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Thomas Hardy, an English poet and novelist, was most famous for his
portrayal of the imaginary county "Wessex". Hardy's work reflected his
negative view and sense of tragedy in human life.
Hardy was born June 2, 1840 in Dorset near Dorchester. His father was
a stonemason. Hardy's mother provided for his education. Her tastes
included Latin poets and French romances. A year later his sister,
Mary was born. At the age of 8 in 1948, Hardy attended a village
school and in 1849 he went to a school in Dorchester, he studied there
until the age of 16.
The first 10 years of Hardy's life saw the great Irish famine,
chartist riots, the Repeal of Corn Laws and the introduction of Penny
Post. 1847 was particularly important because it was then that the
Brontë sisters released their best-selling novels, Jane Eyre and
WutheringHeights. Also the railway was established in Dorchester
The news and images of the famine, the riots and railway introduction
to Dorchester without a doubt reached Hardy and as a juvenile he
understood little but took it all in and this may be what set off his
negative view and sense of human life.
After schooling in Dorchester, Hardy was apprenticed to an architect.
He was 16 at the time. He worked in an office, which specialised in
restoration of churches.
Between 1853-6 the Crimean War took place, this may have made Hardy
reminisce the famines and riots he heard about whilst growing up.
At the age of 18, in 1858, Hardy wrote his first surviving poem,
'Domicilium' and a year later Darwin's Origin of Species was
At the age of 22 Hardy moved to London and started to write poems
whilst working as an architect, but the poems failed to get published.
His first publication was a short fictional piece called 'How I Built
Myself a House' which he wrote for the entertainment of his friends at
the age of 25.
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with poetry began writing his first novel entitled 'The Poor Man and
the Lady.' The book was rejected by publishers and so Hardy destroyed
the manuscript. A year after moving back Hardy had a romantic affair
with his cousin Tryphena Sparks. He wrote a poem about her after her
death which suggests he didn't really get over her. In 1861 the
American Civil War broke out.
During the 1860s Hardy steadily lost his religious faith. This was
probably because of the events and issues Hardy had experienced.
The 1870s were somewhat better for Thomas Hardy because he met, fell
in love with and married Emma Lavinia Gifford. At around the same time
the Franco-Prussian War took place and the Education Act meant
education was free for all. Hardy anonymously published Desperate
Remedies, this was yet another failure. At age 32 in 1872 hardy
enjoyed minor success with 'Under the Greenwood Tree' and then the
following year another one of his novels 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' was
embraced by the public. It was his 1874 novel 'Far from the Madding'
that made him become a full time novelist.
In 1880, Hardy was taken ill for several months. He had a few
publications in 1880 including The Mayor of Casterbridge. In 1882
Hardy visited Paris and in 1885 he moved into Max Gate, on the
outskirts of Dorchester. He also saw Impressionist paintings in
London. In 1887 Hardy travelled some more, this time to France and
Italy and 1888 saw the release of his first collection of short
stories entitled Wessex Tales. There were a lot of deaths in the 1880s
in the literary field including those of Darwin, William Barnes and
Hardy's father died in 1892. In 1891 Tess of the D'urbervilles came
into conflict with Victorian principles. Hardy's next novel, Jude the
Obscure in 1895 caused even more debate. The story sensationalised the
conflict between "carnal and spiritual life". In 1896, disturbed by
the public uproar over the eccentric subjects of two of his greatest
novels, Hardy announced that he would never write fiction again.
Hardy's first book of verse Wessex Poems was published in 1898.
During the early 1900s a lot of Hardy's poetry was published. His
mother died in 1904, the same year he released The Dynasts Part I. In
1906 he released The Dynasts Part II. It was around this time that he
met Florence Dugdale.
In 1912 his wife, Emma died. Her death inspired a number of Hardy's
poems including The Going and The Haunter. He spent most of 1913
revisiting Cornwall where he first met Emma and the following year he
marries again. He marries Florence Dugdale who at the time was his
The Boer War was going on during this period and this inspired a lot
of Hardy's poetry as did the sinking of the Titanic. WW1 was also a
theme of some of Hardy's poetry. 1915 saw the death of Hardy's sister
Mary and from 1920-27 Hardy worked on his autobiography. It was
disguised as the work of Florence Hardy and appeared in two volumes.
Hardy's last book published in his lifetime was Human Shows in 1925.
He died in 1928 aged 88 and was cremated in Dorchester and buried in
the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. According to a literary
anecdote his heart was to be buried in his birthplace, and all went
according to plan, until a cat belonging to the poet's sister snatched
the heart off the kitchen, where it was temporarily kept, and
disappeared into the woods with it.
Thomas Hardy, Selected Poems edited by Norman Page