Thomas Hardy Biography

Thomas Hardy provoked readers with his 1895 tragic novel Jude the Obscure, a scathing attack on the institution of marriage and sexual repression in 19th-century England.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), English novelist and poet of the naturalist movement, who powerfully delineated characters, portrayed in his native Dorset, struggling helplessly against their passions and external circumstances.

Hardy was born in Higher Bockhampton, Dorsetshire, June 2, 1840, and educated in local schools and later privately. His father, a stonemason, apprenticed him early to a local architect engaged in restoring old churches. From 1862 to 1867 Hardy worked for an architect in London and later continued to practice architecture, despite ill health, in Dorset. Meanwhile, he was writing poetry with little success. He then turned to novels as more salable, and by 1874 he was able to support himself by writing. This is also the year that Hardy married his first wife, Emma Gifford. Their marriage lasted until her death in 1912, which prompted Hardy to write his collection of poems called Veteris Vestigiae Flammae (Vestiges of an Old Flame). These poems are some of Hardy's finest and describe their meeting and his subsequent loss. In 1914 Florence Dugdale became Hardy's second wife and she wrote his biography after he died in Dorchester, on January 11, 1928.


Hardy anonymously published two early novels, Desperate Remedies (1871) and Under the Greenwood Tree (1872). The next two, A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), in his own name, were well received. Far from the Madding Crowd was adapted for the screen in 1967. In the latter he portrayed Dorsetshire as the imaginary county of Wessex. The novel is, however, not invested with the tragic gloom of his later novels. Some lesser works followed, including The Woodlanders (1887) and two volumes of short stories, Wessex Tales (1888) and Life's Little Ironies (1894).

Along with Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy's best novels are The Return of the Native (1878), which is his most closely knit narrative; The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886); Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), made into a movie called Tess in 1979; and Jude the Obscure (1895). All are pervaded by a belief in a universe dominated by the determinism of the biology of Charles Darwin and the physics of the 17th-century philosopher and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton. Occasionally the determined fate of the individual is altered by chance, but the human will loses when it challenges necessity. Through intense, vivid descriptions of the heath, the fields, the seasons, and the weather, Wessex attains a physical presence in the novels and acts as a mirror of the psychological conditions and the fortunes of the characters. These fortunes Hardy views with irony and sadness. The critic G. K. Chesterton wrote that Hardy “became a sort of village atheist brooding and blaspheming over the village idiot.” In Victorian England, Hardy did indeed seem a blasphemer, particularly in Jude, which treated sexual attraction as a natural force unopposable by human will. Criticism of Jude was so harsh that Hardy announced he was “cured” of writing novels.


At the age of 55 Hardy returned to writing poetry, a form he had previously abandoned. Wessex Poems (1898) and Poems of the Past and Present (1901) contained poems he had written earlier. In The Dynasts, written between 1903 and 1908, Hardy created what some consider his most successful poetry. An unstageable epic drama in 19 acts and 130 scenes, it deals with the role of England during the Napoleonic Wars. Hardy's vision is the same as in his novels: History and the actors, who are racked by feeling, are nevertheless dominated by necessity. Hardy's short poems, both lyric and visionary, were published as Time's Laughing Stocks (1909), Satires of Circumstances (1914), Moments of Vision (1917), Late Lyrics and Earlier (1922), Human Shows, Far Fantasies (1925), and Winter Words (1928). Hardy's techniques of rhythm and his diction are especially noteworthy. Among his most successful shorter poems are “Channel Firing, April 1914,””Wessex Heights,””In Tenebris, I,””God's Funeral,” and “Nature's Questioning.”

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