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Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy

The works of the English novelist, poet, and dramatist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) unite the Victorian and modern eras. They reveal him to be a kind and gentle man, terribly aware of the pain human beings suffer in their struggle for life.

Thomas Hardy presented the spectacle of England from Napoleonic times to World War I and after. He revealed the changes that overwhelmed Victorian England and made it modern: the decline of Christianity, the shifts from reticence to openness in matters of sex and from an agricultural to a modern economy, and above all the growing sense of the disparity between the enormous universe and tiny man.

Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton in Dorset, which formed part of the "Wessex" of his novels and poems. A small baby, thought at birth to be dead, he became a small man only a little over 5 feet tall. He was taught by his father, a builder, to play the violin, and he often journeyed about the countryside playing for dances and storing up the impressions of rural life that make up so large a part of his work.

Early Writings

After attending local schools, Hardy was apprenticed in 1856 to John Hicks, an architect in Dorchester. At this time he thought seriously of attending university and entering the Church, but he did not do so. In 1862 he went to London to work. There he began to write poems and send them to publishers, who quickly returned them. He kept many of the poems and published them in 1898 and afterward. Back in Dorchester in 1867 working for Hicks, he wrote a novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, which he was advised not to publish on the ground that it was too satirical for genteel Victorian tastes. Told to write a novel with a plot, he turned out Desperate Remedies (1871), which was unsuccessful.

Meanwhile Hardy had begun to work for Gerald Crickmay, who had taken over Hicks's business. Crickmay sent him to Cornwall, where on March 7, 1870, he met Emma Lavinia Gifford, with whom he fell in love. Their courtship is recorded in A Pair of Blue Eyes and in some of Hardy's most beautiful poems, among them "When I Set Out for Lyonnesse" and "Beeny Cliff."

Hardy could have kept on with architecture, but he was a "born bookworm, " as he said, and in spite of his lack of success with literature he decided to continue with it, hoping eventually to make enough money to enable him to marry. For Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) he earned £30. The book was well received, and he was asked to write a novel for serialization in a magazine. In September 1872 A Pair of Blue Eyes began to appear, even though only a few chapters had been completed. Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), also serialized, was a success financially and critically. By then making a living from literature, Hardy married Gifford in September 1874.

Later Novels

Hardy preferred his poetry to his prose and thought his novels merely a way to earn a living. Certainly he was willing to write his novels to the requirements of magazines: a "thrill" in every installment and nothing to offend feminine readers. But his best novels—The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), and Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891)—were, at least in book form, much more than magazine fiction. The main characters were individuals moving before a chorus of rural folk and a backdrop of unhuman and uncaring nature. The people were dominated by the countryside of "Wessex, " Hardy's name for the area in south-west England where he set most of his novels, and the area is as vividly memorable as the people.

Even Hardy's best novels, however, were marred by a characteristically awkward prose and overuse of coincidence, as were the lesser novels: The Hand of Ethelberta (1876), a comedy of society; The Trumpet-Major (1880), about the Napoleonic Wars; A Laodicean (1881), written while sick in bed; Two on a Tower (1882), about an astronomer and a lady; and The Woodlanders (1887), about an unhappy marriage.

Good or bad, his novels brought Hardy money, fame, and acquaintance with the great. With his wife he traveled in Germany, France, and Italy; he built Max Gate near Dorchester, where he lived from 1886 until his death; he frequently dined out, meeting Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and others. Robert Louis Stevenson sought him out and visited him at Max Gate. It was a successful life and seemed happy enough, but he had a strained relationship with his wife.

Though Hardy's novels seldom end happily, he was not, he stated, a pessimist. He called himself a "meliorist, " one who believed that man can live with some happiness if he understands his place in the universe and accepts it. He ceased to be a Christian; he read Charles Darwin and accepted the idea of evolution; later he took up Arthur Schopenhauer and developed the notion of the Immanent Will, the blind force which drives the universe and in the distant future may see and understand itself. This notion is not very optimistic for any one man's life, but it does leave room for hope.

Hardy was increasingly displeased by the restrictions imposed on his novels by the magazines. In the book version of Tess he restored several chapters cut out of the serial, and the book was attacked as immoral. In Jude the Obscure (1895) he did the same; there was an immense outcry. The story of a young man torn between the urgings of sex and the desire to go to the university, Jude presented the woes of marriage with a frankness not known till then in the Victorian novel. It is poorly constructed and too bitter to be one of Hardy's best novels, but it may be his most famous, because its reception was a main cause of his turning from novels to poetry.

Poetry and Drama

Collecting new and old poems, Hardy published Wessex Poems (1898) and Poems of the Past and Present (1902). Then he began to publish The Dynasts, an immense drama of the Napoleonic Wars which depicts all the characters, even Napoleon, as puppets whose actions are determined by the Immanent Will. The drama is commented on by "phantasmal Intelligences, " who explain the workings of the Will. The "epic-drama" evolved into 19 acts and 130 scenes; it was published in three parts in 1903, 1905, and 1908. Meant to be read, not acted, it is frequently called Hardy's masterwork. Certainly it unites all his thoughts on the human condition in a vision remarkable for its scope.

Meanwhile Hardy continued to publish his shorter verse in Time's Laughingstocks (1909). His most famous single volume of poems, Satires of Circumstance, appeared in 1914. It revealed the extremes of Hardy's emotional range in the short, bitter poems referred to in the title and the longer poems about his first wife, who died in 1912. Any bitterness in their relationship had disappeared in the nostalgia with which he viewed their courtship and married life. Selected Poems (1916), Moments of Vision (1917), Late Lyrics and Earlier (1922), and Human Shows (1925) were published during the remainder of his life. Winter Words (1928) was published after his death.

Because in most cases Hardy published his poems years after he wrote them, the dates of composition can be determined only by his references to them in The Early Life of Thomas Hardy or The Later Years. Thus it is difficult to show Hardy's growth as a poet. In fact, he hardly grew at all. The last poems are remarkably similar in diction, meter, and feeling to the earliest. Because of this, his poems are customarily divided into three groups: naturalistic poems, or little slices of life; love poems, almost all about his first wife; and theological poems, about the workings of the Immanent Will. In the last kind, Hardy's macabre sense of humor is allowed full play.

In almost all his poems Hardy uses Victorian diction, regular meters, and neat stanzas. These cause him to be called a Victorian poet. But he also uses everyday words. These, with his bleak view of the human condition and his fusion of humor and pity, rank him with the moderns.

In 1914 Hardy married Florence Emily Dugdale, who had been his secretary for several years. He continued to receive famous visitors at Max Gate and to go to London for special occasions. He died on Jan. 11, 1928. His heart was buried in the churchyard at Stinsford, his ashes in Westminster Abbey.

Further Reading

The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840-1891 (1928) and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 1892-1928 (1930) were written mainly by Hardy rather than by the ostensible author, Mrs. Florence Emily Hardy. The life story is retold and Hardy's work interpreted by Carl J. Weber in Hardy of Wessex: His Life and Literary Career (1940; rev. ed. 1965). The true story of Hardy's relationship with his first wife appeared only in 1963 in "Dearest Emmie": Thomas Hardy's Letters to His First Wife (1963) and in Hardy's Love Poems (1963), both edited by Weber.

There is considerable critical material on Hardy. Albert J. Guérard, Thomas Hardy (1964), and Irving Howe, Thomas Hardy (1967), are astute studies of all of Hardy's work. Virginia Woolf's essay in The Second Common Reader (1932) bears the mark of greatness in its estimate of the novels.

John Crowe Ransom's comments on Hardy's short poems in Poems and Essays (1955) and Selected Poems of Thomas Hardy (1961) are indispensable. Harold Orel interprets The Dynasts in Thomas Hardy's Epic-Drama (1963). Excellent introductions to the historical background of Hardy's work are G. M. Young, Victorian England: Portrait of an Age (1936; 2d ed. 1953), and David Thomson, England in the Nineteenth Century (1950). □

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Hardy, Thomas

Thomas Hardy

Born: June 2, 1840
Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England
Died: January 11, 1928
Dorchester, England

English author, novelist, poet, and dramatist

The works of the English novelist, poet, and dramatist Thomas Hardy unite the Victorian (c. 18401900) and modern eras. They reveal him to be a kind and gentle man, terribly aware of the pain human beings suffer in their struggle for life.

Childhood

Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton in Dorset, England, which formed part of the "Wessex" of his novels and poems. The first of four children, Hardy was born small and thought at birth to be dead. He grew to be a small man only a little over five feet tall. Hardy learned to love books through his mother, Jemina, and was able to read before starting school. He was taught by his father, also named Thomas, to play the violin, and he often journeyed about the countryside playing for dances and storing up the impressions of rural life that make up so large a part of his work.

Hardy attended a private school in Dorchester, England, where he learned Latin, French, and German. In 1856 at the age of sixteen, Hardy became an apprentice (a person who works for someone in order to gain experience in a trade) to John Hicks, an architect in Dorchester. At this time he thought seriously of attending university and entering the Church, but he did not do so. In 1862 he went to London, England, to work. Also at this time, Hardy began writing poetry after being impressed by Reverend William Barnes, a local poet.

Early writings

In London Hardy continued to write poetry and began sending his poems to publishers, who quickly returned them. He kept many of the poems and published them in 1898 and afterward. Back in Dorchester in 1867 while working for Hicks, he wrote a novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, which he was advised not to publish because it was too critical of Victorian society. Told to write a novel with a plot, he turned out Desperate Remedies (1871), which was unsuccessful.

Meanwhile Hardy had begun to work for Gerald Crickmay, who had taken over Hicks's business. Crickmay sent Hardy to Cornwall, England, where on March 7, 1870, he met Emma Lavinia Gifford, with whom he fell in love. Hardy could have kept on with architecture, but he was a "born bookworm," as he said, and in spite of his lack of success with literature he decided to continue writing, hoping eventually to make enough money so he could marry Gifford. Their courtship is recorded in A Pair of Blue Eyes and in some of Hardy's most beautiful poems, among them "When I Set Out for Lyonnesse" and "Beeny Cliff."

For Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) he earned 30 pounds and the book was well received. At the same time he was asked to write a novel for serialization (published in parts) in a magazine. In September 1872 A Pair of Blue Eyes began to appear, even though only a few chapters had been completed. Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), was published in magazines and was a success both financially and critically. Finally making a living from literature, Hardy married Gifford in September of 1874.

Later novels

Hardy preferred his poetry to his prose (nonpoetry writings) and thought his novels merely a way to earn a living. But his best novelsThe Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), and Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891)were much more than magazine fiction. The people were dominated by the countryside of "Wessex," Hardy's name for the area in southwest England where he set most of his novels, and the area is as memorable as the people.

Good or bad, Hardy's novels brought him money, fame, and acquaintance with greatness. With his wife he travelled in Germany, France, and Italy; he built Max Gate near Dorchester, where he lived from 1886 until his death; he frequently dined out, meeting poets Matthew Arnold (18221888), Robert Browning (18121889), Alfred, Lord Tennyson (18091892), and others. Writer Robert Louis Stevenson (18501894) sought him out and visited him at Max Gate. It was a successful life and seemed happy enough, but he had a strained relationship with his wife.

Though Hardy's novels seldom end happily, he was not, he stated, a pessimist (taking the least hopeful view of a situation). He called himself a "meliorist," one who believed that man can live with some happiness if he understands his place in the universe and accepts it. He ceased to be a Christian, and he read the works of naturalist Charles Darwin (18091892) and accepted the idea of evolution, the theory that animals, including man, developed from earlier species. Later he took to reading philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (17881860) and developed the notion of the Immanent Will, the blind force that drives the universe and in the distant future may see and understand itself.

Poetry and drama

Collecting new and old poems, Hardy published Wessex Poems (1898) and Poems of the Past and Present (1902). Then he began to publish The Dynasts, an immense drama of the Napoleonic Wars (a series of wars from 1792 to 1815 between France and different European powers) which depicts all the characters, even French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (17691821), as a puppet whose actions are determined by the Immanent Will. The "epic-drama" evolved into nineteen acts and 130 scenes and was published in three parts in 1903, 1905, and 1908. Meant to be read, not acted, it is frequently called Hardy's masterwork.

Meanwhile Hardy continued to publish his shorter verse in Time's Laughingstocks (1909). His most famous single volume of poems, Satires of Circumstance, appeared in 1914. It revealed the extremes of Hardy's emotional range in the short, bitter poems referred to in the title and the longer poems about his first wife, who died in 1912. Selected Poems (1916), Moments of Vision (1917), Late Lyrics and Earlier (1922), and Human Shows (1925) were published during the remainder of his life. Winter Words (1928) was published after his death.

Because in most cases Hardy published his poems years after he wrote them, the dates of when he wrote these pieces can be determined only by his references to them in The Early Life of Thomas Hardy or The Later Years. Because of this it is difficult to show Hardy's growth as a poet. In fact, he hardly grew at all. In almost all his poems Hardy uses Victorian diction (choice of words), regular meters (rhythm), and neat stanzas (divisions within a poem). These cause him to be called a Victorian poet, but he also uses everyday words. These, with his dark view of the human condition and his blending of humor and pity, rank him with modern poets.

In 1914 Hardy married Florence Emily Dugdale, who had been his secretary for several years. He continued to receive famous visitors at Max Gate and continued to visit London for special occasions. He died on January 11, 1928. His heart was buried in the churchyard at Stinsford, England, his ashes in Westminster Abbey.

For More Information

Gibson, James. Thomas Hardy: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Halliday, F. E. Thomas Hardy: His Life and Work. Bath: Adams and Dart, 1972.

Howe, Irving. Thomas Hardy. New York: Macmillan, 1967.

Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy, a Biography. New York: Random House, 1982.

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Hardy, Thomas

Thomas Hardy, 1840–1928, English novelist and poet, b. near Dorchester, one of the great English writers of the 19th cent.

The son of a stonemason, he derived a love of music from his father and a devotion to literature from his mother. Hardy could not afford to pursue a scholarly career as he wished and was apprenticed to John Hicks, a local church architect. He continued, however, to study the Greek and Latin classics. From 1862 to 1867 he served as assistant to Arthur Blomfield, a London architect; ill health forced him to return to Dorset, where he worked for Hicks and his successor until 1874.

Despite his employment, Hardy was writing continually during this period of his life. Such early novels as Desperate Remedies (1871) and A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) met with small success and may be considered formative works. After the appearance of Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), popular as well as critical acclaim enabled him to devote himself exclusively to writing. His success also made marriage feasible, and in 1874 he married Emma Lavinia Gifford.

Over the next 22 years Hardy wrote many novels, including those he referred to as "romances and fantasies" —most of which were first serialized in popular magazines. His major works are The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1896), the latter two considered masterpieces.

Hardy's novels are all set against the bleak and forbidding Dorset landscape (referred to as Wessex in the novels), whose physical harshness echoes that of an indifferent, if not malevolent, universe. The author's characters, who are for the most part of the poorer rural classes, are sympathetically and often humorously portrayed. Their lives are ruled not only by nature but also by rigid Victorian social conventions. Hardy's style is accordingly roughhewn, sometimes awkward, but always commanding and intense.

Hardy had always written poetry and regarded the novel as an inferior genre. After Jude the Obscure was attacked on grounds of supposed immorality (it dealt sympathetically with open sexual relations between men and women), he abandoned fiction. However, the compelling reason was probably that his thought had become too abstract to be adequately expressed in novels. Beginning at the age of 58, Hardy published many volumes of poetry, including Wessex Poems (1898), Satires of Circumstance (1914), Moments of Vision (1917), and Winter Words (1928).

His poetry is spare, unadorned, and unromantic, and its pervasive theme is man's futile struggle against cosmic forces. His verse drama The Dynasts (written 1903–8) is a historical epic of the Napoleonic era, expressing the view that history, too, is guided by forces far more powerful than individual will. Hardy's vision reflects a world in which Victorian complacencies were dying but its moralism was not, and in which science had eliminated the comforting certainties of religion.

Hardy's wife died in 1912, and in 1914 he married Florence Emily Dugdale, a children's book writer, some 40 years his junior. He spent the latter half of his life at Max Gate, a house built after his own designs in his native Dorset, and died there. His ashes are interred in Westminster Abbey, but his heart is buried separately, with a certain dark propriety, near the Egdon Heath made famous by his novels.

See E. Hardy and F. B. Pinion, ed., One Rare Fair Woman, his letters to Florence Henniker (1972); M. Millgate, ed., The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy (1978–1988); biographies by his wife F. E. Hardy (1928 repr. 1971), E. Hardy (1953, repr. 1973), R. Gittings (1975 and 1978), M. Seymour-Smith (1994), M. Millgate (rev. ed. 2004), C. Tomalin (2006), and R. Pite (2007); studies by R. C. Carpenter (1964), C. J. Weber (2d ed. 1965), I. Howe (1967), M. Millgate (1971), J. I. M. Stewart (1971), F. R. Southerington (1971), and M. Williams (1972); studies of his poetry by E. Brennecke (1924, repr. 1973), J. O. Bailey (1971), P. Zietlow (1974), and I. Gregor (1974).

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HARDY, Thomas

HARDY, Thomas [1840–1928]. English novelist and poet, born at Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, where his father was a stonemason and small builder, and educated in Dorchester and articled to a local architect. In 1862, he moved to London and worked with the fashionable architect Arthur Blomfield, but because of poor health he returned to Dorset in 1867. Continuing to work in architecture, he also began to write Under the Greenwood Tree (1872). He created the imaginary world of ‘Wessex’, based on Dorset and the surrounding counties, in which many of his locations are identifiable. His 14 novels include The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1896).

More than simply a ‘regional’ writer, Hardy presented the life of the rural world in which he had grown up and preserved the image of a vanished way of life. A major achievement is the use of dialect. He could capture the tones of Dorset speech, without the elaborately deviant spellings which make the Dorset poems of William Barnes difficult to read, but conveying the distinctive sounds as well as the words and grammar:‘Tis not to married couples but to single sleepers that a ghost shows himself when a'do come. One has been seen lately, too. A very strange one.’
‘No—don't talk about it if 'tis agreeable of ye not to! 'Twill make my skin crawl when I think of it in bed alone. But you will—ah, you will, I know, Timothy: and I shall dream all night o't! A very strange one? What sort of a spirit did ye mean when ye said a very strange one, Timothy?—no, no—don't tell me.’
‘I don't half believe in spirits myself. But I think it ghostly enough—what I was told. 'Twas a little boy that zid it’
(from The Return of the Native, 1878).

Hardy used dialect for both tragic and comic episodes and varied its intensity to suggest the status of the characters and the degree of their relationship. He valued and defended the dignity of Dorset usage, which he saw not as a deviation from the national standard, but as a survival of the ancient speech of Saxon Wessex.

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Hardy, Thomas

Hardy, Thomas (1840–1928). Novelist and poet, Hardy initially trained as an architect. He left his native Dorset, the ‘Wessex’ of his books, for London where he lost his faith under the influence of Darwin and Huxley. His famous pessimism developed early and coloured everything to come. In the 1870s he caught the taste of an increasingly urbanized England for accounts of a vanishing world with Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1874). Yet he was no sentimentalist of rural life, and his interest in the past had little of the nostalgia of Tennyson or Arnold. An unrivalled observer of the countryside, he found no Wordsworthian solace there, nor in his own unhappy marriage. His major novels tackled the social issues of the day, the double standard in Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), the unfairness of the divorce laws in Jude the Obscure (1895), the hostile reception they encountered prompting a return to his first love, poetry. Some of the best came with his first wife's death in 1912, as buried emotion resurfaced, though he had already produced The Dynasts (1908), his epic drama on the Napoleonic wars, the most ambitious but probably least read of his works.

John Saunders

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Hardy, Thomas

Hardy, Thomas (1840–1928) English novelist and poet. His birth place, Dorset, sw England, formed the background for most of his writing. His first major success was Far from the Madding Crowd (1874). The often tragic tales that followed remain among the most widely read 19th-century novels and include The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). Critics attacked the latter for its immoral tone, and thereafter Hardy devoted himself to poetry, including Wessex Poems (1898) and The Dynasts (1903–08).

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