I am a member of a running club. One evening we listened to a guest speaker who had written a book about her experiences running around the world (all the way). One of my clubmates bought a copy. When I asked her about it later, she said it was alright, but that she had been reading Thomas Hardy recently and the quality of writing suffered by comparison. I thought it was interesting that she liked Thomas Hardy. Later it occurred to me that this clubmember had been a shop steward, was a feminist, and a local, standup poet. Hardy seems very sympathetic to working class men and women at the wrong end of power relationships. He was a renowned poet too. The fact this club member spends a lot of time running around Wessex probably doesn't hurt her opinion of him either.
I had another friend at the running club who another time told me he liked Hardy. I can't remember how that conversation came up. Again, I wondered why, because, to me, his books seemed pretty miserable. However, this friend is a professor in agriculture. Reading through Tess, it strikes me there is a lot of description of 19th century farming techniques. I also remember there was a grissly but convincing scene involving the slaughter of a pig in Jude. Presumably this is one of the aspects he likes about it.