Other Literary Forms
Thomas Hardy is best known for his fiction. He was the author of fourteen novels, four collections of short stories containing more than forty tales, and several volumes of poetry containing some nine hundred poems, as well as a large assortment of nonfiction prose, prefaces, and essays. His letters, diaries, notebooks, and private papers have survived, despite Hardy’s intention that this material be destroyed. Several volumes of his correspondence have been published. In addition, there are two books of autobiography, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy (1928) and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy (1930), which Hardy dictated to his wife.
Although Thomas Hardy’s achievements as a novelist and poet are widely recognized, his achievements as a playwright are less well-known. Hardy’s training as an architect has been taken to explain his intricately plotted novels, and it might also be seen as the reason Hardy liked the conventions of dramatic structure. Hardy had a lifelong interest in drama and the theater, and it was his original literary ambition to be a playwright, although he did not produce any plays until near the end of his career and then wrote only two. Although he was sometimes tempted by London theatrical agents and friends to turn his talents to the stage, he largely resisted the lure of stagelights, being unwilling to compromise with the demands of actors and directors in the commercial theater, a position he explains in an essay, “Why I Don’t Write Plays” (1892). Alternately fearful of the limitations and fascinated by the possibilities of drama, Hardy finally wrote his first “play,” The Dynasts, which is something of a composite literary form. Intended for a mental rather than a real stage, it is epic in size and scope. This immense verse play, about which one might remark, as Samuel Johnson did of John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667, 1674), “none would wish it longer,” has attracted some critical attention, but it has never drawn many readers from the general public. As a closet drama, it is a major artistic accomplishment, and it rivals Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1865, 1869) as a work that most vividly chronicles the defeat of Napoleon’s dynastic ambitions. Hardy’s hope of reviving interest in the verse drama, however, was not fulfilled with The Dynasts or with his second verse play, The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall, which was conceived for actual stage production. The one-act The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall was a coda to Hardy’s brief career as a playwright; an extremely different type of poetic drama from The Dynasts, it shows what Hardy might have been able to do with stage conventions had he kept to his early ambition “to write a few fine plays.”
Other Literary Forms
In addition to his short stories, Thomas Hardy is best known for two distinct literary careers: first as a novelist, author of such classic works as Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891); then, following the hostile reaction to Jude the Obscure in 1895, as a poet, especially for his epic verse drama about the Napoleonic Wars, The Dynasts: A Drama of the Napoleonic Wars (pb. 1903, 1906, 1908, 1910, verse drama; pr. 1914; abridged by Harley Granville-Barker).
Thomas Hardy is widely regarded as both a major Victorian novelist and a major modern poet. With little formal education, Hardy, who trained and worked as an architect before becoming a professional writer, was largely self-taught and eminently well read, particularly in the philosophical and theological exchange of ideas in the late nineteenth century. In addition to reflecting the intellectual climate stimulated by such thinkers as Charles Darwin, John Stuart Mill, and Herbert Spencer, Hardy’s fiction also is recognized for its portrayal of rural southwestern England, vividly and lovingly represented in his fictional region called “Wessex.” Many of his tales are based on local folklore , thus preserving this...
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