by post to
c/o Dorchester Town Council, 19 North Square, Dorchester, DT1 1JF.

The closing date for submissions is 16 August2020.

A report on last year’s competition may be found on the Thomas Hardy Society website:

Student essay links Hardy’s architectural writings with the Notre Dame Cathedral fire.

This competition honours the late Patrick Tolfree, avid Hardy reader and scholar, author of monographs and tireless promoter of interest in Hardy’s life and works in local schools.

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