Thomas Hardy - Biography and Works

Thomas Hardy was born in a small village of Upper Bockhampton, near Dorchester in the south of England. With a certain pride the author once said, that although his ancestors never rose above the level of a master-mason, they never sunk below it.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Hardy's mother, whose tastes included Latin poets and French romances, provided for his education. After schooling in Dorchester, Hardy was apprenticed to an architect. He worked in an office, which specialized in restoration of churches.

In 1874 Hardy married Emma Lavinia Gifford, for whom he wrote forty years later, after her death, a group of poems known as veteros vestigiae flammae (Vestiges of an Old Flame). At the age of 22 Hardy moved to London and started to write poems, which idealized the rural life. He was an assistant in the architectural firm of Arthur Blomfield, visited art galleries, attended evening classes in French at King's College, enjoyed Shakespeare and opera, and read works of Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and John Stuart Mills, whose positivism influenced him deeply.

In 1867 Hardy left London for the family home in Dorset, and resumed work briefly with Hicks in Dorchester. During this period of his life Hardy entered into a temporary engagement with Tryphena Sparks, a pretty and lively sixteen-year-old relative. Hardy continued his architectural career, but encouraged by Emma Lavinia Gifford, he started to consider literature as his "true vocation." Hardy did not first find public for his poetry and the novelist George Meredith advised Hardy to write a novel. The Poor Man and the Lady, written in 1867, was rejected by many publishers and Hardy destroyed the manuscript. His first book that gained notice was Far From the Madding Crowd (1874). After its success, Hardy was convinced that he could earn his living by his pen. Devoting himself entirely to writing, Hardy produced a series of novels. Tess of The D’Urbervilles (1891) came into conflict with Victorian morality. Hardy's Jude the Obscure (1895) aroused even more controversy. The story dramatized the conflict between carnal and spiritual life, tracing Jude Fawley's life from his boyhood to his early death.

In 1896, disturbed by the public uproar over the unconventional subjects of two of his greatest novels, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, Hardy announced that he would never write fiction again. A bishop solemnly burnt the book, "probably in his despair at not being able to burn me", Hardy noted. Hardy's marriage had also suffered from the public outrage -critics on both sides of the Atlantic abused the author as degenerate and called the work itself disgusting.

After giving up the novel, Hardy brought out a first group of Wessex poems, some of which had been composed 30 years before. During the remainder of his life, Hardy continued to publish several collections of poems. "Hardy, in fact, was the ideal poet of a generation. He was the most passionate and the most learned of them all. He had the luck, singular in poets, of being able to achieve a competence other than by poetry and then devote the ending years of his life to his beloved verses. Hardy's gigantic panorama of the Napoleonic Wars, The Dynasts, composed between 1903 and 1908, was mostly in blank verse.

Hardy’s first wife Emma with whom a feeling of estrangement had been developing for some time past, died in 1912, leaving him grief-stricken. He wrote quite a large number of poems to commemorate her. Two years after Emma’s death, i.e. in 1914, Hardy married his secretary, Florence Emily Dugdale, a woman in her 30's, almost 40 years younger than he. Their relationship had started from a fan letter she sent him. No child was born from either of these two marriages, and Hardy was quite unfortunate that way.

From 1920 through 1927 Hardy concentrated on his autobiography, which was disguised as the work of Florence Hardy. It appeared in two volumes (1928 and 1930). Hardy's last book was Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs and Trifles (1925), Winter Words in Various Moods and Meters appeared posthumously in 1928.

Hardy breathed his last on January 11, 1928 at Max Gate where he had been residing for about the last 43 years. His mortal remains were buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminister Abbey in London. However, his heart was laid in the grave of Emma, his first wife, at the Stinsford Churchyard.

Related Topics

The Darkling Thrush: Analysis (Poem)

Far from the Madding Crowd

The Return of the Native

The Woodlanders

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Jude the Obscure

The Mayor of Casterbridge

An Assessment of Hardy as a Novelist