Thomas Hardy and Tess of the D’Urbervilles

A video talk

Did you know that we can thank the profession of architecture for some of the great love poems of English literature? Thomas Hardy trained as an architect, it was as an architect that he went to Cornwall to restore a church, and there he met his first wife Emma. Sadly, most of the fabulous love poems he wrote for her were penned after her death – just one of the many ironies of Hardy’s life.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a tragic novel, with an impending sense of doom throughout, yet it is also exquisitely beautiful. It has always been the most beloved of Hardy’s books.

A poet at heart

Did you know that we can thank the profession of architecture for some of the great love poems of English literature? Thomas Hardy trained as an architect, it was as an architect that he went to Cornwall to restore a church, and there he met his first wife Emma. Sadly, most of the fabulous love poems he wrote for her were penned after her death – just one of the many ironies of Hardy’s life.

Hardy’s greatest literary love was poetry, but he wrote novels because they brought in the money. Discover which book made his fame, why so many of his novels shocked Victorian society, and which scandalous novel made him give up fiction for good. How did Hardy fight for change? What did he, as an atheist, have to say about the Victorian church, and in what ways was he an early advocate of the ‘Me Too’ movement?

“Tess is one of the greatest triumphs of civilisation: a natural girl.”
― Irving Howe, literary critic

A difficult husband

Hardy’s life was a long one. Born in a humble cottage, he grew so famous that princes came to lunch with him. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of his two marriages – to Emma and to Florence, and how wife no. 2 gained her revenge on wife no. 1. There were no children, only pets, and both wives seem to have found Thomas a difficult man to live with, especially when he was deep in his writing. And the story of his funeral is an intriguing one – discover why Hardy’s body rests in two places today.

Preserving a world with fiction

Thomas Hardy added a fictional county to the map of England – Wessex. He used real places as settings for scenes in his books, he wrote wonderful short stories and poems celebrating the beauty of the Dorset landscape. The Industrial Age was rapidly bringing changes and Hardy wanted to preserve in his fiction the ways of a rural world that were fast disappearing. He does this superbly in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

This has always been the most beloved of his books. And yet it shocked its first readers so much that Hardy was forced to change parts of it before he could get it published.

It’s a tragic novel, with an impending sense of doom throughout, and yet it is also an exquisitely beautiful novel, with its warm and sympathetic heroine, its rich evocation of a pastoral landscape, and its plea for the better treatment of women.

Discuss it with me

Were you made to study a Hardy novel when you were at school? If so, which one and how did you respond to it? Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a tragic story – one doesn’t feel happy when it is read, and yet it’s a book that draws us back.

What is the subtle power of this novel and why do we love it? Have you seen either of the excellent film versions? Let’s discuss it here.

Purchase the complete Virtual Talk (just $6)

This Virtual Talk is a real video treat! In it, I reveal intriguing stories about the author to help you understand what prompted this book to be written. I identify the main characters and their roles, analyse the themes behind the story, and describe the influence that the era, lifestyle and circumstances have on the book’s setting. This talk is illustrated with photographs, paintings, scenes from different film versions and book covers – you’ll have plenty to look at while you listen.

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Discuss it with me

What do you think is the power of this novel and did you love it? Let’s discuss it here.

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I only recommend books I have read or know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.
Featured image credit- Gemma Arterton in Tess of the D’Urbervilles (2008), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1186342/

Comments (4)

  1. Alison Copeman

    I understood from the Squadron that we could listen to the whole talk but I now find that we have to buy it

    • Susannah Fullerton

      No, you should have had the whole talk from the Squadron. They bought it from me so they could send it out to all the members. Please let them know if you have a problem, but they should have sent you the link and the password. I do hope you enjoy it.

  2. LYN BROWNE

    hello Susannah, with my husband safely on the golf course I have been able to sit down and enjoy your virtual talk on Thomas Hardy. I studied him a lot at university, even wrote my dissertation on ‘Poems 1912-13’, but I have learnt so much from your talk. I had not even known about Emma Hardy’s ‘what I think of my husband’! Maybe all of us should write one of those pieces.
    Your observation about the duality Hardy felt, trying to cover up his humble origins, being demonstrated by his body being buried in two places is such an insight.
    And regarding ‘Tess’ – how did I never know about that wheelbarrow transporting the girls through the flooded lane in an early version? What, not in Angel’s arms after all?!
    By the way, I did listen to Richard Burton reading ‘Beyond the Last Lamp’ and kept thinking of ‘Under Milk Wood’. You read it better.
    Best wishes,
    Lyn

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Well I can’t agree that I read anything better than Richard Burton, but thanks for the lovely compliment. I am so delighted you enjoyed my Thomas Hardy talk. Such an interesting and complex man.
      My new talk is on my Top Ten Places in Literary England. Such fun to make, though very hard deciding on those top ten, and then ranking them. You can get it from my website for $6 if you are interested.

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