One of the most renowned poets and novelists in English literary history, Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 in the English village of Higher Bockhampton in the county of Dorset. He died in 1928 at Max Gate, a house he built for himself and his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford, in Dorchester, a few miles from his birthplace. Hardy’s youth was influenced by the musicality of his father, a stonemason and fiddler, and his mother, Jemima Hand Hardy, often described as the real guiding star of Hardy’s early life. Though he was an architectural apprentice in London, and spent time there each year until his late 70s, Dorset provided Hardy with material for his fiction and poetry. One of the poorest and most backward of the counties, rural life in Dorset had changed little in hundreds of years, which Hardy explored through the rustic characters in many of his novels. Strongly identifying himself and his work with Dorset, Hardy saw himself as a successor to the Dorset dialect poet William Barnes, who had been a friend and mentor. Moreover, Hardy called his novels the Wessex Novels, after one of the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon Britain. He provided a map of the area, with the names of the villages and towns he coined to represent actual places.
But other features of southern England also influenced Hardy, especially as a poet. Stonehenge was only the most famous of the many remains of the past scattered throughout the English south. There Hardy could explore and contemplate Druid and Roman, ancient and medieval ruins, a fascination which also found expression in later poems like “The Shadow on the Stone.” Hardy’s interest in history also extended to the Napoleonic Wars, which he considered one of the great events of the historical past; Dorset tradition told of the fear of Bonaparte’s invasion of England. Hardy’s epic, poetical drama The Dynasts (1908) reflects a lifetime of involvement with this historical material, including interviews he conducted with elderly soldiers who had fought in the Napoleonic campaigns. Hardy also visited the field of the battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon’s forces were defeated.
Alive to the past, as a writer Hardy was also sensitive to the future; scores of younger authors, including William Butler Yeats, Siegfried Sassoon, and Virginia Woolf, visited him, and he discussed poetry with Ezra Pound. Furthermore, Hardy’s well-known war poems spoke eloquently against some of the horrors of his present, notably the Boer War and World War I. In such works as “Drummer Hodge” and “In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations,” Hardy addressed the conflicts in visceral imagery, often using colloquial speech and the viewpoint of ordinary soldiers. His work had a profound influence on other war poets such as Rupert Brooke and Sassoon.
Hardy’s long career spanned the Victorian and the modern eras. He described himself in “In Tenebris II” as a poet “who holds that if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst” and during his nearly 88 years he lived through too many upheavals—including World War I—to have become optimistic with age. Nor did he seem by nature to be cheerful: much of the criticism around his work concerns its existentially bleak outlook, and, especially during Hardy’s own time, sexual themes. Incredibly prolific, Hardy wrote fourteen novels, three volumes of short stories, and several poems between the years 1871 and 1897. Hardy’s great novels, including Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895), were all published during this period. They both received negative reviews, which may have led Hardy to abandoning fiction to write poetry.
From 1898 until his death in 1928 Hardy published eight volumes of poetry; about one thousand poems were published in his lifetime. Moreover, between 1903 and 1908 Hardy published The Dynasts—a huge poetic drama in 3 parts, 19 acts, and 130 scenes. Using the Napoleonic wars to dramatize his evolving philosophy, Hardy also pioneered a new kind of verse. According to John Wain’s introduction to the 1965 St. Martin’s Press edition of the dramatic poem, in composing The Dynasts Hardy took “one of those sudden jumps which characterize the man of genius. ... He wrote his huge work in accordance with conventions of an art that had not yet been invented: the art of cinema.” The Dynasts, following this view, is “neither a poem, nor a play, nor a story. It is a shooting-script.” Though little read today, The Dynasts presents Hardy’s idea of “evolutionary meliorism,” the hope that human action could make life better. The length and scope of The Dynasts, which was published in three parts over five years, engendered varied, and sometimes bewildered, responses. But by 1908, with the publication of the third part, most reviewers were enthusiastic.
However, Hardy’s lyric poetry is by far his best known, and most widely read. Incredibly influential for poets such as Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, Philip Larkin, and Donald Hall, Hardy forged a modern style that nonetheless hewed closely to poetic convention and tradition. Innovative in his use of stanza and voice, Hardy’s poetry, like his fiction, is characterized by a pervasive fatalism. In the words of biographer Claire Tomalin, the poems illuminate “the contradictions always present in Hardy, between the vulnerable, doomstruck man and the serene inhabitant of the natural world.” Hardy’s lyrics are intimately and directly connected to his life: the great poems of 1912 to 1913 were written after the death of Emma on November 27, 1912. Some of these works are dated as early as December 1912, a month after her death, and others were composed in March of the following year, after Hardy had visited St. Juliot, Cornwall, where he first met Emma. Tomalin described Emma’s death as “the moment when Thomas Hardy became a great poet,” a view shared by other recent critics. Hardy’s Emma poems, Tomalin goes on to point out, are some the “finest and strangest celebrations of the dead in English poetry.” Hardy was notorious for his relationships with younger women throughout his life, and he married Florence Dugdale, a woman almost 40 years his junior, shortly after Emma’s death. Hardy’s Emma poems, then, according to Thomas Mallon in the New York Times, are “racked with guilt and wonder.” They are poems in which he attempts to come to terms with the loss of both his wife and his love for her, many years earlier.
Though frequently described as gloomy and bitter, Hardy’s poems pay attention to the transcendent possibilities of sound, line, and breath—the musical aspects of language. As Irving Howe noted in Thomas Hardy, any “critic can, and often does, see all that is wrong with Hardy’s poetry but whatever it was that makes for his strange greatness is hard to describe.” Hardy’s poetry, perhaps even more so than his novels, has found new audiences and appreciation as contemporary scholars and critics attempt to understand his work in the context of Modernism. But Hardy has always presented scholars and critics with a contradictory body of work; as Jean Brooks suggests in Thomas Hardy: The Poetic Structure, because Hardy’s “place in literature has always been controversial, constant reassessment is essential to keep the balance between modern and historical perspective.” Virginia Woolf, a visitor to Max Gate, noted some of Hardy’s enduring power as a writer: “Thus it is no mere transcript of life at a certain time and place that Hardy has given us. It is a vision of the world and of man’s lot as they revealed themselves to a powerful imagination, a profound and poetic genius, a gentle and humane soul.”
When Hardy died in 1928, his ashes were deposited in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey and his heart, having been removed before cremation, was interred in the graveyard at Stinsford Church where his parents, grandparents, and his first wife were buried.POETRY FOUNDATION
Thomas Hardy Time line Biography.
1840: Thomas Hardy was born on June 2nd, in Higher Bockhampton.
1848 -1856: Hardy was attending school.
1856: Hardy was involved in architect school met and studied with Horace Moule.
1862: Hardy travelled to London and worked with Arthur Blomfield. It was in London that he attended an Exhibiton and started writing poetry.
1865: Hardy published his first article, “How I Built Myself a House.”
1867: Hardy returned to Dorset and wrote The Poor Man and the Lady a novel that was never published.
1870: Was the year Hardy met Emma Lavinia Gifford.
1871-1873: Desperate Remedies, Under the Greenwood Tree, and A Pair of Blue Eyes published respectively.
1873: Hardy left architecture to become full-time writer.
1874-76: The year Hardy married Emma and The Hand of Ethelberta was published.
1878: The Return of the Native published and was among successful novels that made Hardy celebrity
1880-83: The Trumpet-Major, A Laodicean and Two on a Tower published respectively a year apart.
1886: Hardy moved into Max Gate. The Mayor of Casterbridge published.
1887-88: The Woodlanders and Wessex Tales short stories published
1891: Noble Dames and Tess of the d’Urbervilles published
1892: Hardy’s father passed away. He begun serialization The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved.
1893: Meets Florence Henniker.
1894-97: Life’s Little Ironies was published and The Well-Beloved appeared in volume form.
1898: Hardy’s first volume of poems, Wessex Poems, appears in an edition of only 500 copies. He stopped writing novels.
1902: Poems of the Past and Present, Hardy’s second volume as a poet, is published.
1903:- 96: Hardy worked on The Dynasts (epic trilogy).
1910: Hardy receives the Order of Merit and the Freedom of Dorchester.
1912: Emma Hardy’s wife dies.
1913: A Changed Man was published. Hardy makes a pilgrimage to the sites of his first wife Emma.
1914: Satires of Circumstance are published. It contains the “Poems of 1912-13,” written in memory of Emma.
1914: Hardy marries Florence Dugdale. World War I broke up, contributing to Hardy’s pessimism.
1917-23: Moments of Vision, Late Lyrics and Earlier, and The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall published.
1925: Hardy is said to have been working on his autobiography, published posthumously under Florence’s name.
1928: Hardy dies. His ashes are buried in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, and his heart is buried in Emma’s grave. Winter Words and Hardy’s autobiography is published posthumously.
by Ben Johnson
Thomas Hardy was an immensely shy person, who surrounded his house, Max Gate in Dorchester, with a dense curtain of trees, shunned publicity and investigative reporters, and when visitors arrived unexpectedly, slipped quietly out of the back door of his house in order to avoid them. So that no one should penetrate this mask of shyness, Hardy kept a rigid control over what aspects of his life were to be divulged and what were not.
His first wife, Emma, behaved in a similar way, at least as far as her and her husband’s letters to one another were concerned: she burnt all that she could lay her hands upon. As for Hardy, following Emma’s death he burnt, page by page, a book-length manuscript of hers entitled What I Think of My Husband, together with most, but not all, of her diaries. When Hardy’s second wife, Florence, wrote a so-called ‘biography’ of him, he retained control by dictating to her virtually the whole of the manuscript. When Hardy himself died in 1928, Florence destroyed a great deal more of his and Emma’s personal papers. This begs the question, did Hardy have something to hide, a secret of some kind; and if so, is it possible, eight decades after his death, to discover what this secret was?
At first, this appears to be an impossible task, bearing in mind the vast quantity of ‘evidence’ which was deliberately destroyed by Hardy and his wives and others during their lifetimes. Also, when Florence died in 1937, her executor, Irene Cooper Willis, destroyed ‘a mass of the first Mrs Hardy’s incoming correspondence that had sat undisturbed in her former attic retreat at Max Gate ever since her own death twenty-five years earlier’. However, for a diligent researcher with an open mind, who is alive to the various clues to the conundrum which Hardy left behind, the task is not an impossible one.
Florence Hardy, Thomas’ second wife, 1915
For much of his adult life, Hardy laboured under a terrible burden of grief, the details of which he kept very much to himself. He required an outlet for this grief, a means of expressing his inner torment, and this outlet came through his writings. Hardy once told his friend, Edward Clodd, in respect of his novels, that “every superstition, custom, etc., described therein may be depended on as true records of the same — and not inventions of mine”.
What he did not tell Clodd, and what only very few of his contemporaries managed to discern, was the phenomenal extent to which his own personal life was reflected both in his novels and in his poems. However, even in this he was hamstrung, in that he could not afford to be explicit – at least while Emma was alive – for fear of offending her.
Thomas Hardy’s cottage at Higher Bockhampton
The genius of Thomas Hardy is multi-faceted; each facet reflecting his brilliance as a diamond reflects the light. His literary and classical allusions are drawn from his immense mental ‘data-base’ of knowledge, laid down in his mind after years of sustained and devoted study. Stories collected by him on his journey through life, from personal observation, newspaper articles and conversations with others — whether amusing or macabre – were stored away, to be woven (sometimes years later) into the tapestry of his novels, and retold with all the rustic wit and wisdom of the true countryman. His prose is exquisite. His empathy with underprivileged people is universally recognised, and millions identify with the struggles of the characters in his novels.
During the lifetime of Thomas Hardy, publisher Vere H. Collins was one of the very few people to suspect, and have the fact confirmed by Hardy himself, that some of Hardy’s writings — notably his poem The Interloper — contained coded messages which revealed insights into his personal life. Nevertheless, neither Collins nor those who have studied the life of Hardy since his death have realised the full extent to which this is true.
The challenge has been to discover the hidden meanings contained in the works of this shy and secretive man. One may imagine him sitting in his study at Max Gate after the great schism when he decided to live a separate life from Emma, albeit under the same roof. By now, all his romantic dreams have been irrevocably shattered, and he is experiencing all the symptoms of a bereaved person: denial, numbness and unreality, followed by extreme sadness, anxiety and loneliness.
However, because of his shyness he tends to keep his thoughts to himself, rather than to confide in others. But he must have some outlet for his emotions, so he chooses to express himself in the best way that he knows – on paper, where he simply cannot resist alluding to his increasingly problematical relationship with Emma. This is a catharsis for him. And not only that, it provides him with a motivation to portray scenes in which his characters experience and wrestle with the same problems as he does.
Hardy’s writings reveal the immense torment and grief which attends one whose life is a living hell, on account of the fact that his spouse is mentally deranged. And this, of course, explains why his latter novels and poems are so sad and introspective, while his early writings are full of joy, humour and romance
In his writings, Hardy reveals how Emma’s delusions manifested themselves. They also reveal how he himself was largely in denial about Emma (although he did go so far as to admit that she suffered from delusions); he preferred stubbornly to cling to the original image which he had formed in his mind of her, instead of recognising the reality of the situation. Hardy’s works show that he wrestled with his problems in vain, and failed to find an answer as to why Emma, this beautiful woman whom he once adored, failed to reciprocate his feelings, and, in particular, why she refused to consummate the sexual side of their relationship (even though, at least in the early years of their marriage, she was prepared to be a friend to him)…
The poet and novelist Thomas Hardy is perhaps most famous for his powerfully visual novels, concerned with the inexorability of human destiny. His works unfold against a rural background drawn as an elegy for vanishing country ways, but which also provides much-needed comic relief.
Thomas Hardy was born in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset - and the fictitious Wessex where he sets most of his novels is clearly inspired by south-west England. Son of a stonemason, and trained as an architect, he wrote in his spare time until the success of Far From The Madding Crowd (1874). He could then give up architecture for writing, and marry Emma Gifford, whom he had met in Cornwall in 1870.
Between 1874 and 1895, he wrote over a dozen novels and collections of stories, including The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) and Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891). After the adverse reception of the savagely bleak Jude the Obscure (1895) he turned to poetry, which he continued to write and publish throughout the rest of his life.
By the end of the 19th century, he had gained an international reputation and a wide circle of literary friends. His changed circumstances led his and Emma’s interests to diverge; in many of his novels, impulsive passion leads to disaster. Their rift was increased by Emma’s objection to the unremitting gloom of Jude the Obscure, and its pessimistic view of marriage. However, after her death in 1912, Hardy suffered deep remorse; a visit to the Cornish coast where he had met Emma produced a stream of magnificent poems in her memory, published as Poems of 1912-13. In 1914 he married his much younger secretary, Florence Dugdale. He died at Max Gate on 11 January, 1928, the house in Dorchester that he had designed himself over four decades previously.
Remembering Thomas Hardy and his Brilliant Literary Legacy
Thomas Hardy was a renowned English novelist born on 2ND June, 1840. He was one of the classic writers of all times. His work is revered even today and is read worldwide. He spent most of his childhood where he gained immense knowledge of culture and his roots. He credits his upliftment and success to his mother who was the guiding light of his life. He had an apprentice in architecture in London but his heart and soul lies in poetry and loved weaving stories through verses and words. Dorset specifically aided him in writing down his reveries. Many of his characters are rustic and resonated with Dorset’s aura. Hardy’s works are intellectual and meticulous to read and ponder upon.
There’s a mysterious story about the death and burial of Hardy’s body. Hardy immensely wished that he should be buried at Stinsford. However, after his death his burial was questioned and few authorities emphasized on the fact that his body should be buried near Poet’s corner. But his second wife, Florence was adamant on fulfilling his late husband’s wish. Later, after contemplations, it was decided that his heart would be buried at Stinsford and ashes in the Abbeys.
Here, I am, recommending some of the best works by him which are read even today and deserve all the recognition and praise.
Tess of the d’ Urbervilles (1891)
This book staunchly represents women’s status in 19th century. It is a feel-good book which is beautifully composed. There are moments when it may turn bleak and heart breaking but eventually, you’d love it. There are various controversies presented of those time and Hardy has been successful to etch the correct essence. This novel talks about the aspect of timing and how it is important in everyone’s lives. It is one of the classics and you as a literature devotee should definitely.
Far from Madding Crowd
Bathsheba, the lady protagonist is portrayed fiercely sweeping us all from our feet. This book is little orthodox in nature but the intense ending and strong dialogues hold us on our seats till we don’t complete it. The emotions are subtly passed on but we can relate to it. Hardy’s books are precious and this one tops the list in it. The characterization in this book is perfect and the storyline is gripping too. You would regret missing out on this one.
The Mayor of Casterbridge
This novel is a beauty; sheer beauty. This book is so well constructed that all the readers are left in the awe of it. The craft is well presented and the storyline is one of a kind. The language is understandable and has no loose ends. I personally worship this book for its perfection. Hardy has once again proved that he and his work are different and unique. He wins us over through his impeccable verses and strong story building.
The Well Beloved
This was one of the remarkable novels in Thomas’s journey. It gave a totally different perspective to the notion of love and reading this book would make you experience that kind of love too. He has very well explored human nature and societal expectations. The setting of the novel is great and the language is pretty understandable too. It is spooky in a way (no spoilers).
The Return of the Native
This one is a radical book perfectly resonating with the thinking pattern of that era. This book discusses the harms of misunderstandings and presumptions. It can lead to a havoc you would not even realise. This book is a blessing and would keep you hooked throughout. It is crafted according to the atmosphere of that era and is a delightful read.
Jude the Obscure
Jude the Obscure runs parallel to Hardy’s life and critics consider Jude Fawley as his own reflection. When it was published, critics scrutinized it for a plethora of moral reasons. This led Hardy to quit writing novels. Some prominent themes were religion, education, incest and marriage. He turned to poetry after calling Jude the Obscure his last novel. His most famous collection of poems is Wessex Poems.
Thomas Hardy was gem of a writer and his books had the power of spreading wisdom and literary knowledge. One should atleast read one of Hardy’s works to understand him and the world of his time. He lived his era through his books and meticulously pointed everything happening around him in the pages of his novels. He is worshipped even today by literature devotees
Hope you all like my recommendations. Try reading him next, you’d fall more in love with literature.
- Prapti Shah
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