Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: One of the great English novelists and poets of the late nineteenth century, Hardy is representative of the Victorian trauma of the loss of God and the search for a new order.
Thomas Hardy was born in the hamlet of Higher Bockhampton on June 2, 1840. His father was a master mason, satisfied with his low social status and his rural surroundings. His mother, however, whom Hardy once called “a born bookworm,” encouraged Hardy’s education and urged him to raise his social standing. John Hicks, a Dorchester architect, took the boy on as a pupil at the age of sixteen. While in Hicks’s office, Hardy met the well-known poet William Barnes, who became an important influence on his career. Another early influence was the classical scholar Horace Moule, an essayist and reviewer. Moule encouraged Hardy to read John Stuart Mill and the iconoclastic Essays and Reviews (1860) by Frederick Temple and others, both of which contributed to the undermining of Hardy’s simple religious faith.
At age twenty-two, Hardy went to London to pursue his architectural training; by this time, however, he had also begun to write poetry and to entertain hopes of a literary career. In 1866, after reading Algernon Charles Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads: First Series (1866), he began an intensive two-year period of writing poetry. He submitted many poems for publication during this time, but none was published, although many of these were published later, when he began writing poetry only.
After returning to Bockhampton in 1867, Hardy decided to try his hand at writing fiction. His first effort in this genre, “The Poor Man and the Lady,” based on his perception of the difference between city and country life, received some favorable attention from publishers. After a discussion with novelist George Meredith, however, Hardy decided not to publish the work but, on Meredith’s advice, to strike out in a new direction. In imitation of the detective fiction of Wilkie Collins, he thus wrote Desperate Remedies (1871). In spite of his success Hardy did not stay with the melodramatic novel but instead took the advice of a reader who liked the rural scenes in his first work and wrote a pastoral idyll entitled Under the Greenwood Tree (1872). Although the book was well received by critics, its sales were poor. Yet Hardy had found his true subject—the rural English life of an imaginary area he called Wessex—and he was on his way to becoming a full-time writer. He began writing serials for periodicals, abandoned architecture, and launched himself on a career that was to last well into the twentieth century.
In 1874, Hardy married Emma Lavinia Gifford, a socially ambitious young woman who shared his interest in books. At about the same time, his first great novel, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), appeared and received many favorable reviews. As a result, editors began asking for the works of Thomas Hardy. While living with his wife at Sturminister Newton in a small cottage, Hardy composed his next great novel, The Return of the Native (1878), and enjoyed what he later called the happiest years of his life. After a brief social life in London, Hardy returned to Dorset, had his home “Max Gate” built, and published the third of his five masterpieces, The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886). For the next several years, Hardy continued his writing, traveled with his wife, and read German philosophy.
By this time, Hardy himself was being seen as a philosophical novelist. What has been called his “philosophy,” however, can be summed up in an early (1865) entry in his notebooks: “The world does not despise us; it only neglects us.” The difference between Hardy and many nineteenth century artists who experienced a similar loss of faith is that while others such as William Wordsworth and Thomas Carlyle were able to achieve some measure of religious affirmation, Hardy never embraced a transcendent belief. He did not try to escape the isolation that his loss of faith created, although in all of his major novels and in most of his poetry, he continued to try to find some value in a world of accident, chance, and indifference. Indeed, all of Hardy’s serious artistic work can be seen as variations on his one barren theme of the loss of God and the quest for a new value system.
Late in his life, Hardy said that he never really wanted to write novels and did so only out of economic necessity. Indeed, many of his minor works are imitations of popular forms of the time. While he did imitate the detective novel or social comedy, however, when he wished to write a novel that more clearly reflected his own vision of man’s situation in the world, he could find no adequate fictional model among the popular forms of the time. Thus, he returned to classical models such as the pastoral for Far from the Madding Crowd and The Woodlanders (1887), Greek tragedy for The Mayor of...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in a thatched-roof cottage at Higher Bockhampton, a village near the small city of Dorchester in the southern shire of Dorset—an area that was known as Wessex in ancient times and that has many historical associations with the Druids, the Celts, and the Romans. Hardy’s father, a music-loving building contractor, was ambitious for young Thomas; thus, after he completed his education through grammar school, Hardy was apprenticed at age sixteen to an architect. Whatever of his education did not pertain to his vocation he had to pick up on his own, and it was in this fashion that he continued to study Latin and Greek. He also began writing poetry during his late teens, imitating the style and substance of the dialect verses of the Reverend William Barnes, a local curate and poetaster.
Hardy’s apprenticeship under the ecclesiastical architect John Hicks lasted until 1862, after which he went up to London at the age of twenty-one to study architecture further. Under the tutelage of John Blomfield, Hardy became proficient enough in his professional life to win a prize given by the Royal Institute of British Architects for an essay on the use of ancient building materials in modern architecture. Hardy’s expository talent was further demonstrated in a sketch, “How I Built Myself a House,” in Chamber’s Journal. During this period, Hardy’s life was somewhat inchoate. He began at this time, however, to become more deeply interested in literature, writing stories as well as poetry and availing himself of the cultural opportunities London provided. He used his free time to visit the British Museum and the art galleries and spent his evenings at King’s College, studying French. The routine of work and study and the rigors of urban life placed a strain on Hardy’s health, which had been delicate since his childhood, and after five years, he sought rustication, returning to Bockhampton to recover. While he was at home and employed only part-time with church restorations, he began to write his first novel, “The Poor Man and the Lady.” He sent the manuscript to a publisher, but it was rejected because the story lacked plot and suspense. Despite this disappointment,...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Thomas Hardy was born and reared in the Dorsetshire countryside to which he was to return constantly for the settings of many of his novels, stories, and poems. His family encouraged his reading, and he was educated at local schools. He left formal schooling at sixteen to become an architect’s apprentice, although he continued to read and teach himself. In 1862, he went to London to work in an architect’s office but returned to Dorsetshire in 1867 to begin a career as a writer. Working part-time with a local architect, he produced his first novels, but he soon took up writing full-time. In 1874, he married Emma Lavinia Gifford. Although their marriage was not entirely happy, it lasted until Emma’s death in 1912. He was married again, to Florence Emily Dugdale, in 1914, a time during which Hardy was successful but controversial as a novelist. Following critical outcries over what some considered obscenity of both Tess of the D’Urbervilles and especially Jude the Obscure in 1895, he turned almost exclusively to poetry, an endeavor in which he was also successful. On his seventieth birthday, he received the Order of Merit. He died in Dorsetshire at the age of eighty-seven.
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Thomas Hardy was born in the small hamlet of Higher Bockhampton in Stinsford parish on June 2, 1840. His father was a master mason, content with his low social status and at home in his rural surroundings. His mother, however, whom Hardy once called “a born bookworm,” made Hardy aware of his low social status and encouraged his education. John Hicks, a friend of Hardy’s father and a Dorchester architect, took the boy on as a pupil at the age of sixteen. The well-known poet William Barnes had a school next door to Hicks’s office, and Hardy developed an influential friendship with the older man that remained with him. Another early influence on the young Hardy was Horace Moule, a classical scholar with a Cambridge education...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in a rambling, seven-room cottage in Higher Bockhampton, on the edge of Bockhampton Heath, near Dorchester. He was the eldest of four children, with a sister, Mary, born in 1841, a brother, Henry, in 1851, and a sister, Kate, in 1856. His father, also named Thomas, was a master builder and mason with a love of church music and violin playing, and his mother Jemima (née Hand) Hardy was a handsome, energetic woman of country stock who loved books and reading. At birth, their first child was so frail that he was supposed dead; but an attending nurse rescued the baby, and his mother and aunt nursed him back to health, although Thomas remained a small, delicate child, physically immature in...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Thomas Hardy was born in the small village of Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England, on June 2, 1840. Although his father, a mason, was satisfied with his rural life, his mother encouraged Hardy to get an education and raise his social status. Hardy’s first effort to do so was to become the student of Dorchester architect John Hicks. In a fateful accident, the kind of accident that Hardy would later make part of the cornerstone of his fiction, the well-known poet William Barnes had a school next door to Hicks’s office. The older poet and the young apprentice became friends, and Barnes became one of the strongest influences on Hardy. Another important influence on Hardy’s early life was his friendship with Horace Moule, a...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Thomas Hardy is something of an anomaly in nineteenth century literature. On one hand, there is something excessively old-fashioned and melodramatic about his fiction; on the other hand, there is also something powerfully symbolic about such characters as Eustacia, Tess, and Jude, who find themselves trapped in a hopeless world not of their own making, a world that seems to offer no meaning and value, and a world against which they quite rightfully rebel, even though such rebellion inevitably ends in defeat.
Hardy is one of the two most widely read and discussed English novelists of the nineteenth century, second only to Charles Dickens as the British writer most representative of the period and most controversial and...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
About three miles east of Dorchester, in Dorset, England, in a thatched-roof cottage that still stands at one end of the hamlet known as Higher Bockhampton, Thomas Hardy was born in 1840. The place of his birth is important, for it is the center of a region he learned to know and love—a region he called “Wessex” and about which he wrote in all his books.
The first of these books was published in 1871 when Hardy, nearly thirty-one years old, was still lacking in literary training and experience. His entire schooling had been confined to eight years between the ages of eight and sixteen. For five years he had worked...
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Poet and novelist Thomas Hardy was born in the third year of Queen Victoria’s reign on June 2, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England, to Thomas Hardy, a stonemason, and Jemima (Hand) Hardy. Hardy’s father, who played the violin, and his mother, who loved books, encouraged their frail son’s pursuit of literature early on. Hardy entered the new school at Lower Bockhampton in 1848 already knowing how to read. In 1856, Hardy apprenticed with architect John Hicks and, in 1862, he moved to London to work with Arthur Blomfield’s architectural firm. He returned to Dorset in 1867 and worked again with Hicks, this time overseeing the restoration of old village churches. Hardy, however, read and wrote regularly all the while and, in 1865, he published his first piece, the short story “How I Built My House,” which appeared in Chamber’s Journal.
Although Hardy’s first love was poetry, he made his reputation as a novelist. In 1868, he finished his first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, but no one would publish it. In 1871, he published the novel Desperate Remedies in three volumes with William Tinsley, but its sales were mediocre. Critics praised his next novel, Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), comparing it to the work of George Eliot. The unexpected success in 1874 of Far from the Madding Crowd, which was serialized in Cornhill, cemented Hardy’s reputation as a first-rate novelist and allowed him to devote all of his time to writing. The novel also identified Hardy with rural characters and the fictional region he called Wessex, which he based on Dorset and the surrounding area. Hardy’s future novels, many of which were also first serialized, include The Return of the Native (1878), The Trumpet-Major: A Tale (1880), A Laodicean (1881), Two on a Tower: A Romance (1882), The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid (1883), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented (1892), and Jude the Obscure (1896). After critics panned Jude the Obscure, Hardy stopped writing novels and devoted himself to poetry. Even though he had been writing poetry since the 1850s, he had published little of it, preferring instead the money that novel-writing brought him.
Hardy published his first collection of poems, Wessex Poems and Other Verses, in 1898, and Poems of the Past and the Present in 1901. Though they did not make him the kind of money he had been making writing novels, they were critically praised (for the most part) and helped establish him as a leading British poet. Lyrics such as “The Darkling Thrush,” written on the eve of the twentieth century, and “Drummer Hodge,” an indictment of the British involvement in the Boer War, became instantly popular and continue to be reprinted in anthologies. Hardy published eight volumes of poems in all. By the time of his death in 1928 of a massive heart attack, he had become an international celebrity, and admirers came from around the world to visit him. His many awards include the Order of Merit, 1910, from the British government and a number of honorary doctorates in literature from schools such as Cambridge University (1913) and Oxford University (1920).
Thomas Hardy was born June 2, 1840, in a village near Dorchester in the southwestern region of England that would become the setting for his novels. His father, Thomas, was a builder and mason; his mother, Jemima Hand, was a cook.
After attending schools in his village, Bockhampton, and in Dorchester, Hardy was apprenticed at age sixteen to his father’s employer, an architect. While learning architecture, Hardy studied the classics with a university-educated tutor named Horace Moule. In 1862, Hardy moved to London, where he worked as an assistant architect, read widely, and began writing. Poems that he submitted to periodicals were rejected, but an article, “How I Built Myself a House,” was published.
Hardy’s work took him back to Dorchester and then to Weymouth, where he met Emma Lavinia Gifford, whom he married in 1874. Hardy also began writing novels at this time, and it was Emma who encouraged him to leave architecture and write full time. His first published novel, Desperate Remedies, came out in 1871 and was quickly followed by two others. (His first, unpublished novel has been lost.) But it was Far from the Madding Crowd, published in 1874, that ensured his reputation. By the late 1870s, he was an established member of England’s literary elite.
The Mayor of Casterbridge, published in 1886, was considered pivotal in Hardy’s career, as its male main character was more fully developed than those in previous novels. The Mayor of Casterbridge also represented a new achievement in the novel form by successfully blending a psychological portrait of one man with a depiction of the social realities of a particular time and place. Other major works of this period were a collection of short stories, Wessex Tales (1888), and the dark and controversial Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891). Reaction to Jude the Obscure (1896) was so harsh that Hardy gave up writing novels. He published his first volume of poetry, Wessex Poems, in 1898 and continued to write poetry throughout his remaining years.
In 1912, just after Hardy had completed a final revision of his novels, his wife died. He married Florence Emily Dugdale, who had been his secretary, in 1914. Hardy worked on his autobiography, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, which was ostensibly written by his second wife, and burned his private papers. The autobiography, as well as the last volume of Hardy’s poetry, Winter Words, was published posthumously in 1928.
Hardy was honored during his lifetime with the British government’s Order of Merit (1910) and with honorary doctorate of literature degrees from Cambridge University in 1913 and from Oxford University in 1920. He died January 11, 1928, in Dorchester after a brief illness. His ashes are interred in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey in London, though his heart is buried in the grave of his first wife.grave of his first wife.
IntroductionHardy is considered one of England's greatest novelists. His work resembles that of earlier Victorian novelists in technique, while in subject matter it daringly violated literary traditions of the age. In contrast to the Victorian ideal of progress, Hardy depicted human existence as a tragedy determined by powers beyond the individual's command, in particular the external pressures of society and the internal compulsions of character. His desire to reveal the underlying forces directing the lives of his characters led him to realistically examine love and sexuality in his fiction, a practice that often offended his readers and endangered his literary reputation. -- Thomas Hardy Criticism