Thomas Hardy



Thomas Hardy ca. 1910

Background Information

Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840 in Higher Bockhampton in Southwest England to Jemima and Thomas Hardy; he was the third Thomas Hardy in as many generations (Tomalin 3). Hardy was a frail child with an affinity for animals and music (he played fiddle most of his life) and a passion for reading (Tomalin 19). At ten, with the driving will of his mother, Hardy enrolled in a private school in Dorchester where his serious education began (Tomalin 31). In 1862, in order to help with the finances, Hardy’s parents apprenticed him to the architect John Hicks. Throughout his apprenticeship, however, Hardy maintained his intellectual studies in private, reading Latin and Greek, and he became close with Horace Moule, the precocious son of a local preacher. Horace, eight years his senior, became Hardy’s best friend and mentor, giving him access to new books and ideas and engaging in intellectual debates with him.

After abandoning his hopes at attending a university because of his financial situation and social rank, Hardy moved to London to pursue his architectural career under Arthur Blomfield and steep himself in London’s high culture. It was here that Hardy finish his first novel in 1868, The Poor Man and the Lady. Although no copy of it survives, the book was apparently too radical and salacious to publish; after 14 months, Hardy gave up and altered his style, making it more conventional in order to better suit society’s tastes (Tomalin 91). A few years later, in 1871, his novel Desperate Remedies was published, and he realized his true calling as a writer (Tomalin 113).

Hardy eventually became dissatisfied with city life and moved back to Dorset County, where he continued to write increasingly successful novels. Under the Greenwood Tree (1871) was one of his first great commercial successes, and his Far From the Maddening Crowd (1873) received commercial and critical acclamation. It was also in 1873 that Horace Moule, a long sufferer of depression, committed suicide, an act which profoundly upset and would haunt Hardy. Soon afterwards, September 17, 1874, Hardy married Emma Gifford, the daughter of a well-born but poor family with literary ambitions. Although both their parents objected to the match, Hardy was quite taken by Emma’s class status. Their relationship, however, soon soured as Hardy, a bit of a womanizer, lost interest in her and flirted with other young women.

By the 1880s, Hardy was becoming seriously noticed by audiences and critics. Sales of his novel The Hand of Ethelberta were good enough to begin distribution in America. In 1878, he was inducted into the Savile Club and he was meeting other famous English writers such as Matthew Arnold and Robert Lewis Stevenson. Hardy and Emma move into Max Gate, a modest country house that Hardy designed, in 1885, where he was to carry out the rest of his life. In 1891 and 1895, Hardy publishes his two perhaps best-known novels, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. The two books were fiercely castigated for their bleak content and candid depictions of sexuality (Tess includes a scene of rape and in Jude a child commits suicide). Although the controversy granted Hardy tremendous fame, it also brought great stress. Disgusted with his critics and readers, Hardy gave up novel writing after Jude and turned almost exclusively to poetry.

Emma, his estranged wife who was now living alone in the attic of Max Gate, died in 1912; although he had acted coldly toward her during life, Hardy was crushed at her loss. He married Florence Dugdale, 39 years his junior, who had been helping him with his writing, but he produced a prolific amount of elegiac poetry for the deceased Emma (to Florence’s consternation). Hardy continued to write until he died of a heart attack on January 11, 1928. Upon his death, Hardy was cremated and buried in the Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, but his heart was removed and buried separately outside Stinsford Church, Dorchester, near his country home.

Complete List of Novels Poetry Collections Collections of Short Fiction
Desperate Remedies Wessex Poems and Other Verses Wessex Tales
Under the Greenwood Tree Poems of the Past and the Present A Group of Noble Dames
A Pair of Blue Eyes Time’s Laughingstocks and Other Verses Life’s Little Irony’s
Far From the Madding Crowd Satires of Circumstance, Lyrics, and Reveries A Changed Man
The Hand of Ethelberta Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses
The Return of the Native Late Lyrics and Earlier
The Trumpet-Major Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs, and Trifles
A Laodicean Winter Words in Various Moods and Mètres
Two on a Tower The Dynasts (drama in verse)
The Mayor of Casterbridge
The Woodlanders
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
The Well-Beloved
Jude the Obscure
Max Gate Hardy's home in Dorchester
Max Gate: the home Hardy build for himself in Dorchester and where he lived for the latter part of his life.

During Wind and Rain
The Phantom Horsewoman
Nature in the Late-Victorian Imagination (The Convergence of the Twain)

Short Stories
The Three Strangers

Timeline of Hardy’s Life
Thomas Hardy 1840-1928


Hardy, Thomas. “Thomas Hardy: A Brief Chronology.” Jude the Obscure. Ed. Cedric Watts. Toronto, Broadview Press: 1999.
“Max Gate”
“Thomas Hardy”
Tomalin, Claire. Thomas Hardy. New York, Penguin Press: 2007.

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