Monday, June 16, 2014


Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) was an English novelist and poet, usually remembered in that order, although he himself preferred his poetry to his prose. Hardy's family was not financially stable and could not afford a University education for him although he had the qualities to excel at academia. His formal education ended at the age of sixteen, when he became apprenticed to James Hicks, a local architect.

Hardy trained as an architect in Dorchester before moving to London in 1862; where he enrolled as a student at King's College London in the course for architecture. He won prizes from the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architectural Association.

Hardy did well for himself in London but never quite felt at home. This was because he was painfully conscious of his social inferiority in the class division and his inability to cross over this division, no matter what he did or achieved in his career. He could not come to terms with the social stratification and mentally rebelled against it. 

It was during this time that he became interested in social reform and the works of John Stuart Mill. He was also introduced by his Dorset friend Horace Moule to the works of Charles Fourier and Auguste Comte. Five years later, concerned about his health, he returned to Dorset and decided to dedicate himself to writing.

Hardy was Victorian realist in the tradition of George Eliot. He was influenced both in his novels and in his poetry by Romanticism, especially William Wordsworth. Charles Dickens was another important influence. Like Dickens, he was highly critical of much in Victorian society, though Hardy focused more on a declining rural society.

While Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life and regarded himself primarily as a poet, his first collection was not published until 1898. Initially he gained fame only as the author of novels, including Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). However, beginning in the 1950s Hardy has been recognised as a major poet; he had a significant influence on the Movement poets of the 1950s and 1960s, including Philip Larkin.

Most of his fictional works – initially published as serials in magazines – were set in the semi-fictional region of Wessex. They explored tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances. 

Hardy became ill with pleurisy in December 1927 and died on 11 January 1928, having dictated his final poem to his wife on his deathbed His funeral was on 16 January at Westminster Abbey, and it proved a controversial occasion because Hardy and his family and friends had wished for his body to be interred at Stinsford in the same grave as his first wife, Emma. However, his executor, Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell, insisted that he be placed in the abbey's famous Poets' Corner. A compromise was reached whereby his heart was buried at Stinsford with Emma, and his ashes in Poets' Corner.

In order to appreciate Thomas Hardy's work fully, it is necessary to share the sensitivity of his heart, his conviction that man's happiness depends on the spirit of 'loving kindness' and his sense of history and transience of life.

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