When I wrote this essay, I had never been to Dorset. But I make that confession, not to disqualify myself from writing but to indicate at the outset the sort of essay it will not be. It will not be concerned with the identification of places in the Wessex novels with their possible originals in Dorset and the neighbouring counties. That task has already been performed more than a few times, most convincingly by Denys Kay-Robinson, and by Andrew Enstice whose work is especially useful where it points out how Hardy manipulated the geography of Dorset to create the imaginary space called Wessex. Nor am I offering – I would be equally incompetent to offer – the sort of study that H. C. Darby has made of the regional geography of Hardy's Wessex – a study whose implications have still to be taken up by literary critics and humanist geographers, in that it would seem possible to base upon it an understanding of how the plots and the narrative structures of Hardy's novels might have been to a degree determined by their various settings.
This essay sets out instead to examine how localities and spaces in Hardy's novels are constructed, are mapped, by the characters in the novels, and therefore also by Hardy in his narrative and by us as we read. I am concerned, then, with different, subjective geographies, and with geographies as modes of cognition.