Authors: Thomas Hardy

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

English novelist and poet

June 2, 1840

Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England

January 11, 1928

Dorchester, Dorset, England


About three miles east of Dorchester, in Dorset, England, in a thatched-roof cottage that still stands at one end of the hamlet known as Higher Bockhampton, Thomas Hardy was born in 1840. The place of his birth is important, for it is the center of a region he learned to know and love—a region he called “Wessex” and about which he wrote in all his books. {$I[AN]9810000284} {$I[A]Hardy, Thomas} {$I[geo]ENGLAND;Hardy, Thomas} {$I[tim]1840;Hardy, Thomas}

Thomas Hardy

(Library of Congress)

The first of these books was published in 1871 when Hardy, nearly thirty-one years old, was still lacking in literary training and experience. His entire schooling had been confined to eight years between the ages of eight and sixteen. For five years, he had worked as an apprentice in the drafting office of a Dorchester architect, John Hicks. When Hardy was twenty-one, he went to London and found employment with Arthur Blomfield, a successful metropolitan architect, with whom he remained for five years. Gothic churches and old manor houses never succeeded in crowding books out of their central place in Hardy’s affections, however. During his years in London, he tried his hand at composing verse; when he discovered that editors showed no readiness to publish his poems, he turned at the age of twenty-seven to novel-writing.

Hardy titled his first attempt at fiction The Poor Man and the Lady. He sent the manuscript to the London publisher Alexander Macmillan, who replied encouragingly but found too many faults in the work to be willing to print it. Hardy thereupon tried a second publisher, Chapman and Hall, where his manuscript was placed in the hands of their reader, the novelist George Meredith. In a meeting with Hardy, Meredith advised him to suppress The Poor Man and the Lady because of its vehement social satire and to write another novel “with more plot.” Hardy took Meredith’s advice and wrote Desperate Remedies, which was published anonymously and at his own expense in 1871. This was the beginning of a quarter-century’s activity as one of the most successful and influential novelists that England has produced.

Like Desperate Remedies, Hardy’s next novel, Under the Greenwood Tree, was published anonymously. In 1872, he was invited to contribute a story for serialization in Tinsleys’ Magazine; this novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes, was the first to carry his name. When Far from the Madding Crowd was serialized in Cornhill Magazine in 1874, the acclaim from critics and from the general public was sufficient to encourage Hardy to stop publishing anonymously, to give up all further practice as an architect, and, in September 1874, to marry.

In the twenty years that followed, Hardy turned out ten more full-length novels as well as many short stories and articles. When his fourteenth and last novel, Jude the Obscure, the story of a couple who live together without marriage, resulted in an outcry, Hardy shrank from any further attempt to find expression in fiction and returned to his first love, poetry. In 1898, he surprised the world by publishing Wessex Poems, and throughout the next thirty years he produced volume after volume of verse; by the time of his death, he had composed nearly one thousand poems. In addition to this achievement in metrical composition, Hardy wrote a gigantic dramatic epic on the Napoleonic wars, which he called The Dynasts: A Drama of the Napoleonic Wars.

Hardy had met his wife, Emma L. Gifford, in 1870 in Cornwall, where he had gone to supervise the restoration of a dilapidated church (Hardy thereupon used the Cornish setting and the device of an architect surveying a church in A Pair of Blue Eyes). Ten years after marrying, Hardy built a house near Dorchester, and from 1885 on his address was “Max Gate.” He and his wife had no children. Emma Hardy died in 1912.

In 1914, Hardy married Florence Emily Dugdale, who had helped him with research on The Dynasts: A Drama of the Napoleonic Wars. Later, Florence Hardy was for a time credited with being the author of The Early Life of Hardy and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, though they had been largely written by Hardy himself. When Hardy died in 1928, it was suggested that he be buried in the Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. There were many, however, who believed that an author whose heart had always been in the Dorset region, with Wessex folk among Wessex scenes, ought not to have that heart taken away to alien soil. Hardy’s heart was accordingly buried in the grave of his first wife at Stinsford, and his ashes were deposited next to those of Charles Dickens in Westminster Abbey.

In the three decades immediately following Hardy’s death, critics came to agree that his literary output was of uneven quality. Some of his novels are excellent, others are mediocre, and many of his poems have seemed harsh and unmusical, even to ears attuned to the discordant. Yet a careful reading of Hardy’s best novels and poems shows the same gifted author at work in both genres. There is the same attentive eye for nature in all seasons and guises, the same tender, sympathetic heart, and the same sorrowing mind. It would, however, be a mistake to think that the novels were all written from a single, unchanging point of view. Hardy grew and developed, and his philosophy of life matured, and the novels reflect this. From the fragile charm of Under the Greenwood Tree to Far from the Madding Crowd and The Return of the Native, perhaps Hardy’s most “fatalistic” works, there is an immense advance. The Mayor of Casterbridge, too, in which Hardy quotes “Character is Fate,” marks a distinct shift in his viewpoint. The Woodlanders, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure are written by an older author with a riper social outlook and a clearer understanding of the causes of human behavior. Tess, executed for the murder of the man who had once raped her, and Jude, who dies after his beloved Sue returns to the husband she loathes, remain powerful examples of human suffering in an unforgiving world.

Author Works Long Fiction: Desperate Remedies, 1871 Under the Greenwood Tree, 1872 A Pair of Blue Eyes, 1872–73 Far from the Madding Crowd, 1874 The Hand of Ethelberta, 1875–76 An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress, 1878 (serial), 1934 (book) The Return of the Native, 1878 The Trumpet-Major, 1880 A Laodicean, 1880–81 Two on a Tower, 1882 The Mayor of Casterbridge, 1886 The Woodlanders, 1886–87 Tess of the D’Urbervilles, 1891 Jude the Obscure, 1895 The Well-Beloved, 1897 Short Fiction: Wessex Tales, 1888 A Group of Noble Dames, 1891 Life’s Little Ironies, 1894 A Changed Man, The Waiting Supper, and Other Tales, 1913 The Complete Short Stories, 1989 (Desmond Hawkins, editor) Drama: The Dynasts: A Drama of the Napoleonic Wars, pb. 1903, 1906, 1908, 1910 (verse drama), pr. 1914 (abridged by Harley Granville-Barker) The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall, pr., pb. 1923 (one act) Poetry: Wessex Poems, and Other Verses, 1898 Poems of the Past and Present, 1901 Time’s Laughingstocks, and Other Verses, 1909 Satires of Circumstance, 1914 Selected Poems of Thomas Hardy, 1916 Moments of Vision, and Miscellaneous Verses, 1917 Late Lyrics and Earlier, 1922 Human Shows, Far Phantasies: Songs and Trifles, 1925 Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres, 1928 Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy, 1943 The Complete Poetical Works, 1982–85 (3 volumes; Samuel Hynes, editor) Nonfiction: Life and Art, 1925 (Ernest Brennecke, editor) The Early Life of Hardy, 1928 The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 1930 Personal Writings, 1966 (Harold Orel, editor) The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, 1978–88 (7 volumes; Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate, editors) Thomas Hardy’s “Poetical Matter” Notebook, 2009 (Pamela Dalziel and Michael Millgate, editors) Bibliography Armstrong, Tim. Haunted Hardy: Poetry, History, Memory. New York: Palgrave, 2000. An attempt to elevate Hardy as poet within the Western tradition. Carpenter, Richard C. Thomas Hardy. Boston: Twayne, 1964. Carpenter argues that Hardy is a “gloomy philosopher,” though he maintains that label is too restricting. In addition to the usual characterization, descriptions, plots, and social themes, Carpenter also looks at elements of symbolism, myth, impressionism, and drama in Hardy’s fiction and poetry. Contains a chronology, a bibliography, and an index. Chew, Samuel C. Thomas Hardy: Poet and Novelist. 1928. Reprint. New York: Russell and Russell, 1964. Although it does not lack sentiment, this volume is still one of the most respected of the traditional analyses of Hardy’s work. Chew examines Hardy’s pessimism, his use of coincidence, his conflict of intellect and intuition, and the structural excellence of his Wessex novels, which Chew considers to be a clarification of Victorian technique. Includes a bibliography and an index. Daleski, H. M. Thomas Hardy and Paradoxes of Love. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997. Argues that Hardy is the premodern precursor of sexual failures and catastrophic ends. Gatrell, Simon. Hardy the Creator: A Textual Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. A unique biography that analyzes Hardy's career through studies of his texts from draft through revisions as well as his interactions with publishers and editors. Gatrell, Simon. Thomas Hardy and the Proper Study of Mankind. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993. A study of Hardy’s technique of presenting character in relationship to society. In addition to chapters on individual novels, Gatrell devotes chapters to Hardy’s use of the dance as a folk ritual and to the imperial theme in his fiction. Gibson, James. Thomas Hardy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. An introductory guide to Hardy’s art, focusing on how Hardy used his own experience in his writing and tracing his development from fiction back to his first love, poetry. Guerard, Albert J. Thomas Hardy: The Novels and Stories. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949. One of the classic critical works on Hardy, examining his poetry and fiction in Victorian and modern contexts. In relation to Joseph Conrad and André Gide, Hardy is an old-fashioned storyteller, but he anticipates modern elements of antirealism in his conflicting impulses, his symbolic use of coincidence, and his artful technique. Howe, Irving. Thomas Hardy. New York: Macmillan, 1967. One of the earliest book-length studies of Hardy’s short fiction as well as his poetry and novels, tracing the development of Hardy as a writer and the influences of his background and intellectual environment. The chapter “Let the Day Perish” focuses on Hardy’s women characters, especially Tess, who illustrates the transformation and ennobling of a cultural stereotype. Complemented by a primary bibliography and an index. Kramer, Dale, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hardy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. An essential introduction and general overview of all Hardy’s work and specific demonstrations of Hardy’s ideas and literary skills. Individual essays explore Hardy’s biography, aesthetics, and the impact on his work of developments in science, religion, and philosophy in the late nineteenth century. The volume also contains a detailed chronology of Hardy’s life. Lanzano, Ellen Anne. Hardy: The Temporal Poetics. New York: P. Lang, 1999. An examination of Hardy’s poetics in the light of the temporal context out of which he wrote more than nine hundred poems. To a large extent, Hardy’s struggle with the forms of time is a record of the nineteenth century engagement with the relationship of consciousness to the new science and the loss of traditional beliefs. Mallett, Phillip, ed. The Achievement of Thomas Hardy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. A study of the literary achievements of Hardy that also examines his depiction of Wessex. Bibliography and index. Maynard, Katherine Kearney. Thomas Hardy’s Tragic Poetry: The Lyrics and “The Dynasts.” Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991. This study examines the question of tragic literature’s vitality in a secular age and explores the philosophical underpinnings of Hardy’s tragic vision in his lyric poetry and in The Dynasts. It also examines Hardy’s efforts within the context of nineteenth century poetry. Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. This biography enhances and replaces Millgate’s 1982 biography, considered to be one of the best and most scholarly Hardy biographies available. Page, Norman, ed. Oxford Reader’s Companion to Hardy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. An encyclopedia devoted to the life and literary works of Hardy. Bibliography. Pinion, F. B. A Hardy Companion. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1968. A helpful, comprehensive guide to Hardy’s writing, political and philosophical background and biographical influences. Includes maps, illustrations, and a select bibliography. Also contains a handy dictionary of people and places in Hardy’s fiction and the locations of Hardy manuscripts. Pite, Ralph. Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007. A scholarly reexamination of Hardy’s life. Plotz, John. “Motion Slickness: Spectacle and Circulation in Thomas Hardy’s ‘On the Western Circuit.’” Studies in Short Fiction 33 (Summer, 1996): 369–86. Claims that Hardy’s story reflects his criticism of modernity in relationship to Britain’s imperialism; the steam roundabout in the text becomes visible in its full, complicated relationship to other roundabout systems of the modern age. Ray, Martin, ed. Thomas Hardy Remembered. London: Ashgate, 2007. A collection of interviews with Hardy and recollections of him by his friends and acquaintances offer readers a fresh perspective on the writer. Also contains observations by Hardy on his writing and his contemporaries’ opinions about his life. Seymour-Smith, Martin. Hardy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. In this literary biography, Seymour-Smith not only provides a detailed biography of Hardy’s life but also summarizes and critiques previous criticism of Hardy and discusses in a straightforward, nontheoretical way, Hardy’s most important works; analyzes critical reception to Hardy’s work and critiques critical controversies over his fiction and thought. Tomalin, Claire. Thomas Hardy. New York: Penguin, 2007. This thorough and finely written biography by a respected Hardy scholar illuminates the novelist’s drive to indict the malice, neglect, and ignorance of his fellow human creatures. Tomalin nicely brings Hardy’s poetry to the fore in discussing aspects of his life that are apparent in his literary works. Webster, Harvey Curtis. On a Darkling Plain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947. An extended, in-depth consideration of Hardy’s fiction and poetry in the light of his pessimism, considering how personal experiences and intellectual trends contributed to the development of his melancholy view. Webster discerns a natural “paradisaic tendency” that periodically surfaces in Hardy’s work, but he maintains that the world destroyed this “happy outlook.”

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