|Born||2 June 1840|
Stinsford, Dorset, England
|Died||11 January 1928 (aged 87)|
Dorchester, Dorset, England
|Occupation||Novelist, poet, and short story writer|
|Alma mater||King's College London|
|Literary movement||Naturalism, Victorian literature|
|Notable works||Tess of the d'Urbervilles|
Far from the Madding Crowd
The Mayor of Casterbridge
Jude the Obscure
Thomas Hardy(2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928) was an English novelist and poet. A Victorian realist in the tradition of George Eliot, he was influenced both in his novels and in his poetry by Romanticism, including the poetry of William Wordsworth. He was highly critical of much in Victorian society, especially on the declining status of rural people in Britain, such as those from his native South West England.
While Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life and regarded himself primarily as a poet, his first collection was not published until 1898. Initially, he gained fame as the author of novels such as Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). During his lifetime, Hardy's poetry was acclaimed by younger poets (particularly the Georgians) who viewed him as a mentor. After his death his poems were lauded by Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden and Philip Larkin.
Many of his novels concern tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances, and they are often set in the semi-fictional region of Wessex; initially based on the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Hardy's Wessex eventually came to include the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Hampshire and much of Berkshire, in southwest and south central England. Two of his novels, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd, were listed in the top 50 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.
Thomas Hardy was born on 2 June 1840 in Higher Bockhampton (then Upper Bockhampton), a hamlet in the parish of Stinsford to the east of Dorchester in Dorset, England, where his father Thomas (1811–1892) worked as a stonemason and local builder, and married his mother Jemima (née Hand; 1813–1904) in Beaminster, towards the end of 1839. Jemima was well-read, and she educated Thomas until he went to his first school at Bockhampton at the age of eight. For several years he attended Mr. Last's Academy for Young Gentlemen in Dorchester, where he learned Latin and demonstrated academic potential. Because Hardy's family lacked the means for a university education, his formal education ended at the age of sixteen, when he became apprenticed to James Hicks, a local architect.
Hardy trained as an architect in Dorchester before moving to London in 1862; there he enrolled as a student at King's College London. He won prizes from the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architectural Association. He joined Arthur Blomfield's practice as assistant architect in April 1862 and worked with Blomfield on All Saints' parish church in Windsor, Berkshire, in 1862–64. A reredos, possibly designed by Hardy, was discovered behind panelling at All Saints' in August 2016. In the mid-1860s, Hardy was in charge of the excavation of part of the graveyard of St Pancras Old Church prior to its destruction when the Midland Railway was extended to a new terminus at St Pancras.
Hardy never felt at home in London, because he was acutely conscious of class divisions and his social inferiority. During this time he became interested in social reform and the works of John Stuart Mill. He was introduced by his Dorset friend Horace Moule to the works of Charles Fourier and Auguste Comte. Mill's essay On Liberty was one of Hardy's cures for despair, and in 1924 he declared that "my pages show harmony of view with" Mill. He was also attracted to Matthew Arnold's and Leslie Stephen's ideal of the urbane liberal freethinker.
After five years, concerned about his health, he returned to Dorset, settling in Weymouth, and decided to dedicate himself to writing.
In 1870, while on an architectural mission to restore the parish church of St Juliot in Cornwall, Hardy met and fell in love with Emma Gifford, whom he married in Kensington in late 1874. renting St David's Villa, Southborough (now Surbiton) for a year. In 1885 Thomas and his wife moved into Max Gate in Dorchester, a house designed by Hardy and built by his brother. Although they later became estranged, Emma's subsequent death in 1912 had a traumatic effect on him and after her death, Hardy made a trip to Cornwall to revisit places linked with their courtship; his Poems 1912–13 reflect upon her death. In 1914, Hardy married his secretary Florence Emily Dugdale, who was 39 years his junior. He remained preoccupied with his first wife's death and tried to overcome his remorse by writing poetry. In his later years, he kept a Wire Fox Terrier named Wessex, who was notoriously ill-tempered. Wessex's grave stone can be found on the Max Gate grounds. In 1910, Hardy had been appointed a Member of the Order of Merit and was also for the first time nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was nominated again for the prize 11 years later.
Hardy's interest in the theatre dated from the 1860s. He corresponded with various would-be adapters over the years, including Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886 and Jack Grein and Charles Jarvis in the same decade. Neither adaptation came to fruition, but Hardy showed he was potentially enthusiastic about such a project. One play that was performed, however, caused him a certain amount of pain. His experience of the controversy and lukewarm critical reception that had surrounded his and Comyns Carr's adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd in 1882 left him wary of the damage that adaptations could do to his literary reputation. So it is notable that, in 1908, he so readily and enthusiastically became involved with a local amateur group, at the time known as the Dorchester Dramatic and Debating Society, but that would become the Hardy Players. His reservations about adaptations of his novels meant he was initially at some pains to disguise his involvement in the play. However, the international success of the play, The Trumpet Major, led to a long and successful collaboration between Hardy and the Players over the remaining years of his life. Indeed, his play The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall at Tintagel in Lyonnesse (1923) was written to be performed by the Hardy Players.
In 1914, Hardy was one of fifty-three leading British authors—including H. G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—who signed their names to the “Authors' Declaration”, justifying Britain’s involvement in the First World War. This manifesto declared that the German invasion of Belgium had been a brutal crime, and that Britain “could not without dishonour have refused to take part in the present war.” Hardy was horrified by the destruction caused by the war, pondering that "I do not think a world in which such fiendishness is possible to be worth the saving" and "better to let western 'civilization' perish, and let the black and yellow races have a chance." He wrote to John Galsworthy that "the exchange of international thought is the only possible salvation for the world."
Hardy became ill with pleurisy in December 1927 and died at Max Gate just after 9 pm on 11 January 1928, having dictated his final poem to his wife on his deathbed; the cause of death was cited, on his death certificate, as "cardiac syncope", with "old age" given as a contributory factor. His funeral was on 16 January at Westminster Abbey, and it proved a controversial occasion because Hardy had wished for his body to be interred at Stinsford in the same grave as his first wife, Emma. His family and friends concurred; however, his executor, Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell, insisted that he be placed in the abbey's famous Poets' Corner. A compromise was reached whereby his heart was buried at Stinsford with Emma, and his ashes in Poets' Corner. Hardy's estate at death was valued at £95,418 (equivalent to £6,100,000 in 2021).
Shortly after Hardy's death, the executors of his estate burnt his letters and notebooks, but twelve notebooks survived, one of them containing notes and extracts of newspaper stories from the 1820s, and research into these has provided insight into how Hardy used them in his works. In the year of his death Mrs Hardy published The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1841–1891, compiled largely from contemporary notes, letters, diaries, and biographical memoranda, as well as from oral information in conversations extending over many years.
Hardy's work was admired by many younger writers, including D. H. Lawrence, John Cowper Powys, and Virginia Woolf. In his autobiography Goodbye to All That (1929), Robert Graves recalls meeting Hardy in Dorset in the early 1920s and how Hardy received him and his new wife warmly, and was encouraging about his work.
Hardy's birthplace in Bockhampton and his house Max Gate, both in Dorchester, are owned by the National Trust.
Hardy's first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, finished by 1867, failed to find a publisher. He then showed it to his mentor and friend, the Victorian poet and novelist George Meredith, who felt that The Poor Man and the Lady would be too politically controversial and might damage Hardy's ability to publish in the future. So Hardy followed his advice and he did not try further to publish it. He subsequently destroyed the manuscript, but used some of the ideas in his later work. In his recollections in Life and Work, Hardy described the book as "socialistic, not to say revolutionary; yet not argumentatively so."
After he abandoned his first novel, Hardy wrote two new ones that he hoped would have more commercial appeal, Desperate Remedies (1871) and Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), both of which were published anonymously; it was while working on the latter that he met Emma Gifford, who would become his wife. In 1873 A Pair of Blue Eyes, a novel drawing on Hardy's courtship of Emma, was published under his own name. A plot device popularised by Charles Dickens, the term "cliffhanger" is considered to have originated with the serialised version of A Pair of Blue Eyes (published in Tinsley's Magazine between September 1872 and July 1873) in which Henry Knight, one of the protagonists, is left literally hanging off a cliff. Elements of Hardy's fiction reflect the influence of the commercially successful sensation fiction of the 1860s, particularly the legal complications in novels such as Desperate Remedies (1871), Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) and Two on a Tower (1882).
In Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy first introduced the idea of calling the region in the west of England, where his novels are set, Wessex. Wessex had been the name of an early Saxon kingdom, in approximately the same part of England. Far from the Madding Crowd was successful enough for Hardy to give up architectural work and pursue a literary career. Over the next 25 years, Hardy produced 10 more novels.
Subsequently, the Hardys moved from London to Yeovil, and then to Sturminster Newton, where he wrote The Return of the Native (1878). In 1880, Hardy published his only historical novel, The Trumpet-Major. A further move to Wimborne saw Hardy write Two on a Tower, published in 1882, a romance story set in the world of astronomy. Then in 1885, they moved for the 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 last of which attracted criticism for its sympathetic portrayal of a "fallen woman", and initially it was refused publication. Its subtitle, A Pure Woman: Faithfully Presented, was intended to raise the eyebrows of the Victorian middle classes.
Jude the Obscure, published in 1895, met with an even stronger negative response from the Victorian public because of its controversial treatment of sex, religion and marriage. Its apparent attack on the institution of marriage caused strain on Hardy's already difficult marriage because Emma Hardy was concerned that Jude the Obscure would be read as autobiographical. Some booksellers sold the novel in brown paper bags, and Walsham How, the Bishop of Wakefield, is reputed to have burnt his copy. In his postscript of 1912, Hardy humorously referred to this incident as part of the career of the book: "After these [hostile] verdicts from the press its next misfortune was to be burnt by a bishop – probably in his despair at not being able to burn me". Despite this, Hardy had become a celebrity by the 1900s, but some argue that he gave up writing novels because of the criticism of both Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. The Well-Beloved, first serialised in 1892, was published in 1897.
Considered a Victorian realist, Hardy examines the social constraints on the lives of those living in Victorian England, and criticises those beliefs, especially those relating to marriage, education and religion, that limited people's lives and caused unhappiness. Such unhappiness, and the suffering it brings, is seen by poet Philip Larkin as central in Hardy's works:
What is the intensely maturing experience of which Hardy's modern man is most sensible? In my view it is suffering, or sadness, and extended consideration of the centrality of suffering in Hardy's work should be the first duty of the true critic for which the work is still waiting [. . .] Any approach to his work, as to any writer's work, must seek first of all to determine what element is peculiarly his, which imaginative note he strikes most plangently, and to deny that in this case it is the sometimes gentle, sometimes ironic, sometimes bitter but always passive apprehension of suffering is, I think, wrong-headed.
In Two on a Tower, for example, Hardy takes a stand against these rules of society with a story of love that crosses the boundaries of class. The reader is forced to reconsider the conventions set up by society for the relationships between men and women. Nineteenth-century society had conventions, which were enforced. In this novel Swithin St Cleeve's idealism pits him against such contemporary social constraints.
In a novel structured around contrasts, the main opposition is between Swithin St Cleeve and Lady Viviette Constantine, who are presented as binary figures in a series of ways: aristocratic and lower class, youthful and mature, single and married, fair and dark, religious and agnostic...she [Lady Viviette Constantine] is also deeply conventional, absurdly wishing to conceal their marriage until Swithin has achieved social status through his scientific work, which gives rise to uncontrolled ironies and tragic-comic misunderstandings.
Fate or chance is another important theme. Hardy's characters often encounter crossroads on a journey, a junction that offers alternative physical destinations but which is also symbolic of a point of opportunity and transition, further suggesting that fate is at work. Far from the Madding Crowd is an example of a novel in which chance has a major role: "Had Bathsheba not sent the valentine, had Fanny not missed her wedding, for example, the story would have taken an entirely different path." Indeed, Hardy's main characters often seem to be held in fate's overwhelming grip.
In 1898, Hardy published his first volume of poetry, Wessex Poems, a collection of poems written over 30 years. While some suggest that Hardy gave up writing novels following the harsh criticism of Jude the Obscure in 1896, the poet C. H. Sisson calls this "hypothesis" "superficial and absurd". In the twentieth century Hardy published only poetry.
Thomas Hardy wrote in a great variety of poetic forms, including lyrics, ballads, satire, dramatic monologues, and dialogue, as well as a three-volume epic closet drama The Dynasts (1904–08), and though in some ways a very traditional poet, because he was influenced by folksong and ballads, he "was never conventional," and "persistently experiment[ed] with different, often invented, stanza forms and metres, and made use of "rough-hewn rhythms and colloquial diction".
Hardy wrote a number of significant war poems that relate to both the Boer Wars and World War I, including "Drummer Hodge", "In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations'", and "The Man He Killed"; his work had a profound influence on other war poets such as Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon. Hardy in these poems often used the viewpoint of ordinary soldiers and their colloquial speech. A theme in the Wessex Poems is the long shadow that the Napoleonic Wars cast over the 19th century, as seen, for example, in "The Sergeant's Song" and "Leipzig". The Napoleonic War is the subject of The Dynasts.
Some of Hardy's more famous poems are from "Poems of 1912–13", part of Satires of Circumstance (1914), written following the death of his wife Emma in 1912. They had been estranged for 20 years, and these lyric poems express deeply felt "regret and remorse". Poems like "After a Journey", "The Voice", and others from this collection "are by general consent regarded as the peak of his poetic achievement". In a recent biography on Hardy, Claire Tomalin argues that Hardy became a truly great English poet after the death of his first wife Emma, beginning with these elegies, which she describes as among "the finest and strangest celebrations of the dead in English poetry."
Many of Hardy's poems deal with themes of disappointment in love and life, and "the perversity of fate", but the best of them present these themes with "a carefully controlled elegiac feeling". Irony is an important element in a number of Hardy's poems, including "The Man He Killed" and "Are You Digging on My Grave". A few of Hardy's poems, such as "The Blinded Bird", a melancholy polemic against the sport of vinkenzetting, reflect his firm stance against animal cruelty, exhibited in his antivivisectionist views and his membership in The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
A number of notable English composers, including Gerald Finzi, Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Gustav Holst, set poems by Hardy to music. Holst also wrote the orchestral tone poem Egdon Heath: A Homage to Thomas Hardy in 1927.
Although his poems were initially not as well received as his novels had been, Hardy is now recognised as one of the great poets of the 20th century, and his verse had a profound influence on later writers, including Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and Philip Larkin. Larkin included 27 poems by Hardy compared with only nine by T. S. Eliot in his edition of the Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse in 1973. There were fewer poems by W. B. Yeats.
Hardy's family was Anglican, but not especially devout. He was baptised at the age of five weeks and attended church, where his father and uncle contributed to music. He did not attend the local Church of England school, instead being sent to Mr Last's school, three miles away. As a young adult, he befriended Henry R. Bastow (a Plymouth Brethren man), who also worked as a pupil architect, and who was preparing for adult baptism in the Baptist Church. Hardy flirted with conversion, but decided against it. Bastow went to Australia and maintained a long correspondence with Hardy, but eventually Hardy tired of these exchanges and the correspondence ceased. This concluded Hardy's links with the Baptists.
The irony and struggles of life, coupled with his naturally curious mind, led him to question the traditional Christian view of God:
The Christian God – the external personality – has been replaced by the intelligence of the First Cause...the replacement of the old concept of God as all-powerful by a new concept of universal consciousness. The 'tribal god, man-shaped, fiery-faced and tyrannous' is replaced by the 'unconscious will of the Universe' which progressively grows aware of itself and 'ultimately, it is to be hoped, sympathetic'.
Scholars have debated Hardy's religious leanings for years, often unable to reach a consensus. Once, when asked in correspondence by a clergyman, Dr. A.B. Grosart, about the question of reconciling the horrors of human and animal life with "the absolute goodness and non-limitation of 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.
Hardy frequently conceived of, and wrote about, supernatural forces, particularly those that control the universe through indifference or caprice, a force he called The Immanent Will. He also showed in his writing some degree of fascination with ghosts and spirits. Even so, he 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, and Biblical references can be found woven throughout many of Hardy's novels. Hardy's friends during his apprenticeship to John Hicks included Horace Moule (one of the eight sons of Henry Moule), and the poet William Barnes, both ministers of religion. Moule remained a close friend of Hardy's for the rest of his life, and introduced him to new scientific findings that cast doubt on literal interpretations of the Bible, such as those of Gideon Mantell. Moule gave Hardy a copy of Mantell's book The Wonders of Geology (1848) in 1858, and Adelene Buckland has suggested that there are "compelling similarities" between the "cliffhanger" section from A Pair of Blue Eyes and Mantell's geological descriptions. It has also been suggested that the character of Henry Knight in A Pair of Blue Eyes was based on Horace Moule.
Throughout his life, Hardy sought a rationale for believing in an afterlife or a timeless existence, turning first to spiritualists, such as Henri Bergson, and then to Albert Einstein and J. M. E. McTaggart, considering their philosophy on time and space in relation to immortality.
Sites associated with Hardy's own life and which inspired the settings of his novels continue to attract literary tourists and casual visitors. For locations in Hardy's novels see: Thomas Hardy's Wessex, and the Thomas Hardy's Wessex research site, which includes maps.
Hardy corresponded with and visited Lady Catherine Milnes Gaskell at Wenlock Abbey and many of Lady Catherine's books are inspired by Hardy, who was very fond of her.
D. H. Lawrence's Study of Thomas Hardy (1914, first published 1936) indicates the importance of Hardy for him, even though this work is a platform for Lawrence's own developing philosophy rather than a more standard literary study. The influence of Hardy's treatment of character, and Lawrence's own response to the central metaphysic behind many of Hardy's novels, helped significantly in the development of The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love (1920).
Wood and Stone (1915), the first novel by John Cowper Powys, who was a contemporary of Lawrence, was "Dedicated with devoted admiration to the greatest poet and novelist of our age Thomas Hardy". Powys's later novel Maiden Castle (1936) is set in Dorchester, Hardy's Casterbridge, and was intended by Powys to be a "rival" to Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge. Maiden Castle is the last of Powys's so-called Wessex novels, Wolf Solent (1929), A Glastonbury Romance (1932), and Weymouth Sands (1934), which are set in Somerset and Dorset.
Hardy was clearly the starting point for the character of the novelist Edward Driffield in W. Somerset Maugham's novel Cakes and Ale (1930). Thomas Hardy's works also feature prominently in the American playwright Christopher Durang's The Marriage of Bette and Boo (1985), in which a graduate thesis analysing Tess of the d'Urbervilles is interspersed with analysis of Matt's family's neuroses.
The symphonic poems Mai-Dun by John Ireland (1921) and Egdon Heath by Gustav Holst (1927) evoke the landscape of Hardy's novels.
Hardy has been a significant influence on Nigel Blackwell, frontman of the post-punk British rock band Half Man Half Biscuit, who has often incorporated phrases (some obscure) by or about Hardy into his song lyrics.
In 1912, Hardy divided his novels and collected short stories into three classes:
Further information: Romance (literary fiction)
Hardy also produced minor tales; one story, The Spectre of the Real (1894) was written in collaboration with Florence Henniker. 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 (1912–13) and the 37-volume Mellstock Edition (1919–20). His largely self-written biography appears under his second wife's name in two volumes from 1928 to 1930, as The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840–91 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).
(with date of first publication)
Online poems: Poems by Thomas Hardy at Poetry Foundation and Poems by Thomas Hardy at poemhunter.com
the blinded bird.(Google Books)