Thomas Hardy

English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, OM was born 2 June 1840 in Higher Bockhampton (then Upper Bockhampton). His Mother Jemima was well-read, and she educated Thomas until he went to his first school at Bockhampton at the age of eight. For several years he attended Mr. Last’s Academy for Young Gentlemen in Dorchester, where he learned Latin and demonstrated academic potential., 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; there he enrolled as a student at King’s College London. He won prizes from the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architectural Association. He joined Arthur Blomfield’s practice as assistant architect in April 1862 and worked with Blomfield on All Saints’ parish church in Windsor, Berkshire in 1862–64. A reredos, possibly designed by Hardy, was discovered behind panelling at All Saints’ in August 2016. In the mid-1860s, Hardy was in charge of the excavation of part of the graveyard of St Pancras Old Church prior to its destruction when the Midland Railway was extended to a new terminus at St Pancras.

Hardy was A Victorian realist who was influenced both in his novels and in his poetry by Romanticism, especially William Wordsworth. He was highly critical of much in Victorian society, especially on the declining status of rural people in Britain, such as those from his native South West England. He was also acutely conscious of class divisions and his social inferiority. During this time 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. After five years, he returned to Dorset, settling in Weymouth, and dedicated himself to writing.

In 1870, while on an architectural mission to restore the parish church of St Juliot in Cornwall, Hardy met and fell in love with Emma Gifford, whom he married in Kensington in 1874 In 1885 Thomas and his wife moved into Max Gate. Emma’s subsequent death in 1912 had a traumatic effect on him and after her death, Hardy made a trip to Cornwall to revisit places linked with their courtship; his Poems 1912–13 reflect upon her death. In 1914, Hardy married his secretary Florence Emily Dugdale, 39 years his junior. He was so traumatised by his first wife’s death that he tried to overcome his remorse by writing poetry. In 1910, Hardy had been awarded the Order of Merit and was also for the first time nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He would be nominated for the prize eleven years later.

While Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life and regarded himself primarily as a poet, his first collection was not published until 1898. Initially, therefore, he gained fame as the author of such novels as Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895. Many of his novels concern tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances, and they are often set in the semi-fictional region of Wessex; initially based on the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Hardy’s Wessex eventually came to include the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Hampshire and much of Berkshire, in southwest and south central England

Sadly Hardy became ill with pleurisy in December 1927 and died at Max Gate just after 9 pm on 11 January 1928, having dictated his final poem to his wife on his deathbed; the cause of death was cited, on his death certificate, as “cardiac syncope”, with “old age” given as a contributory factor. His funeral was on 16 January at Westminster Abbey. During his lifetime, Hardy’s poetry was acclaimed by younger poets (particularly the Georgians) who viewed him as a mentor. After his death his poems were lauded by Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden and Philip Larkin. Two of his novels, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd, were listed in the top 50 on the BBC’s survey The Big Read.

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