Search This Blog

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Thomas Hardy


Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840 in a thatched, stonemason's cottage in Higher Bockhampton, near Dorchester, Dorset in south west England. He was left for dead after his birth but an observant midwife noted signs of life and gave him a good slap..

Thomas Hardy's birthplace and cottage at Higher Bockhampton

His father, Thomas, was a hard up master mason who also made cider and played the fiddle at local festivals.

Thomas jnr. was a product of a shotgun wedding between his father and mother, Jemina. They'd married six months before his birth.

Thomas was a delicate and sickly child whose well being was a cause for constant anxiety and was kept at home until the age of 8.

He acquired an early interest in books, which his well-read mother encouraged. Thomas was reading Dryden andJohnson before the age of 10.

At the age of 8, Thomas went to Julia Martin’s school at Higher Bockhampton but was transferred a year later to Mr. Last's Academy for Young Gentlemen in Dorchester, which involved a daily walk of several miles.

At Mr. Last's Academy Thomas learned Latin and demonstrated academic potential. Because his family lacked the means for a university education, his formal education ended at the age of sixteen, when he became apprenticed to James Hicks, a local church architect.


During his time with John Hicks, Hardy habitually got up at 4.00 in the summer and 5.00 in the winter to read (mainly poetry) before leaving for work at 8.00.

Hardy moved to London in 1862, where he enrolled as a student at King's College London. He won prizes from the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architectural Association.

During his time in London. Hardy was assistant architect in London to Sir Arthur Bloomfield. He was in charge of the excavation of the graveyard of St Pancras Old Church prior to its destruction when the Midland Railway was extended to a new terminus at St Pancras.

Hardy worked under Sir Arthur Blomfield in the Adelphi for six years, during which time poetry was his main interest. However, he was frustrated in his efforts to get his poems published.

Hardy's first published piece, was a light comic prose article called "How I built Myself A House" appeared in Chambers’ Journal in 1865.

Ill-health obliged Hardy to return to Dorset in 1867 when he again joined Hicks.

Settling at Weymouth, Hardy decided to dedicate himself to writing. He wrote his  first novel Poor Man and the Lady the same year, but he failed to find a publisher partly because it was deemed too politically controversial.

After he abandoned his first novel, Hardy wrote two new ones that he hoped would have more commercial appeal, Desperate Remedies (1871) and Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), both of which were published anonymously.

A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) was Hardy's first novel to be published under his own name.

It was the praise heaped on the serialization of Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) which persuaded Hardy to become a full time writer.

Hardy wrote all day every day, wrapped up against the cold in an old knitted shawl, wearing socks but no shoes and ancient trousers he mended himself with string.

Hardy thought his poetry would outlive his prose, however, his novels won more laurels with the public than the critics and to this day none of his novels have ever gone out of print,


Hardy's novels were influenced by his humble origins and are very class conscious. Many Dorset people thought they recognized themselves in his characters and thus he was not liked in his area.

The term "cliffhanger" is considered to have originated with the serialized version of A Pair of Blue Eyes (which was published in Tinsley's Magazine between September 1872 and July 1873) in which Henry Knight, one of the protagonists, is left literally hanging off a cliff.

Hardy's 1874 novel Far From the Madding Crowd tells of a beautiful woman's affect on three men. "Far From The Madding Crowd" is a quote from Grey's Elegy In A Churchyard.

Tess Of The D'urbevilles (1891) tells of the rise and fall of a poor woman when she enters polite society. Hardy outraged many by depicting the heroine as a woman, who had been seduced. However, the novelist was not concerned by the fuss commenting rather mysteriously, "Tess was a good milchcud to me."

Tess was based on Hardy’s grandmother who had an illegitimate baby at the age of 24 and was nearly hanged after being unjustly accused of stealing a copper kettle.

Jude The Obscure (1895) about the battle between the flesh and spirit. It tells the story of lowly Jude Fawley, a stonemason, whose relationships with women betray his passion for learning then his studies for the priesthood. This caused an even greater outcry and was slammed by critics for its passion and immorality. Lampooned as "Jude The Obscene" by the scandalized critics it enraged the church, who labelled the book as dirt, drivel and damnation. The Bishop of Wakefield hurled his copy onto his fire. As a result of the criticism, Hardy confined himself to his first love, poetry .

The Dynasts, an epic poetic drama about the historical events of the Napoleonic era, was published in three successive parts which appeared in 1903, 1906 and 1908. It is considered by many to be Hardy’s greatest achievement.


Thomas Hardy was physically, a small man, standing 5ft 6ins.

A retiring, sensitive and shy man, Hardy was aware of his relatively humble origins. Gloomy by nature at times he was not much liked in Dorchester during his lifetime.

Many locals accused Hardy of meanness. For instance the famous writer refused to give his barber locks of his hair, because the hairsnipper would sell them on.

Hardy's sense of humor mainly involved fooling and needling people, especially educated strangers

Whilst restoring the Church of St Jilt in St Juliot, Cornwall, Hardy fell in love with the rector's sister Emma Gifford. Their courtship inspired Hardy's third novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes.

Thomas Hardy and Emma Gifford married on September 17, 1874 at St Peter's Church, Paddington, London. The ceremony was conducted by Emma's uncle, Edwin Hamilton Gifford, Canon of Worcester Cathedral and Archdeacon of London.

Emma Gifford

The Hardys went on honeymoon to Dartington Hall, in the west country, Queen's Road, in Brighton, then sailed to Dieppe and travelled by train to Rouen and Paris.

In 1885 Hardy and Emma moved into Max Gate, a house the novelist had designed himself and his brother had built. The seven bedroomed home was built near Dorchester, two miles from his birthplace.The room in which Hardy wrote many of his novels overlooks the wild Dorset heathland.

Emma was, as Hardy was frequently made to understand, his social superior. The friction this caused, as well as their childlessness dampened the flame of their marriage. In time, Emma and Hardy spent more and more time apart and he began seeing other women such as Florence Dugdale, companion to Lady Stoker, sister-in-law of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.

In 1899 Emma became a virtual recluse and spent much of her time in attic rooms, which she asked Hardy to build for her and she called "my sweet refuge and solace."

Although Hardy had been estranged from Emma for some years, her sudden death in 1912 had a traumatic effect on him. He made a trip to Cornwall to revisit places linked with Emma and their courtship and wrote a series Poems of 1912–13, exploring his grief.

Two years later Hardy married Florence Dugdale, a Dorchester JP, who was his secretary. Thomas was 74 and Florence a feeble, slight, drab, 35-year-old brunette. Despite their age difference, she bought stability to his life.

Florence hated Max Gate but she stayed on there as a widow after his death for the rest of her life. Her only revenge was to chop down the fir trees planted lovingly too close together by Hardy, who had refused for decades to let them be pruned or 'wounded', as if he needed to surround himself physically as well as morally with a thick belt of dark growth choking out light and air.


Not content with being a poet, a novelist and an architect, Thomas Hardy was a fine folk fiddler. He was taught the violin by his father and at the age of 9 he was playing it locally.

Hardy's musical tastes extended beyond folk and took in Holst and Wagner. The Radio 4 program Thomas Hardy's iPod tells a story about Hardy discussing his fondness for Wagner's ability to conjure wind and rain in his music with the composer Grieg. "I would rather have the wind and rain myself," replied Grieg, dismissively.


A member of the Council For Justice To Animals, Hardy was against bloodsports, dog chaining and the caging of birds.

Emma once requested her husband to always refer to her very favourite cat by its full name: Kiddeley-wink-em-poops. Hardy unsurprisingly refused.

The second Mrs Hardy, Florence was tormented by the unseen presence of the first Mrs Hardy and as part of the exorcism process she killed all of Emma's cats.

When E.M. Foster visited Thomas Hardy in 1924 he was shown by the gloomy author the graves of his pets. "This is Snowbell-she was run over by a train…This is Pella, the same thing happened to her…This is Kitkin, she was cut clean in two, clean in two."
"How is it that so many of your cats have been run over, Mr Hardy? Is the railway near?"
"Not at all near, not at all near-I don't know how it is".

Hardy and Florence had a wire terrier called Wessex who was a peculiarly disagreeable dog, biting even the most eminent of visitors.

The couple also had a blue Persian cat called Cobby who was given to Hardy late in life. He vanished after Hardy died.


Hardy tried to be a village atheist, but was very sensitive to the cruelty of this world and wasn't convinced of his atheism. He was inclined to believe in a god who frustrated him as the writer couldn't decide if all the suffering he saw was because God is cruel or merely powerless to intervene. "Hardy isn't sure of what he does believe and not sure of what he doesn't." commented Thomas Huxley, the inventor of the word "agnostic" on the famous novelist's faith.

A portrait of Thomas Hardy in 1923

Hardy's wife Emma was a Christian who became increasingly shocked by the unchristian themes of many of her husband's novels.


Thomas Hardy fell ill in December 1927 after catching a chill a fortnight before Christmas. He died peacefully a month later on January 11, 1928, after dictating his final poem to his wife on his deathbed.

Hardy's last movement was an inclination of his head towards Florence who was at his bedside, as though he was endeavoring to nod to her.

His funeral, on January 16th at Westminster Abbey, was a controversial occasion: Hardy's family and friends had wished him to be buried at Stinsford, but his executor, Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell, had insisted he should be placed in Poets' Corner. A compromise was reached, whereby his heart was buried at Stinsford in Emma's grave and his ashes were interred in the abbey.

Grave of Thomas Hardy's heart at Stinsford parish church

Among the pall bearers at Hardy’s funeral were J.M. Barrie, Rudyard Kipling and George Bernard Shaw.

Sources The Observer, The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes

No comments:

Post a Comment