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Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928)

Hardy, Thomas

Thomas Hardy's own life wasn't similar to his stories. He was born in the Egdon Heath, in Dorset, near Dorchester. His father was a master mason and a building contractor. Hardy's mother, whose tastes included Latin poems 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 40 years later, after her death, he wrote a series of poems known as Veteris 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. Hardy continued his architectural work, but he started to consider literature as his "true vocation."

Unable to find a public for his poetry and following the advice of novelist George Meredith, Hardy decided to write novels. His first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, was written in 1867, but the book was rejected by many publishers and he 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 as an author. He devoted himself entirely to writing and produced a series of novels, among them The Return of Native (1878) and The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886).

Tess of the D'urbervilles (1891), which deals with the aftermath of rape, came into conflict with Victorian morality. Jude the Obscure (1895), dramatizing the conflict between carnal and spiritual life, aroused even more debate. In 1896, disturbed by the public uproar over the unconventional subjects of two of his greatest novels, Hardy announced that he would never write fiction again. 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.

By 1885 the Hardys had settled near Dorchester at Max gate, a house designed by the author and built by his brother, Henry. With the exceptions of seasonal stays in London and occasional excursions abroad, his Bockhampton home was his home for the rest of his life.

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's gigantic panorama of the Napoleonic Wars, The Dynasts, composed between 1903 and 1908, was mostly in blank verse. On the death of his friend George Meredith, Hardy succeeded to the presidency of the Society of Authors in 1909. King George V conferred on him the Order of Merit and he received in 1912 the gold medal of the Royal Society of Literature.

Hardy kept to his marriage with Emma Gifford although it was unhappy and he had - or he imagined he had - affairs with other women passing briefly through his life. Emma Hardy died in 1912 and in 1914 Hardy married his secretary, Florence Emily Dugdale, a woman in her 30's, almost 40 years younger than he. From 1920 through 1927 Hardy worked on his autobiography, which was disguised as the work of Florence Hardy. It appeared in two volumes (1928 and 1930). Hardy's last book published in his lifetime was Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs and Trifles (1925). Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres appeared posthumously in 1928.

Hardy died in Dorchester, Dorset, on January 11, 1928. His ashes were cremated in Dorchester and buried with impressive ceremonies in the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. According to a literary anecdote his heart was to be buried in Stinsford, his birthplace, and all went according to plan, until a cat belonging to the poet's sister snatched the heart off the kitchen, where it was temporarily kept, and disappeared into the woods with it.

Suggested sites for Thomas Hardy:

Encyclopedia article about Thomas Hardy
Texts by Hardy
Tess of the d'Urbervilles - A Pure Woman
Life and misfortunes of Tess who endures a rape by Alec D'Urberville (actually Stokes), then has an illegitimate child by him who dies without being baptized. Tess moves on, falls in love with Angel Claire, and on their wedding night, the two confess their secrets to one another, setting up a series of events that eventually leads to Alec's murder and Tess' death.

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