English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (2nd June 1840 – 11th January 1928) Dorset, England focused his work on the decline of rural society. He was a great fan of Charles Dickens and George Elliot. His romantic poetry was influenced by William Wordsworth.
Hardy regarded himself foremost, as a poet. His first poetry collection was published in 1898. ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ was published in 1874, – his first literary success through his writing.
His novels, which include ‘Far from the Madding crowd ‘ (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895) were set in his semi fictional region of Wessex, based on an old medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the South West of England.
Hardy’s father Thomas was a stonemason and builder. His mother Jemima was a well read woman. She educated young Thomas at home before he went to school aged eight years old in Bockhampton. He learned Latin and acquired academic potential at Mr Last’s Academy for Young Gentlemen in Dorchester. When his formal education ended at age 16 he was then apprenticed to a local architect James Hicks in Dorchester where he trained as an architect before moving to London in 1862 and enrolling as a student in Kings College London.
Hardy, who was aware of class divisions and his own social inferiority, was never comfortable in London society and returned to Dorset five years later.
He met his future wife Emma Lavinia Gifford in 1870 whilst engaged in the restoration of the parish church of St Juliot in Cornwall and he married her in 1874. She died in 1912, and although he became estranged in life, he revisited Cornwall after her death remembering places they went to during their courtship. Poems 1912-13 reflect upon her death.
He married Florence Emily Dugdale (his secretary, nearly 40 years his senior) in 1914.
Hardy died at Max Gate on 11th January 1928 after becoming ill with pleurisy the year before. His funeral was held at Westminster Abbey. This proved to be controversial. Hardy and his friends and family wished him to be buried with his first wife Emma in Stinsford Dorset. It was insisted upon by his executor Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell that he be buried in the famous Poets Corner in the abbey. A compromise was eventually reached: Hardy’s heart was buried with his first wife in Dorset and his ashes in Poet’s Corner Westminster Abbey.
Hardy has many admirers, among them were Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence, John Cowper Powys and Robert Graves. He was awarded the Order of Merit in 1910.
Although I have not read all Hardy’s novels, I have enjoyed the ones I have read ( Under the Greenwood tree (1872) Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), Jude the Obscure (1895),- I have not enjoyed them equally. The Woodlanders, left me somewhat unsatisfied with the ending which resulted in the heroine Grace Melbury returning to her unfaithful husband.
But a happy ending does does always result in a good story. Jude the Obscure, in my consideration – a masterpiece, left me with such an uncomfortable feeling that I have only been able to read the novel once and watch the well acted 1996 film. The story is about humble village stonemason Jude Fawley whose dream is to be educated., He studies Latin and Greek in his spare time whilst dreaming of going to university. Manipulated into a loveless marriage with a coarse and nasty local girl, who soon leaves him, Jude still dreams of entering the local University. He falls in love with his cousin Sue Brideshead. But although she is in love with the married Jude, she marries his former teacher and is very unhappy. Jude and Sue eventually set up house together and have children. Their life together is dire: ostracised by the villagers for not being married and having children out of wedlock, Jude loses his job and the poor family travel from town to town seeking employment. The end of the story is really disturbing. there are no happy endings here. It is a fantastic novel, but is really emotionally heavy going.
Hardy is considered a Victorian Realist writer and his writing reflects the social restraints and limitations which ultimately lead to unhappiness in his novels.
My favorite novel is ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ which tells the story of shepherd Gabriel Oak and Bethsheba Everdean. Fate and bad choices interweave to construct a story of pride, betrayal and tragedy. Love wins out though and there is a happy ending, but that is not arrived at until Bethsheba herself has changed her attitude and her outlook. Oak remains as steadfast to the end as from the beginning of the novel.
The dastardly character is Sergeant Francis “Frank” Troy who is a flamboyant gambling show off with a cruel streak towards his wife Bethsheba. He loves another – the hapless and sweet Fanny Robin whose death is heartbreaking. In the middle of the storyline stands middle-aged Mr Boldwood, a rich farmer whose obsession with Bethsheba also leads to tragedy.
Fate plays a massive part in this novel; throwaway gestures like the sending of a valentine fire up a strait laced bachelor to behave with passion and abandonment of reason. A flattering remark and a wild display of dashing swordsmanship persuade a young vain Bethsheba that she is in love. Situations and accidents all contrive to elevate Gabriel Oak into hero of the hour and prove his quiet devotion and steadfastness.
More information on the Poet/Novelist from here and The Thomas Hardy Society Thomas Hardy portrait from here Far from the Madding Crowd image from here Jude the Obscure image from here Tess of the d’Urbervilles image here