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.
Early Literary Career
It was while working in London that Hardy first became aware of the vast economic disparities and social injustices which were occurring around him on a daily basis. These were topics which 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.
His first written novel, ‘The Poor Man and the Lady’ was finished in 1868 but was turned down my 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 instalments for Tinsley’s Magazine during this time period, the resulting novel was ‘Far From the Madding Crowd.’
Life in Dorchester
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 Gate house 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.
The year of 1888 was for Hardy as he released his first collection of short stories. These piece had been previously published in a number of magazine 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.’
Later Life and Collections
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 to 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.
Hardy continued to write into his 90s when he published his final two collection 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.