Thomas Hardy

T homas Hardy is remembered today for novels such as Jude the Obscure and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. But, there is a wealth of content to explore in his masterful poetry. His writing is often considered as a bridge between the age of Charles Dickens and that of Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot.

Thomas Hardy


Life Facts

  • Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset, England in June of 1840.
  • His first novel, ‘The Poor Man and the Lady’ was finished in 1868 but was turned down by publishers.
  • He married Emma Lavinia Gifford in 1874.
  • Two of Hardy’s most important novels ‘Jude the Obscure’ and ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ were published in 1891 and 1895.
  • He died on January 11th 1928.

Interesting Facts

  • He was presumed stillborn upon his birth.
  • Hardy spent time working for architectural firms.
  • His wife Emma died in 1912 inspiring Hardy to write some of his best poems.
  • After his death, his heart was separated from his body and buried in the churchyard of his hometown.
  • At his funeral, his pallbearers include A.E. Houseman and Rudyard Kipling among others. 


Famous Poems by Thomas Hardy

‘And There Was a Great Calm’ is one of Hardy’s best-known. It describes the horrors of World War I and the “Great Calm” which came on November 11th, 1918. The poet describes the emotional aftermath of the war and how even after the war was over for any it didn’t feel like it. The “calm” brought hope but it didn’t fix everyone’s lives.

‘The Forbidden Banns’ is a complex, long narrative poem that tells the story of a doomed marriage. The father of the husband-to-be passionately disliked the bride so much that he protested the wedding. This results in his having a heart attack and dying. It is eventually revealed that the woman gave birth to two disabled sons, something that drives the husband to commit murder.

‘The Convergence of the Twain’ is a very clever poem that speaks on the concept of “Immanent Will”. Through the example of the Titanic, the poet describes how the wreck of the ship was predetermined. The two were “twined” from the beginning. There is a mysterious aspect to ‘The Convergence of the Twain,’ especially when the poet speaks about the ocean and its depths.

‘The Voice’ was written after the death of Hardy’s loved but estranged wife, Emma. This piece is one of many that came after her death and expressed the piet’s grief at not being able to say goodbye to her. He had no idea that she was sick and dying. He compares his own emotional state to the listless falling of lilacs and movements of the wind. 

‘Wessex Heights’ describes Hardy surveying lands around him from a high point. He experiences a resurgence of memory and several ghostlike presences that haunt him. It is only in natural places that he’s able to escape from the past. He knows “some liberty” where no mothers have walked with him.


Early Life

Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset, England in June of 1840. His father, also named Thomas, was a stonemason and worked in the local area. His mother, Jemima, was a well-educated woman who taught Thomas up until he went to school at eight years old. Hardy was the oldest of four children and was often ill. His family lived in a rural cottage but he only spent a year at the local school before going on to Mr. Last’s Academy for Young Gentlemen in Dorchester. It was here that he learned Latin and showed his true academic potential. 

Hardy’s family was not wealthy meaning that he was unable to attend university and was made to leave school at the age of sixteen. It was at this time, in 1856, that he became the apprentice of a local architect. This apprenticeship led to his moving to London to work as a draftsman at 22. Hardy was not comfortable in the city as he was very aware of how his background differed from those he met and worked with.

He became ill after a time and was forced back to Dorset. He would work for a variety of architectural firms over the following years. His career brought him some measure of economic advancement but his finances were far from secure. 

It was while working in London that Hardy first became aware of the vast economic disparities and social injustices that were occurring around him on a daily basis. These were topics that would make their way into his later writings. It was in the mid-1860s that Hardy was forced to take a look at his life and judge whether architecture was the profession he was really dedicated to. He decided to devote more of his time to the development of his poetic skills, writing many poems during these years of study which would appear in future volumes. At the time of his writing, none of the publishing houses were interested, forcing him to consider writing prose instead. 


Literary Career

His first written novel, ‘The Poor Man and the Lady’ was finished in 1868 but was turned down by publishers. This spurned his novels, ‘Desperate Remedies’ and ‘Under the Greenwood Tree.’ It was through these works that he first came into his own voice and opinions regarding social change. This was also an important time in Hardy’s personal life as he met the woman, Emma Lavinia Gifford, who became his wife in 1874. It was in 1872 that Hardy made his final break with architecture. He committed to writing a series of installments for Tinsley’s Magazine during this time period, the resulting novel was ‘Far From the Madding Crowd.’ 

Hardy and his wife moved around England and he continued to write novels, to a mixed reception. Some of his works, such as ‘The Hand of Ethelberta’ were received poorly and others like, ‘Return of the Native’ were seen as powerfully important. In 1885, Hardy and his wife moved into the Max Gatehouse in Dorchester. This was a signal to the community, which had not quite accepted Hardy, that the couple meant to stay. He became a local magistrate and would live in the city until his death. A year after their move, in 1886, Hardy published ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ which details and incorporates important elements of Dorchester’s local history. 

Hardy released his first collection of short stories. These pieces had been previously published in a number of magazines but they all came together in Wessex Tales. This was only one of four total short story collections Hardy would publish. While his carer was advancing, his personal life was struggling. His marriage was rocky, but he was able to use his personal experiences to embellish his writing in the short novel ‘The Well-Beloved.’ 


Writing Career and Relationships

Two of Hardy’s most important novels Jude the Obscure and Tess of the d’Urbervilles were published in 1891 and 1895. It was not until the early 1900s that Hardy returned to poetry and published a three-volume poetic drama titled, ‘The Dynasts.’ This work was an epic tale of the Napoleonic Wars. A few years later, in 1910, Hardy was appointed to the Order of Merit. He was now famous worldwide for his literary works and has become a national treasure. 

Hardy was struck with loss in 1912 when his wife, Emma, died. The couple had been separated for over twenty years but her death hit the poet hard and he would write about her in his following volumes. Two years later though Hardy remarried a woman named Florence Emily Dugdale. She was 38 years his junior and was able to take care of Hardy well into his old age. 


Death

Hardy continued to write into his 90s when he published his final two collections of poetry, ‘Late Lyrics and Earlier’ and ‘Human Shows.’ He died on January 11th, 1928, and most of his remains were interred in Westminster Abby. His heart was separated and buried in the churchyard of his hometown. 


Influence from other Poets

Thomas Hardy was notably influenced by writers such as Robert Browning, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot.


Poems by Thomas Hardy

Explore poetry by Thomas Hardy below, analyzed by the team at Poem Analysis.

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