Thomas Hardy, OM (2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928) was an English novelist, short story writer, and poet of the naturalist movement, who delineated characters struggling against their passions and circumstances. The bulk of his work, set mainly in the semi-imaginary county of Wessex, is marked by poetic descriptions, and fatalism.
Thomas Hardy was born at Higher Bockhampton, a hamlet in the parish of Stinsford to the east of Dorchester in Dorset, England. His father was a stonemason and local builder. His mother was ambitious and well-read, supplementing his formal education, which ended at the age of 16 when he became apprenticed to John Hicks, a local architect. Hardy trained as an architect in Dorchester before moving to London in 1862. Five years later he returned to Dorset to work as Hick's assistant. He won prizes from the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architectural Association.
In 1870, Hardy met Emma Lavinia Gifford, whom he married in 1874, apparently because she was pregnant. 
Although he later became estranged from his wife, her death in 1912 had a traumatic effect on Hardy. He made a trip to Cornwall to revisit places linked with their courtship; his Poems of 1912-13 explore his grief.
There are many rumours that infact Thomas Hardy was a homosexual, but this may not be true.
In 1914, Hardy married his secretary Florence Dugdale, who was 40 years his junior and whom he had met in 1905. However, Hardy remained preoccupied with Emma's sudden death, and tried to overcome his remorse by creating poetry.
The writer Robert Graves, in his autobiography Goodbye to All That, recalls meeting Hardy in Dorset in the early 1920s. Hardy received Graves and his newly married wife warmly, and was encouraging about the younger author's work.
Hardy's religious life seems to have been a mixture of agnosticism and spiritism. Once when asked in correspondence by a clergyman about the question of reconciling the horrors of pain with the goodness of a loving God Hardy replied,
"Mr. Hardy regrets that he is unable to offer any hypothesis which would reconcile the existence of such evils as Dr. Grosart describes with the idea of omnipotent goodness. Perhaps Dr. Grosart might be helped to a provisional view of the universe by the recently published Life of Darwin, and the works of Herbert Spencer, and other agnostics."
Nevertheless, Hardy frequently conceived of, and wrote about, spiritual forces that control the universe, more through indifference or caprice than any firm will. Also, Hardy showed in his writing some degree of fascination with ghosts and spirits. Despite these sentiments, Hardy retained a strong emotional attachment to the Christian liturgy and church rituals, particularly as manifested in rural communities, that had been such a formative influence in his early years. Some attributed the bleak outlook of many of his novels as reflecting his view of the absence of God.
Hardy fell ill with pleurisy in December 1927 and died in January 1928, having dictated his final poem to his wife on his deathbed. His funeral, on 16 January at Westminster Abbey, was a controversial occasion: his family and friends had wished him to be buried at Stinsford but his executor, Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell, had insisted he should be placed in Poets' Corner. A compromise was reached whereby his heart was buried at Stinsford with Emma and his ashes were interred in Poets' Corner in the abbey. Hardy's cottage at Bockhampton and Max Gate in Dorchester are owned by the National Trust. Hardy's work was admired by many authors, amongst them D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. In 1910 he was awarded the Order of Merit.
Shortly after Hardy's death, his letters and notebooks were burnt by the executors of his estate. Twelve records survived, one of them containing notes and extracts of newspaper stories from the 1820s. Research into these provided clever insight in how Hardy kept track of them and how he used them in his later work.
Hardy's work takes place in the "partly-real, partly-dream" county of Wessex, which is named after the Anglo-Saxon kingdom that existed in the area. The landscape was modelled on the real counties of Berkshire, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire, with fictional places based on real locations. He captured the epoch just before the railways and the industrial revolution changed the English countryside. His works are pessimistic and bitterly ironic, and his writing is rough but capable of immense power. Hardy had an eye for poignant detail, such as the spreading bloodstain on the ceiling at the end of Tess of the d'Urbervilles or little Jude's suicide note; he kept clippings from newspaper reports of real events and used them as details in his novels.
His first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, finished by 1867, failed to find a publisher and Hardy destroyed the manuscript. Only parts of the novel remain. He was encouraged to try again by his mentor and friend, Victorian poet and novelist George Meredith. Desperate Remedies (1871) and Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) were published anonymously. In 1873 A Pair of Blue Eyes, a story drawing on Hardy's courtship of his first wife, was published under his own name.
Hardy said that he first introduced Wessex in Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), which was his next (and first important) novel. It was successful enough for Hardy to give up architectural work and pursue a literary career. Over the next twenty-five years Hardy produced ten more novels. He himself classified his finest prose work as "Novels of Character and Environment". Hardy was a gloomy pessimist who emphasized the impersonal and, generally, negative powers of fate over the mainly working class people he represented in his novels.
The Hardys moved from London to Yeovil and then to Sturminster Newton, where he wrote The Return of the Native (1878). In 1885, they moved for a last time, to Max Gate, a house outside Dorchester designed by Hardy and built by his brother. There he wrote The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), and Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), the latter which attracted criticism for its sympathetic portrayal of a "fallen woman" and was initially refused publication. Its subtitle, A Pure Woman / Faithfully Narrated, was intended to raise the eyebrows of the Victorian middle-classes.
Jude the Obscure, published in 1895, was met with even stronger negative outcries by the Victorian public for its frank treatment of sex, and was often referred to as "Jude the Obscene". Heavily criticized for its apparent attack on the institution of marriage, the book caused further strain on Hardy's already difficult marriage because Emma Hardy was concerned that Jude the Obscure would be read as being autobiographical. Some booksellers sold the novel in brown paper bags, and the Bishop of Wakefield is reputed to have burnt a copy.
Despite this criticism, Hardy had become a celebrity in English literature by the 1900s, with several blockbuster novels under his belt, yet he was disgusted with the public reception of two of his greatest works. He gave up writing novels altogether. Several critics have commented however that there was very little left for Hardy to write, having creatively exhausted the increasingly fatalistic tone of his novels, with Jude as the pinnacle achievement.
In 1898 Hardy published his first volume of poetry, Wessex Poems, a collection of poems written over 30 years. Hardy claimed poetry was his first love, and published collections until his death in 1928. Although not as well received by his contemporaries as his novels had been, Hardy's poetry has been applauded considerably in recent years, in part because of the influence of Philip Larkin. However, critically it is still not considered as highly as his prose.
Most of his poems deal with themes of disappointment in love and life, and mankind's long struggle against indifference to human suffering. Some, like The Darkling Thrush and An August Midnight are thought of as poems about writing poetry, because the nature mentioned in them gives Hardy the inspiration to write those. A vein of regret tinges his often seemingly banal themes. His compositions range in style from the three-volume epic closet drama The Dynasts to smaller, and often hopeful or even cheerful ballads of the moment such as the little-known The Children and Sir Nameless, a comic poem inspired by the tombs of the Martyns, builders of Athelhampton. Here is The Darkling Thrush dated 31 December 1900:
- I leant upon a coppice gate
- When Frost was spectre-grey,
- And Winter's dregs made desolate
- The weakening eye of day.
- The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
- Like strings of broken lyres,
- And all mankind that haunted nigh
- Had sought their household fires.
- The land's sharp features seemed to be
- The Century's corpse outleant,
- His crypt the cloudy canopy,
- The wind his death-lament.
- The ancient pulse of germ and birth
- Was shrunken hard and dry,
- And every spirit upon earth
- Seemed fervourless as I.
- At once a voice arose among
- The bleak twigs overhead
- In a full-hearted evensong
- Of joy illimited;
- An agèd thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
- In blast-beruffled plume,
- Had chosen thus to fling his soul
- Upon the growing gloom.
- So little cause for carolings
- Of such ecstatic sound
- Was written on terrestrial things
- Afar or nigh around,
- That I could think there trembled through
- His happy good-night air
- Some blessèd Hope, whereof he knew
- And I was unaware.
This has elements typical of Hardy's work. The first person voice; an incident in nature triggering deep reflections; the bucolic setting; the desolate landscape; the struggle of small forces against inimical nature; the possibility of redemption. Note the formal rhythm and rhyme, the high poetic tone, and simple phrases such as "happy good-night air".
Composer Lee Hoiby's setting of this song is the basis of the multimedia opera Darkling. Other composers who set Hardy's text to music include Gerald Finzi, who produced six song-cycles for poems by Hardy, and Benjamin Britten, whose song cycle Winter Words is based on Hardy's poetry. Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst also set texts by Hardy; Holst also based his last orchestral work, Egdon Heath, on Hardy's work. The poem was also set to music by Timothy Takach for a capella choir in 2005.
- The Dead Man Walking
- At Castle Boterel
- On the Departure Platform
- The Robin
- The Oxen
Hardy divided his novels and collected short stories into three classes:
Novels of Character and Environment
- The Poor Man and the Lady (1867, unpublished and lost)
- Under the Greenwood Tree (1872)
- Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)
- The Return of the Native (1878)
- The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886)
- The Woodlanders (1887)
- Wessex Tales (1888, a collection of short stories)
- Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891)
- Life's Little Ironies (1894, a collection of short stories)
- Jude the Obscure (1895)
Romances and Fantasies
- A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873)
- The Trumpet-Major (1880)
- Two on a Tower (1882)
- A Group of Noble Dames (1891, a collection of short stories)
- The Well-Beloved (1897) (first published as a serial from 1892).
Novels of Ingenuity
- Desperate Remedies (1871)
- The Hand of Ethelberta (1876)
- A Laodicean (1881)
There are also a number of minor tales and a collaborative novel, The Spectre of the Real (1894). An additional short story collection, beyond the ones mentioned above, is A Changed Man and Other Tales (1913). His works have been collected as the 24-volume Wessex Edition (1912-1913) and the 37-volume Mellstock Edition (1919-1920). His largely self-written biography appears under his second wife's name in two volumes from 1928-1930, as The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840-1891 and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 1892-1928, now published in a critical one-volume edition as The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, edited by Michael Millgate (1984).
Poetry (not a comprehensive list)
- Wessex Poems and Other Verses (1898)
- Poems of the Past and Present (1901)
- The Dynasts, Part 1 (1904)
- The Dynasts, Part 2 (1906)
- The Dynasts, Part 3 (1908)
- Time's Laughingstocks and Other Verses (1909)
- Satires of Circumstance (1914)
- Collected Poems (1919, part of the Mellstock Edition of his novels and poems)
- Late Lyrics and Earlier with Many Other Verses (1922)
- Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs and Trifles (1925)
- Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres (1928, published posthumously)
- The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall (1923)
- ^ "Thomas Hardy - the Time-Torn Man", BBC Radio 4, 23 October 2006 (a reading of Claire Tomalin's book of the same name).
- ^ bbc.co.uk (accessed August 12, 2006)
- ^ Ellman, Richard & O'Clair, Robert (eds.) 1988. "Thomas Hardy" in The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Norton, New York.
- ^ Ellman, Richard & O'Clair, Robert (eds.) 1988. "Thomas Hardy" in The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Norton, New York.
- ^ a b bbc.co.uk, (accessed August 12, 2006)
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- Hardy, Florence Emily. The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840-1891. London: Macmillan, 1928.
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- Orel, Harold. The Final Years of Thomas Hardy, 1912-1928. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1976.
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- Wilson, Keith. Thomas Hardy on Stage. London: Macmillan, 1995.
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