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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Thomas Hardy is recognized as one of the most important novelists of the Victorian era. Born in rural Dorset in 1840, he made his own southern area of England the setting for most of his fiction. In novels such as FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE, and TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES, he depicted English provincial life with daring realism. Basically pessimistic in his portrayal of character and milieu, Hardy turned to poetry after his somber novel JUDE THE OBSCURE shocked critics and the reading public when it was published in 1896.

Martin Seymour-Smith depicts Hardy as an ambitious professional writer whose life, though eventful, was by no means sensational. In addition to providing a thorough account of Hardy’s life, the biography examines the views of previous biographers and attempts to set the record straight on controversial issues. In particular, the narrative focuses on Hardy’s two marriages and their connection with his career. Contrary to some biographers, Seymour-Smith believes that Hardy’s first marriage to Emma Gifford was successful, and that she provided Hardy substantial support and encouragement. Although strains developed in their relationship, the author believes that the marriage was still viable until just before Emma’s death in 1912. Two years later Hardy married Florence Dugdale, who, like his first wife, suffered numerous health problems but survived her husband, who died in 1928.

In his consideration of Hardy’s work, Seymour-Smith devotes a chapter each to most of the novels and quotes extensively from the poems. His analysis of the prose includes accounts of characters, plots, and themes, as well as an examination of critical controversies. There is less attention to the poetry, which is cited primarily for its biographical significance. The book offers a soundly researched account of an important literary figure.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCI, December 15, 1994, p. 730.

Chicago Tribune. January 15, 1995, XIV, p. 5.

London Review of Books. XVI, September 8, 1994, P. 18.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 15, 1995, p. 1.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, December 18, 1994, p. 3.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, October 24, 1994, p. 47.

Time. CXLV, January 16, 1995, p. 74.

The Times Educational Supplement. February 4, 1994, p. A12.

The Times Literary Supplement. March 18, 1994, p. 3.

The Wall Street Journal. December 27, 1994, p. A14.

The Washington Post Book World. XXV, January 15, 1995, p. 3.