Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, author of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure and Far From The Madding Crowd. Portrait photograph by W. & D. Downey.
Thomas Hardy by W & D Downey, British Library


The poet and novelist Thomas Hardy is perhaps most famous for his powerfully visual novels, concerned with the inexorability of human destiny. His works unfold against a rural background drawn as an elegy for vanishing country ways, but which also provides much-needed comic relief.

Thomas Hardy was born in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset - and the fictitious Wessex where he sets most of his novels is clearly inspired by south-west England. Son of a stonemason, and trained as an architect, he wrote in his spare time until the success of Far From The Madding Crowd (1874). He could then give up architecture for writing, and marry Emma Gifford, whom he had met in Cornwall in 1870.

Between 1874 and 1895, he wrote over a dozen novels and collections of stories, including The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) and Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891). After the adverse reception of the savagely bleak Jude the Obscure (1895) he turned to poetry, which he continued to write and publish throughout the rest of his life.

By the end of the 19th century, he had gained an international reputation and a wide circle of literary friends. His changed circumstances led his and Emma’s interests to diverge; in many of his novels, impulsive passion leads to disaster. Their rift was increased by Emma’s objection to the unremitting gloom of Jude the Obscure, and its pessimistic view of marriage. However, after her death in 1912, Hardy suffered deep remorse; a visit to the Cornish coast where he had met Emma produced a stream of magnificent poems in her memory, published as Poems of 1912-13. In 1914 he married his much younger secretary, Florence Dugdale. He died at Max Gate on 11 January, 1928, the house in Dorchester that he had designed himself over four decades previously.

Further information about the life of Thomas Hardy can be found here via the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.