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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