Thomas Hardy

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Hardy, Thomas,

1840–1928, English novelist and poet, b. near Dorchester, one of the great English writers of the 19th cent.

The son of a stonemason, he derived a love of music from his father and a devotion to literature from his mother. Hardy could not afford to pursue a scholarly career as he wished and was apprenticed to John Hicks, a local church architect. He continued, however, to study the Greek and Latin classics. From 1862 to 1867 he served as assistant to Arthur Blomfield, a London architect; ill health forced him to return to Dorset, where he worked for Hicks and his successor until 1874.

Despite his employment, Hardy was writing continually during this period of his life. Such early novels as Desperate Remedies (1871) and A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) met with small success and may be considered formative works. After the appearance of Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), popular as well as critical acclaim enabled him to devote himself exclusively to writing. His success also made marriage feasible, and in 1874 he married Emma Lavinia Gifford.

Over the next 22 years Hardy wrote many novels, including those he referred to as "romances and fantasies"—most of which were first serialized in popular magazines. His major works are The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1896), the latter two considered masterpieces.

Hardy's novels are all set against the bleak and forbidding Dorset landscape (referred to as Wessex in the novels), whose physical harshness echoes that of an indifferent, if not malevolent, universe. The author's characters, who are for the most part of the poorer rural classes, are sympathetically and often humorously portrayed. Their lives are ruled not only by nature but also by rigid Victorian social conventions. Hardy's style is accordingly roughhewn, sometimes awkward, but always commanding and intense.

Hardy had always written poetry and regarded the novel as an inferior genre. After Jude the Obscure was attacked on grounds of supposed immorality (it dealt sympathetically with open sexual relations between men and women), he abandoned fiction. However, the compelling reason was probably that his thought had become too abstract to be adequately expressed in novels. Beginning at the age of 58, Hardy published many volumes of poetry, including Wessex Poems (1898), Satires of Circumstance (1914), Moments of Vision (1917), and Winter Words (1928).

His poetry is spare, unadorned, and unromantic, and its pervasive theme is man's futile struggle against cosmic forces. His verse drama The Dynasts (written 1903–8) is a historical epic of the Napoleonic era, expressing the view that history, too, is guided by forces far more powerful than individual will. Hardy's vision reflects a world in which Victorian complacencies were dying but its moralism was not, and in which science had eliminated the comforting certainties of religion.

Hardy's wife died in 1912, and in 1914 he married Florence Emily Dugdale, a children's book writer, some 40 years his junior. He spent the latter half of his life at Max Gate, a house built after his own designs in his native Dorset, and died there. His ashes are interred in Westminster Abbey, but his heart is buried separately, with a certain dark propriety, near the Egdon Heath made famous by his novels.

Bibliography

See E. Hardy and F. B. Pinion, ed., One Rare Fair Woman, his letters to Florence Henniker (1972); M. Millgate, ed., The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy (1978–1988); biographies by his wife F. E. Hardy (1928 repr. 1971), E. Hardy (1953, repr. 1973), R. Gittings (1975 and 1978), M. Seymour-Smith (1994), M. Millgate (rev. ed. 2004), C. Tomalin (2006), and R. Pite (2007); studies by R. C. Carpenter (1964), C. J. Weber (2d ed. 1965), I. Howe (1967), M. Millgate (1971), J. I. M. Stewart (1971), F. R. Southerington (1971), and M. Williams (1972); studies of his poetry by E. Brennecke (1924, repr. 1973), J. O. Bailey (1971), P. Zietlow (1974), and I. Gregor (1974).

Hardy, Thomas

 

Born June 2, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset; died Jan. 11, 1928, at Max Gate, near Dorchester. English novelist and poet.

Hardy was the son of a provincial contractor and builder, a descendant of the impoverished knightly family of Le Hardy. He studied architecture and worked in architectural studios. His first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady (1868), was rejected by publishers for its destructive intentions. On the advice of G. Meredith, Hardy wrote a novel with an intricate, polished plot—Desperate Remedies (published anonymously, 1871). From 1871 to 1897, Hardy published 14 novels. The best of them made up the cycle of novels of character and milieu: Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1896). Seven other novels formed two more cycles, the inventive and experimental novels—Desperate Remedies, The Hand of Ethelberta (1876), and The Laodicean (1881)—and the historical romances and fantasies—A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873), The Trumpet-Major (1880), Two on a Tower (1882), and The Well-Beloved (1892).

The novels of character and milieu are an original expression of the democratization of English literature. Hardy’s heroes and heroines come from the people and have a moral certainty and a natural feeling for beauty and harmony. The village woman Tess is created with rare charm, and her characterization is one of the most poetic in English literature. Hardy’s strength and innovation are revealed in his ability to demonstrate the detailed connection between character and environment.

Hardy published four collections of short stories, including Wessex Tales (1888), and eight collections of poetry, including Wessex Poems (1898). He is one of the greatest lyric poets of the modern age. Hardy expressed his philosophy of history in the epic drama The Dynasts (parts 1–3, 1903–08), which depicts Europe during the Napoleonic Wars; the drama includes 12 scenes devoted to Russia. In many ways Hardy seems to echo L. N. Tolstoy (for example, in his characterization of Kutuzov); he highly valued the patriotism of the Russian people. Attempting to explain the intertwining of chance and the natural order of things, Hardy, influenced by A. Schopenhauer, proposed that a fateful and cruel necessity rules over humanity.

Hardy’s literary manner looks old-fashioned in comparison with that of his contemporaries; his style was practically untouched by the new devices of psychological analysis.

As the initiator of a new period of literary development in England, Hardy shared with his contemporary writers a passion for strong social convictions and a firm democratism. In 1920 he signed the Clarté manifesto and was part of the organization’s international leadership committee. Hardy’s work was highly regarded by M. Gorky and by British Marxist literary critics.

WORKS

Works, vols. 1–24. London, 1912–31.
Thomas Hardy’s Personal Writings. Lawrence, 1966.
In Russian translation:
[Soch., vols. 1–8.] Moscow, 1969–73.

REFERENCES

Lunacharskii, A. V. “Tomas Gardi.” In T. Gardi, Tess iz roda d’Erbervill’. Moscow, 1937.
Istoriia angliiskoi literatury, vol. 3. Moscow, 1958.
Urnov, M. Tomas Gardi: Ocherk tvorchestva. Moscow, 1969.
Hardy, F. E. The Life of Thomas Hardy. New York-London, 1962.
Purdy, R. L. Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study. London, 1954.
Thomas Hardy: The Critical Heritage. London-New York [1970].

M. V. URNOV