Many of Hardy's novels were set in Dorset. The Well Beloved is one of Hardy's last novels. It was first published in three-part serial form in 1892, and then revised and re-published as a book in 1897, after Hardy's last novel Jude the Obscure (1895). The novel tells the story of the sculptor Jocelyn Pierston's search for the ideal woman, through three generations of a Portland family.
A cottage housing what is now part of Portland Museum, on the Isle of Portland, founded by Marie Stopes, a friend of Hardy and his wife, was an inspiration for the book. The cottage acted as the home of Avice, the novel's heroine.