Thomas Hardy


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Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), English poet and author of the naturalism movement wrote Jude the Obscure (1895);

What brains they must have in Christminster and the great schools, he presently thought, to learn words one by one up to tens of thousands! .... he wished he had never seen a book, that he might never see another, that he had never been born.

Somebody might have come along that way who would have asked him his trouble, and might have cheered him by saying that his notions were further advanced than those of his grammarian. But nobody did come, because nobody does; and under the crushing recognition of his gigantic error Jude continued to wish himself out of the world.--Ch. 4

and Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891);

Moreover she, and Clare also, stood as yet on the debatable land between predilection and love; where no profundities have been reached; no reflections have set in, awkwardly inquiring, "Whither does this new current tend to carry me? What does it mean to my future? How does it stand towards my past?"--Ch. 20

Tess and Jude received many criticisms upon publication, for in examinations of the fallen woman, sin, the class system, and the vagaries of religion and marriage,--".... a marriage should be dissolvable as soon as it becomes a cruelty to either of the parties--being then essentially and morally no marriage...." they shocked Hardy's Victorian readers' sensibilities. His tragic characters lives' earned the labels "immoral" and "obscene". Hardy muses in his Preface to the 1912 edition of Jude about a bishop who burnt a copy of his book "probably in his despair at not being able to burn me." The controversy drew much attention to the novels as well, and they were soon being read in Europe and North America, although Hardy never wrote another; he turned his pen to plays and poetry instead.

Hardy's fictional Wessex is based upon the environs where he grew up and loved so much and where he lived and worked for a large part of his life; he always had a dream to be a poet and was well connected emotionally to his environment through interaction and observation, but the more practical occupation of architect and the experience of travelling and working on various restoration projects allowed him time to pen some of the most notable contributions to 20th Century literature. Inspiring many other authors including Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence, many of Hardy's works have been adapted to the stage and screen are still widely read.

Thomas Hardy was born on 2 June 1840 in the village of Higher [Upper] Bockhampton in Stinsford parish near the town of Dorchester in Dorset County, England, the first of four children born to Jemima nee Hand (1814-1904) and Thomas Hardy Sr. (1811-1892), builder and stonemason. His birthplace, built by his great grandfather, is now a museum owned by the National Trust. Young Thomas was given to quieter childhood pursuits, often spending time alone wandering the countryside, exploring the flora and fauna, gaining a profound connection with nature and the familiar sights and sounds of his rural home county. His mother had a great influence on his imagination, entertaining him with stories and songs, many of which would later inspire his Wessex tales.

As a young boy Hardy attended the Stinson church with his family, was a voracious reader, learned to play the violin and attended local schools studying Latin, Greek, French, classical literature, and assisted his father in his various building projects. At the age of sixteen he was taken on as apprentice to John Hicks, an architect in Dorchester. He conducted surveys and excelled as draughtsman, working for Hicks until 1862 when he left for London to work with architect Arthur Blomfield. Around this time he met Henry Moule (1801-1880) who would become a friend and mentor. He also immersed himself in the city's vibrant literary and cultural atmosphere, studying art, visiting the National Gallery, attending the theatre, and writing prose and poetry. His first published story "How I Built Myself A House" appeared in Chamber's Journal in 1865. His wrote his first, but never published novel The Poor Man and the Lady in 1867. Back in Bockhampton due to ill-health he secured a position with Hicks where in 1870 he met Emma Lavinia Gifford (1840-1912). She was working at the rectory in St. Juliot, Cornwall, a building project he was working on. They married in London in 1874 and would have no children. Emma died suddenly on 27 November 1912.

Hardy worked on his next novel Desperate Remedies (1871);

In the long and intricately inwrought chain of circumstance which renders worthy of record some experiences of Cytherea Graye, Edward Springrove, and others, the first event directly influencing the issue was a Christmas visit.--Ch. 1

which was followed by Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) and A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873). After the success of Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) Hardy turned to writing full time. Now living in London and frequenting the Saville Club, he continued his prodigious output; The Trumpet Major (1880) was followed by A Laodicean (1881), The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid (1883), Our Exploits At West Poley (1883), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), and The Woodlanders (1887). In 1885 he had designed and built his cottage "Max Gate" in Dorchester (now a museum owned by the National Trust); it would provide a quiet haven where he wrote some of his most enduring classics; Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), Life's Little Ironies (1894), Jude the Obscure (1895), Two on a Tower (1895), The Return of the Native (1895), The Hand of Ethelberta (1895), A Group of Noble Dames (1896), and A Changed Man and Other Tales (1913). After the storm of controversy surrounding Tess and Jude he tried his hand at plays including The Dynasts (1904), The Well-Beloved (1912), Human Shows (1925), and Winter Words (1928). He also found time for that which he is not so well-known today, poetry, published in such collections as Wessex Poems and Other Verses (1898), Poems: 1912-1913, Moments of Vision (1917), and Late Lyrics and Earlier (1922).

In 1914 Thomas married his secretary, Florence Emily Dugdale (1879-1937) who would later publish The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840-1891 and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 1892-1928 (1930). Thomas Hardy was bestowed many honours during his lifetime, including being nominated President of the Society of Authors in 1909; the Order of Merit from King George V in 1910; the Gold Medal from the Royal Society of Literature in 1912; an honorary degree from Cambridge University, and an honorary fellowship of Magdalene College, Cambridge. He died at his home Max Gate in Dorchester on 11 January 1928; his heart is buried in the cemetery of St. Michael's Church in Stinsford, Dorset, where Emma and Florence also now rest and his ashes were interred in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey, London, England.

The poetry of motion is a phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilised mankind, who are dreamwrapt and disregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars. After such a nocturnal reconnoitre it is hard to get back to earth, and to believe that the consciousness of such majestic speeding is derived from a tiny human frame.--Far From the Madding Crowd, Ch. 2

Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2008. All Rights Reserved.


The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

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