BORN: 1840, Dorset, England
DIED: 1928, Dorset, England
GENRE: Fiction, poetry, drama
The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886)
Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)
Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891)
Jude the Obscure (1896)
The works of the English novelist, poet, and dramatist Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) unite the Victorian and modern eras. His work revealed the strains that widespread industrialization and urbanization placed on traditional English life. Major social changes took place during Hardy's life. When he was a young man, England still had a largely agricultural economy and Queen Victoria presided over an ever-expanding worldwide empire. By the time he died, the forces of modernization had changed England forever.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Early Years During a Period of Rapid Industrialization in England Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton in Dorset, England, which later would form part of the “Wessex” of his novels and poems. During his early years, Hardy witnessed the changing of his landscape and rural community brought on by the Industrial Revolution. While the Industrial Revolution had begun at the turn of the nineteenth century, it was ongoing through the beginning of the twentieth century. Populations increasingly shifted from the country to the cities. Railroads linked towns and villages that were once remote to major urban centers. And with new mobility and new economic pressure, people faced new social issues, too, including a sharp spike in prostitution rates and infamous abuses of child labor in factories and mines
After attending local schools, Hardy was apprenticed in 1856 to John Hicks, an architect in Dorchester. During his time as apprentice architect, Hardy read many of the influential works of the era, such as Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species (1859), which was published when Hardy was nineteen. By the time he was twenty, Hardy had abandoned religion after being convinced of the intellectual truth of a godless universe.
Early Writing Experience: Failures, Then Success In 1862 Hardy began to write poems but was unable to get them published. Eventually, he accepted that he must become a novelist to succeed as an author. The novelist's profession had by this time become well paid and well regarded. Hardy wrote his first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, in 1867, but was advised not to publish it. His next novel Desperate Remedies (1871), was published but unsuccessful. On March 7, 1870, he met Emma Lavinia Gifford, with whom he fell in love. In spite of his continuing lack of success with literature, he decided to continue with it, hoping eventually to make enough money to enable him to marry Emma.
Hardy was paid thirty pounds for his next novel, Under the Greenwood Tree (1872). The following year it was published in New York by Holt and Williams. 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, which records Hardy's courtship with Gifford.
Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), also serialized, was a financial and critical success, allowing Hardy to give up architecture and marry Emma in 1874. The Hand of Ethelberta (1876) also appeared as a serial but was not as successful. It did not have the country setting of Far from the Madding Crowd, which his audience had been previously responsive to. Hardy began to feel a sense of
discontent as a novelist because his real desire was to succeed as a poet. He preferred his poetry to his prose and considered his novels to be merely a way to earn a living.
Mid-Career Work His next novel, The Return of the Native (1878), received mixed attention. The novel's theme of the collision of Old World and New World, of rural and modern, allowed Hardy to explore his growing sense that humans are driven by impulses that are not under rational control. Some reviewers praised the graphic descriptions, but others found Hardy's writing strained and pretentious.
The Trumpet-Major (1880), set in the Napoleonic period, represents Hardy's attempt at historical fiction. It was followed by A Laodicean (1881), which Hardy dictated to his wife while he was ill. In September 1881, while that novel was still running its course, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly invited Hardy to write a serial for his magazine. The result was Two on a Tower (1882).
Later Fiction and Controversy over “Immoral” Content During this time, Hardy decided to return to his native Dorset for good. This move initiated a major period of Hardy's creative life as a novelist. The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), his next novel, presents Hardy's belief that “character is fate.” Heralded as a turning point in the writer's career, primarily for the skill with which he presents his male protagonist, The Mayor of Casterbridge is further acclaimed as a pivotal work in the development of the English novel, demonstrating that the genre could present a significant psychological history and still serve as an important social document.
Hardy's next novel, The Woodlanders (1887), a traditional pastoral, actually ends on a happy note. The same cannot be said, however, for Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), in which an innocent country girl falls victim to Victorian social hypocrisy.
The Well-Beloved (1892) is thin by comparison. Hardy described it in a letter to his American publishers as “short and slight, and written entirely with a view to serial publication.” It was followed in 1896 by what would be his final novel, Jude the Obscure, which follows the life and early death of Jude Fawley. More than any of Hardy's other novels, Jude the Obscure was met with savage critical attacks, mainly for what was perceived as immoral content. Despite the controversy it inspired immediately after publication, the novel was eventually widely translated and recognized as a masterpiece before Hardy's death.
Apart from his fourteen novels, Hardy was a prolific writer of short stories, most of which were collected in four volumes. They were written for magazine publication and are of uneven quality. Most were written in the late 1880s and early 1890s.
Return to Poetry After 1896, Hardy returned to his first love: poetry. Hardy the poet is best known for verses that borrow from the tradition of the ballad. Wessex Poems appeared in 1898. Later work encompassed everything from the monumental drama “The Dynasts” to simpler and even joyful poems celebrating nature and the moment of being, such as “The Darkling Thrush.”
After declining the offer of a knighthood, in 1910 Hardy accepted the Order of Merit—the highest honor that can be accorded to an English author. Two years later his wife died. Filled with remorse over the fact that their marriage had not been better, Hardy wrote several poems about their relationship. In 1914, Hardy married again, this time to teacher and children's book author Florence Emily Dugdale, a woman forty years his junior. From 1920 to 1927, Hardy worked on his autobiography, which, when it appeared, was disguised as being the work of his wife. He died on January 11, 1928. While he requested that he be buried next to his first wife, that wish was only partly granted. Hardy's body was interred in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey, in London, while his heart was buried in his first wife's grave.
Works in Literary Context
Strongly identifying with the county of Dorset, Hardy saw himself as a successor to the Dorset dialect poet William Barnes, who had been a friend and mentor. Author William Rutland cites the Bible, the Romantic
poets—especially Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and William Wordsworth—and Barnes as early influences on Hardy. Hardy also turned to the classics, reading Virgil, Horace, Catullus, Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus, whose recurring theme was “call no man happy while he lives.” In later years, scores of younger authors, including William Butler Yeats, Siegfried Sassoon, and Virginia Woolf, visited Hardy. The poet and novelist also discussed poetry with modernist poet Ezra Pound.
Classic Tragedy Return of the Native borrows the structural pattern of a Greek tragedy and follows the five-part division of a Shakespeare tragedy. The sense of place is intensified by the numerous references to local folk customs. The character of Eustacia has been compared to Emma Bovary, though Hardy claimed that he had not read Flaubert's 1856 novel at this time.
Shakespearean Tragedy As with The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge invites comparisons to Shakespearean tragedy, especially King Lear. A parallel with the Old Testament story of Saul and David has also been suggested. The professional reviewers were disappointingly unappreciative, but three writers all praised it privately—novelists George Gissing and Robert Louis Stevenson in letters to Hardy, and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in a letter to Robert Bridges, fellow poet and later poet laureate of England.
Works in Critical Context
Early critics viewed Hardy as a consummate realist, while later evaluations by such critics as Albert J. Guerard suggest that he may be recognized as a predecessor of antirealist trends in twentieth-century fiction. For the integrity of his moral and philosophical views and for the imaginative achievement in creating the world of Wessex, Hardy continues to receive undiminished acclaim from critics, scholars, and the reading public.
Far from the Madding Crowd Author Dale Kramer calls Far from the Madding Crowd “the non-tragic predecessor” to Hardy's later novels. The story ends happily, although the darker side of life is never far away. Kramer declares that this situation is based on the idea of dichotomy: “The assumption of the aesthetic in the novel is that any and all reactions to situations will be between two extremes, or on one of two extremes.” Hardy's skill in describing the countryside, the farms, and the setting of the novel is emphasized by author Joseph W. Beach: “[W]e know by evidence of all our senses that we are dealing here with ‘substantial things.”’
Tess of the d'Urbervilles Critics of Hardy's day have been joined by their modern counterparts in citing Tess of the d'Urbervilles as the culminating point in Hardy's efforts at creating a modern form of tragedy. Many consider it Hardy's greatest novel.
Author Byron Caminero-Santangelo writes, “During the second half of the nineteenth century, much of the British intellectual and scientific community believed that ethical and social progress was linked with the natural process of evolution. Charles Darwin, T.H. Huxley, and Herbert Spencer all believed that ethics and values could be understood and formulated using the knowledge they had of the natural, material world….In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Hardy… severs the link between ethics and nature, but he hardly portrays British society as ethical, kind, or just. In Tess, society, technology, and law all contribute to the harshness of the ‘cosmic process.' In particular, the novel exposes the way that a patriarchal society uses a ‘natural' discourse to oppress women. Thus, Tess challenges the linking of the ethical and the natural as well as the social structures which are validated by this link.” He continues, “For Hardy, a humane ethical system could not be grounded in nature because nature itself is harsh and ‘cruel,’ and it could not be rooted in religion because he does not posit the possibility of a just deity.”
Jude the Obscure Of Jude the Obscure, author David Grylls writes, “It is true that the book's hero tries hopelessly to harmonise the dual demands of his nature; true, too, that he is trapped between two contrasting women, spiritual Sue and fleshly Arabella. But behind this theme lies something even larger—what Hardy called ‘the tragedy of unfulfilled aims.’ Jude the Obscure is about the pain of disappointment—frustration, disillusion, loss.”
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Hardy's famous contemporaries include:
George Eliot (1819–1880): Pen name of Mary Ann Evans, English novelist. Eliot was a leading realist writer.
ÉmileZola (1840–1902): French novelist and playwright; leader of the literary school of naturalism.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900): German philosopher who criticized religion. Nietzsche is best known for announcing that “God is dead.”
Paul Gauguin (1848–1903): Leading Primitivist painter. Gauguin moved to Polynesia and painted local scenes using bold colors and simple lines.
Olive Schreiner (1855–1920): White South African novelist and early feminist. Schreiner lived in London in the 1880s and wrote about prostitution and birth control.
Grylls continues: “[T]he book also mounts an onslaught on marriage. In this it has affinities with the contemporary New Woman novels, which questioned marriage and urged ‘free union’… underlying such gleefully grim ridicule is a serious critique of monogamous
morality—the belief that all sexual relations outside marriage must automatically be condemned, all inside sanctioned and approved. This belief, or the pressure it exerts, is responsible for virtually every disaster.”
Responses to Literature
- Thomas Hardy is known mainly as a novelist, but he considered his poetry better than his novels. After reading a selection of Hardy's prose and poety, what is your opinion? Was he a better poet than novelist? Write a paper stating your position, using examples from the novels and poems to support your points.
- Hardy shocked his readers by writing about such things as sexual relationships outside of marriage. Hip-hop artists today shock some people by writing about violence, drug use, and crime. One hundred years from now, do you think society will have changed so that those topics are no longer considered shocking?
- How do you interpret the end of Tess of the d'Urbervilles? Does Hardy have Tess end tragicly because society demanded that fallen women be “punished”? Or is the ending an indictment of Victorian society? What would have to change in the novel for Tess to find happiness?
- Readers interested in works that bear a kinship to Hardy's should try the works of D.H. Lawrence (1885–1930). Lawrence, like Hardy, is considered a realist who looked fearlessly at changing terms of the most intimate human relationships. His major novels include: Sons and Lovers (1913), The Rainbow (1915), and Women in Love (1920).
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
With the birth of modern scientific inquiry, the Victorians required a radical readjustment to new concepts of space as well as time. Not only had the earth been shown to be immensely more ancient than had previously been believed, the discoveries of nineteenth-century astronomy revealed a universe of boundless space. Here are some other works that deal with societal change:
Where the Air Is Clear (1958), a novel by Carlos Fuentes. This novel employs a tone of bitter and violent protest and describes many grave social problems in contemporary Mexico City.
The Vortex (1924), a novel by José Eustacio Rivera. This was the first novel written by a Colombian to offer realistic descriptions of Colombian cowherders of the plains and jungle rubber workers.
Les Misérables (1862), a novel by Victor Hugo. Hugo paints a vivid picture of Paris's seamier side while discussing the causes and results of revolution, the moral redemption of its main character, an ex-convict, and the moral redemption of a nation through revolution.
The Faerie Queene (1590), an epic poem by Edmund Spenser. This epic poem portrays the England of Spenser's dreams at a time when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne and there was no heir to the crown.
Dragon's Teeth (1942), a novel by Upton Sinclair. This novel explores the rise of Nazism and won Sinclair the 1943 Pulitzer Prize for Literature.
Beach, Joseph W. The Technique of Thomas Hardy. New York: Russell & Russell, 1922.
Grylls, D. “Jude the Obscure,” in Reference Guide to English Literature. London: St. James Press, 1991.
Guerard, Albert J. Thomas Hardy: The Novels and Stories. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949.
Kramer, Dale. Thomas Hardy: The Forms of Tragedy. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press; London: Macmillan, 1975.
Lerner, L., and J. Holstrom. Thomas Hardy and His Readers. London: The Bodley Head, 1968.
Page, Norman, ed. Thomas Hardy: The Writer and His Background. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980.
Rutland, William R. Thomas Hardy: A Study of His Writings and Their Background. New York: Russell and Russell, 1962.
Caminero-Santangelo, Byron. “A Moral Dilemma: Ethics in Tess of the d'Urbervilles.” English Studies 75, no. 1 (1994): 46–61.
Shumaker, Jeanette. “Breaking with the Conventions: Victorian Confession Novels and Tess of the d'Urbervilles.” English Literature in Transition 1880–1920 37, no. 4 (1994): 445–62.
Nationality: English. Born: Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, 2 June 1840. Education: Local schools, 1848-56; articled to the ecclesiastical architect John Hicks in Dorchester, 1856-62. Family: Married 1) Emma Lavinia Gifford in 1874 (died 1912); 2) Florence Emily Dugdale in 1914. Career: Moved to London to continue his architectural training and worked as assistant to Arthur Blomfield, 1862-67; returned to Dorset and began writing fiction, 1867; continued to work as architect in Dorset and London, 1867-72. Full-time writer from 1872. Lived at Max Gate, Dorchester, from 1885. Justice of the peace for Dorset. Awards: Royal Institute of British Architects medal, for essay, 1863; Architecture Association prize, for design, 1863; Royal Society of Literature gold medal, 1912. LL.D.: University of Aberdeen, 1905; University of St. Andrews, Fife, 1922; University of Bristol, 1925. Litt.D.: Cambridge University, 1913. D.Litt.: Oxford University, 1920. Honorary fellow, Magdalene College, Cambridge, 1913, Queen's College, Oxford, 1922, and Royal Institute of British Architects. Order of Merit, 1910. Member: Council of Justice to Animals. Died: 11 January 1928.
New Wessex Edition of the Works. 1974—.
Complete Poems, edited by James Gibson. 1976; Variorum Edition, 1979.
The Portable Hardy, edited by Julian Moynahan. 1977.
Complete Poetical Works, edited by Samuel Hynes. 3 vols., 1982-85.
(Selections), edited by Samuel Hynes. 1984.
Collected Short Stories, edited by F.B. Pinion. 1988.
Selected Poems. 1993.
The Collected Novels of Thomas Hardy. 1994.
The Great Novels of Thomas Hardy. 1994.
The Essential Hardy. 1995.
Collected Prose Works. 1996.
The Complete Stories. 1996.
Thomas Hardy: Selected Poetry and Non-Fictional Prose. 1997.
Wessex Tales, Strange, Lively and Commonplace. 1888; revised edition, 1896, 1912.
A Group of Noble Dames. 1891; revised edition, 1896.
Life's Little Ironies: A Set of Tales. 1894; revised edition, 1896, 1912.
A Changed Man, The Waiting Supper, and Other Tales. 1913.
An Indiscretion of an Heiress and Other Stories. 1994.
The Fiddler of the Reels and Other Stories. 1997.
Desperate Remedies. 1871; revised edition, 1896, 1912.
Under the Greenwood Tree: A Rural Painting of the Dutch School.1872; revised edition, 1896, 1912; edited by Simon Gatrell, 1985.
A Pair of Blue Eyes. 1873; revised edition, 1895, 1912, 1920; edited by Alan Manford, 1985.
Far from the Madding Crowd. 1874; revised edition, 1875, 1902; edited by James Gibson, 1975.
The Hand of Ethelberta: A Comedy in Chapters. 1876; revised edition, 1895, 1912.
The Return of the Native. 1878; revised edition, 1895, 1912; edited by Colin Temblett-Wood, 1975.
Fellow Townsmen. 1880.
The Trumpet-Major: A Tale. 1880; revised edition, 1895; edited by Ray Evans, 1975.
A Laodicean; or, the Castle of the De Stancys. 1881; revised edition, 1881, 1896, 1912.
Two on a Tower. 1882; revised edition, 1883, 1895, 1912.
The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid. 1883; revised edition, 1913.
The Mayor of Casterbridge: The Life and Death of a Man of Character. 1886; revised edition, 1895, 1912; edited by Dale Kramer, 1987.
The Woodlanders. 1887; revised edition, 1895, 1912; edited by Dale Kramer, 1981.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented.1891; revised edition, 1892, 1895, 1912; edited by Scott Elledge, 1965, revised 1977.
Wessex Novels. 16 vols., 1895-96.
Jude the Obscure. 1895; revised edition, 1912; edited by PatriciaIngham, 1985.
The Well-Beloved: A Sketch of Temperament. 1897; revised edition, 1912; edited by Tom Hetherington, 1986.
An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress. 1934; edited by TerryColeman, 1976.
Our Exploits at West Poley, edited by Richard Little Purdy. 1952.
Far from the Madding Crowd, with J. Comyns Carr, from the novel by Hardy (produced 1882).
The Three Wayfarers, from his own story "The Three Strangers"(produced 1893). 1893; revised edition, 1935.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles, from his own novel (produced 1897; revised version, produced 1924). In Tess in the Theatre, edited by Marguerite Roberts, 1950.
The Dynasts: A Drama of the Napoleonic Wars. 3 vols., 1904-08; vol. 1 revised, 1904; edited by Harold Orel, 1978.
The Play of Saint George. 1921.
The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall (produced 1923).1923; revised edition, 1924.
Wessex Poems and Other Verses. 1898.
Poems of the Past and the Present. 1901; revised edition, 1902.
Time's Laughingstocks and Other Verses. 1909.
Satires of Circumstance: Lyrics and Reveries, with Miscellaneous Pieces. 1914.
Selected Poems. 1916; revised edition, as Chosen Poems, 1929.
Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses. 1917.
Collected Poems. 1919; revised edition, 1923, 1928, 1930.
Late Lyrics and Earlier, with Many Other Verses. 1922.
Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs, and Trifles. 1925.
Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres. 1928.
The Dorset Farm Labourer, Past and Present. 1884.
Works (Wessex Edition). 24 vols., 1912-31.
Works (Mellstock Edition). 37 vols., 1919-20.
Life and Art: Essays, Notes, and Letters, edited by Ernest Brennecke, Jr. 1925.
The Early Life of Hardy 1840-1891, by Florence Hardy. 1928; The Later Years of Hardy 1892-1928, 1930; 1 vol. edition, as The Life of Hardy, 1962; revised edition, as The Life and Works of Hardy, edited by Michael Millgate, 1984.
The Architectural Notebook, edited by C. J. P. Beatty. 1966.
Personal Writings: Prefaces, Literary Opinions, Reminiscences, edited by Harold Orel. 1966.
The Personal Notebooks, edited by Richard H. Taylor. 1978.
Collected Letters, edited by Richard Little Purdy and MichaelMillgate. 7 vols., 1978-88; Selected Letters, edited by Millgate, 1990.
The Literary Notebooks, edited by Lennart A. Björk. 2 vols., 1985.
Alternative Hardy, edited by Lance St. John Butler. 1989.
Thomas Hardy's Studies, Specimens and Notebook. 1994.
Thomas Hardy. 1994.
Editor, Select Poems of William Barnes. 1908.*
Hardy: A Bibliographical Study by Richard Little Purdy, 1954, revised edition, 1968; Hardy: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings about Him by Helmut E. Gerber and W. Eugene Davis, 2 vols., 1973-83; An Annotated Critical Bibliography of Hardy by R. P. Draper and Martin Ray, 1989.
Hardy: A Study of His Writings and Their Background by W. R. Rutland, 1938; Hardy of Wessex by Carl J. Weber, 1940, revised edition, 1965; Hardy by Edmund Blunden, 1941; Hardy the Novelist: An Essay in Criticism by David Cecil, 1943; Hardy: The Novels and Stories by Albert Guerard, 1949, revised edition, 1964, and Hardy: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Guerard, 1963; The Lyrical Poetry of Hardy by C. Day Lewis, 1953; Hardy: A Critical Biography by Evelyn Hardy, 1954; The Pattern of Hardy's Poetry by Samuel Hynes, 1961; Hardy by Richard Carpenter, 1964; Hardy by Irving Howe, 1967; Hardy the Novelist: A Reconsideration by Arnold Kettle, 1967; Hardy: Materials for a Study of His Life edited by J. Stevens Cox, 2 vols., 1968-71; A Hardy Companion, 1968, revised edition, 1976, A Commentary on the Poems of Hardy, 1976, Hardy: Art and Thought, 1977, A Hardy Dictionary, 1989, and Hardy the Writer: Surveys and Assessments, 1990, all by F. B. Pinion; Hardy: The Critical Heritage edited by R. G. Cox, 1970; Hardy: Distance and Desire by J. Hillis Miller, 1970; Hardy: The Poetic Structure by Jean Brooks, 1971; Hardy: His Career as a Novelist, 1971, and Hardy: A Biography, 1982, both by Michael Millgate; Hardy: A Critical Biography by J. I. M. Stewart, 1971; Hardy and British Poetry by Donald Davie, 1972; Hardy and History by R. J. White, 1974; The Great Web: The Form of Hardy's Major Fiction by Ian Gregor, 1974; Moments of Vision: The Poetry of Hardy by Paul Zietlow, 1974; Young Hardy, 1975, and The Older Hardy, 1978 (as Hardy's Later Years, 1978), both by Robert Gittings, and The Second Mrs. Hardy by Gittings and Jo Manton, 1979, revised edition, 1981; Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge: Tragedy or Social History? by Laurence Lerner, 1975; The Shaping of Tess of the d'Urbervilles by J. T. Laird, 1975; Hardy: The Tragic Novels: A Casebook edited by R. P. Draper, 1975; Hardy: The Poetry of Perception by Tom Paulin, 1975, revised edition, 1986; Hardy: The Forms of Tragedy by Dale Kramer, 1975, and Critical Approaches to the Fiction of Hardy, 1979, and Critical Essays on Hardy: The Novels, 1990, both edited by Kramer; The Final Years of Hardy 1912-1928 by Harold Orel, 1976; The Pessimism of Hardy by G. W. Sherman, 1976; A Preface to Hardy by Merryn Williams, 1976; The Genius of Hardy edited by Margaret Drabble, 1976; Hardy, Novelist and Poet, 1976, and Hardy's Wessex, 1983, both by Desmond Hawkins; Hardy's Poetic Vision in The Dynasts by Susan Dean, 1977; Hardy by Norman Page, 1977, and Hardy: The Writer and His Background edited by Page, 1980; An Essay on Hardy by John Bayley, 1978; Hardy by Lance St. John Butler, 1978; Hardy and the Sister Arts by Joan Grundy, 1979; The Novels of Hardy edited by Anne Smith, 1979; The Poetry of Hardy edited by Patricia Clements and Juliet Grindle, 1980; Hardy's Poetry, 1981, and Hardy's Metres and Victorian Prosody, 1988, both by Dennis Taylor; Hardy: Psychological Novelist by Rosemary Sumner, 1981; Hardy and Women: Sexual Ideology and Narrative Form by Penny Boumelha, 1982; The Short Stories of Hardy: Tales of Past and Present by Kristin Brady, 1982; Unity in Hardy's Novels, 1982, and Hardy's Influence on the Modern Novel, 1987, both by Peter J. Casagrande; The Neglected Hardy: Hardy's Lesser Novels by Richard H. Taylor, 1982; The Poetry of Hardy: A Study in Art and Ideas by William E. Buckler, 1983; Hardy's Use of Allusion by Marlene Springer, 1983; Hardy: Poet of Tragic Vision by M. M. Das, 1983; I'd Have My Life Unbe: Hardy's Self-Destructive Characters by Frank R. Giordano, Jr., 1984; Hardy's English by Ralph W. V. Elliott, 1984; The Expressive Eye: Fiction and Perception in the Work of Hardy by J. B. Bullen, 1986; Tess of the d'Urbervilles edited by Terence Wright and Michael Scott, 1987; Hardy: The Offensive Truth by John Goode, 1988; Hardy the Creator: A Textual Biography by Simon Gatrell, 1988; Women and Sexuality in the Novels by Hardy by Rosemarie Morgan, 1988; A Journey into Hardy's Poetry by Joanna Cullen Brown, 1989; Hardy by Patricia Ingraham, 1989; The Language of Hardy by Raymond Chapman, 1990; Hardy's Topographical Lexicon and Canon of Intent: A Reading of the Poetry by Margaret Faurot, 1990; A Critical Introduction to the Poems of Hardy by Trevor Johnson, 1990; Hardy and His God: A Liturgy of Unbelief by Deborah L. Collins, 1990; Critical Essays on Hardy: The Novels edited by Dale Kramer and Nancy Marck, 1990; Thomas Hardy and the Proper Study of Mankind by Simon Gatrell, 1993; Hardy: The Margin of the Unexpressed by Roger Ebbatson, 1993; New Perspectives on Thomas Hardy, 1994; The Decline of the Goddess: Nature, Culture, and Women in Thomas Hardy's Fiction by Shirley A. Stave, 1995; Thomas Hardy in Our Time by Robert Woodrow Langbaum, 1995; Seeing Women as Men: Role Reversal in the Novels of Thomas Hardy by Ellen Lew Sprechman, 1995; Thomas Hardy and the Church by Jan Jedrzejewski, 1996; Thomas Hardy: A Textual Study of the Short Stories by Martin Ray, 1997.* * *
Thomas Hardy wrote approximately 50 short stories, the period of their composition extending throughout the last quarter of the nineteenth century and thus corresponding approximately to the period of his career as a novelist. Nearly all were published soon after composition ("Old Mrs. Chundle," published posthumously, is a notable exception) and appeared in magazines in England or America. The quick returns provided by magazine stories no doubt constituted a significant element in Hardy's income as a professional author, and some critics have been led to dismiss the stories as potboilers. Later critics such as Kristin Brady have, however, taken them more seriously, and Hardy himself regarded them highly enough to collect 37 of them in a series of four volumes, from Wessex Tales to A Changed Man, and to include these volumes in the collected editions of his works.
The stories fall naturally into four groups, each of which shares certain features with Hardy's full-length novels. In the first group are those that, like Under the Greenwood Tree and other novels, evince an intimate, detailed, loving, but also at times ironic observation and understanding of rustic and small-town life. A good example is "A Few Crusted Characters," a set of linked anecdotes (described by Hardy himself as "Colloquial Sketches") narrated in turn by various local characters. Another example is "The Distracted Preacher," a love story that also makes use of the theme of smuggling, as well as employing local dialect and topography. This type of story is predominantly humorous or at least lighthearted, in contrast to the serious and even tragic and bizarre mood of many of Hardy's other stories.
A second group can be identified in terms of period setting rather than the use of locale and regional folklife and culture. Hardy had a lifelong interest in the Napoleonic period, manifested not only in his long epic drama The Dynasts but in his novel The Trumpet-Major, and stories such as "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion" are by-products of this enthusiasm. A subgroup of historical tales turns to earlier periods of English history, the most impressive achievement in this area being the volume A Group of Noble Dames. This set of ten linked stories, told by various local characters ("the Old Surgeon," "the Rural Dean") with some attention to congruence between teller and tale, may owe something in its structure to The Canterbury Tales, but its world is more exclusively localized: as the title suggests, the concern is with the history of various aristocratic or genteel families of the district—further evidence of Hardy's keen response to the idea of the history and vicissitudes of a family. Many of the stories are tragic in tone, the finest of them, "Barbara of the House of Grebe," being a remarkable exercise in Gothic horror. The story is also an interesting instance of Hardy's ability, in a story intended for a middle-class Victorian readership, to handle the themes of eroticism and sadism. (It is true, however, that one contemporary critic described it as "unnatural" and "disgusting," and later T.S. Eliot referred disapprovingly to the "morbid emotion" it seemed to be intended to indulge.) At the same time it represents a striking, and typically Hardyan, blending of modes: as Kristin Brady points out, it is a "fairy tale … told in a realistic mode rather than a mode of romance."
This last example suggests that the second category of story that is being proposed here merges into the third: the romantic tales, often embodying some element of the supernatural and claiming kinship with the folktale and the traditional ballad. One of the finest of these is "The Fiddler of the Reels," another story in which Hardy contrived to effect a compromise between the tolerance level of Victorian readers and editors and his own desire to explore issues of sexuality. Mop's seductive musical powers clearly represent an irresistible sexual magnetism, and the story curiously blends the ancient motif of the demon lover and a modern setting that invokes that arch-Victorian phenomenon, the Great Exhibition of 1851. In a somewhat lighter vein is "The Three Strangers," the repetitive structure of which is strongly reminiscent of the traditional tale or ballad.
In contrast to all of these categories is the final group of stories, those that present contemporary life in highly realistic and often ironic or tragic terms and have much in common with Hardy's later tragic novels such as Jude the Obscure. A particularly effective example is "On the Western Circuit," first published in 1891 and hence preceding that novel by only a short period; like Jude, too, it suffered bowdlerization on its original magazine appearance. Like so much of Hardy's later work, the story concerns an unsatisfactory marriage and the craving of a woman for the kind of fulfillment that cannot be found in the union to which custom has permanently condemned her. The central idea of the story—that a pregnant woman's strong convictions may leave their mark on her child—has an outcome that may at first sight seem fanciful but is related to Hardy's deep interest in questions of heredity. The story's ending, involving the rejection of the child by his true father, is finely ironic. Though less intense than "An Imaginative Woman," "The Son's Veto" is another notable story in this category.
As the examples cited suggest, Hardy's range as a writer of short stories is wide. In the preface to Wessex Tales, defending the historical accuracy of some of his stories, he remarks disarmingly that they "are but dreams, and not records." The truth seems to be that they are both dreams and records, the two elements sometimes being found within a single example. The time is certainly past when Hardy's short fiction can be ignored or dismissed as mere journeyman work, for it has both a significant and suggestive relationship to his more ambitious projects and, at its best, offers work of a quality comparable with that of contemporary writers, like Kipling and Conrad, whose short stories have been treated as a more familiar and integral part of their achievement.
See the essays on "On the Western Circuit" and "A Tragedy of Two Ambitions."
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.
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.
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.
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). □
Born: June 2, 1840
Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England
Died: January 11, 1928
English author, novelist, poet, and dramatist
The works of the English novelist, poet, and dramatist Thomas Hardy unite the Victorian (c. 1840–1900) 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 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.
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.
Hardy preferred his poetry to his prose (nonpoetry writings) and thought his novels merely a way to earn a living. But his best novels—The 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 (1822–1888), Robert Browning (1812–1889), Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892), and others. Writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894) 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 (1809–1892) and accepted the idea of evolution, the theory that animals, including man, developed from earlier species. Later he took to reading philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) 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 (1769–1821), 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.
HARDY, THOMAS (1840–1928), English novelist and poet.
The son of a stonemason and former house servant, Thomas Hardy was born on 2 June 1840, in Higher Bockhampton, a hamlet on the edge of a heath near the county town of Dorchester, in the western shire of Dorset. His early education at home and in different schools ended with his apprenticeship to a local architect at the age of sixteen. When he was twenty-two, Hardy took employment in London with an architect, a large part of whose business was in restoring ancient Anglican churches, an activity that Hardy in later years regretted (because of the accompanying destruction of original stone and wood tracery and fabrics).
In his spare time Hardy wrote poetry, without attaining publication. He turned to prose and had some success with his second published novel,Under the Greenwood Tree (1872). The acclaim for his fourth novel, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), led him not only to leave architecture in order to write full-time but also to marry Emma Lavinia Gifford, who for several years assisted him by recopying his draft manuscripts, but who by the time of her death in 1912 had developed religious and social obsessions that seriously strained the marriage. A succession of novels and short stories from 1870 to 1896 earned him fame and financial security. Some of the novels before and after The Return of the Native (1878) were unsuccessful experiments in form and subject; but beginning in 1886 with The Mayor of Casterbridge, and continuing with The Woodlanders (1886) and Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) and culminating with Jude the Obscure (1895), Hardy's increasingly biting irony, painful denouements of his characters' lives, and eloquent critiques of conventional social, sexual, and religious beliefs made him controversial even as the sales of his books grew.
Partly in resentment at the denunciations by some of his critics (and in spite of his fame and the admiration of many distinguished readers and critics), he finally declared his intention to write no more fiction and returned to poetry, publishing his first book of poems, Wessex Poems and Other Verses, in 1898, and his second, Poems of the Past and the Present, in 1901. In his own judgment his chef d'oeuvre was The Dynasts (published in three volumes, 1903–1908), a verse-drama in nineteen acts (130 scenes), consisting of a melange of prose stage directions intermixed with extensive verse passages. This work, influenced by the German philosopher Eduard von Hartmann (1842–1906), interprets the events of the Napoleonic Wars as determined by Spirits of the Age, much in the manner of classical Greek and Roman myths. As the product of a famous novelist, Hardy's verse was initially greeted with skepticism and impatience, but by the publication of the third volume of The Dynasts he was one of Britain's most respected poets, and the subsequent six volumes of verse he published solidified his stature. The poems written in regret and mourning for Emma after her death in November 1912 (twenty-one of which were published under the blanket name "Poems of 1912–13") are generally admired as some of the finest, most poignant love poems in the English language. In early 1914 Hardy married Florence Dugdale, who had been informally working as his secretary. Hardy died 11 January 1928.
The attacks on convention that had caused conservative reviewers and readers of the nineteenth century to scorn Hardy's novels did not have a comparable effect on the reception of his verse (although there was tongue-clucking over such poems as "Hap"). Some of his most effective poems lament the pointlessness of war, as in "Drummer Hodge," regarding the Boer War (1899–1902), and "Channel Firing," written just before World War I (1914–1918). For Hardy, in both his fiction and his poetry, it is the human life that continues to go on during national crises and economic conundrums that merits respect and attention ("In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations"').
This priority is true for his fiction as well as for his poetry. Early in his career he realized that by concentrating on a single section of Britain (which he called Wessex, comprising Dorset and parts of five other southwestern counties of England) he could find ample material to demonstrate general truths and in effect to interrelate all of his writings. This decision also in time came to inspire a large tourist industry that continues to the twenty-first century, as admirers search for the actual locales in which Hardy imagined his stories and poems taking place. Even after he ceased writing new novels he continued to revise old ones for new editions. One of his principal concerns was to adjust Wessex settings, others were to clarify personalities and to bring sexual dilemmas into sharper relief. The reasons for, and the aesthetic effects of, these revisions constitute still unresolved controversies in Hardy scholarship, which are extremely well surveyed by Simon Gatrell.
Numerous other controversies about Hardy exist. Biographically, basic questions about Hardy may never be "solved," such as whether his affection for his cousin Tryphena Sparks was erotic, and whether his tendency to be infatuated with such society women as Florence Henniker resulted from the unsatisfactoriness of his marriage to Emma or the marriage became emotionally bland because of this tendency. The most reliable authority on biographical issues is Michael Millgate, but among others Robert Gittings offers interesting alternative views and information.
Still of substantive interest are Hardy's views of gender and his presentation of women: although he is accused by some of condescension toward women, others admire him for a deep empathy with women in a patriarchal society that in effect condoned rape and exploitation. Marxism and its assorted poststructuralist and political variants have offered some of the more provocative avenues into this area of Hardy's work and continue to attempt to place Hardy within both Victorian and modern culture.
Hardy remains an extraordinarily approachable touchstone for an understanding of nineteenth-century life and writings. Eschewing the phantasm of Charles Dickens (1812–1870) and the constricted social range of Jane Austen (1775–1817), along with these two writers he is the most widely read (by nonacademicians) of the plethora of fiction writers of the nineteenth century. Most of his poetry was written in the twentieth century, and suitably he has been one of the chief models for British poets since his time; but he also stands not much lower than Robert Browning (1812–1889) and Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) as widely read poets who can be classed as Victorian.
See alsoDickens, Charles; Eliot, George; Gaskell, Elizabeth; Great Britain; Tennyson, Alfred.
Boumelha, Penny. Thomas Hardy and Women: Sexual Ideology and Narrative Form. Sussex, U.K., 1982.
Gatrell, Simon. Hardy the Creator: A Textual Biography. Oxford, U.K., 1988.
——. Thomas Hardy's Vision of Wessex. Houndmills, Basingstoke, U.K., 2003.
Gittings, Robert. Young Thomas Hardy. Harmondsworth, U.K., 1975.
——. The Older Hardy. London, 1978.
Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited. Oxford, U.K., 2004.
Taylor, Dennis. Hardy's Poetry, 1860–1928. Rev. ed. Basingstoke, U.K., 1989.
Widdowson, Peter. Hardy in History: A Study in Literary Sociology. London and New York, 1989.
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.