One of the most renowned poets and novelists in English literary history
I love Thomas Hardy’s novels, though they often make me cry. Thomas Hardy regarded himself first as a poet, and secondly as a novelist. I adore his poems, especially when read by Richard Burton, and I also love his novels. Incredibly prolific, Hardy wrote fourteen novels, short stories and many volumes of poetry. About one thousand poems were published in his lifetime.
In 1840 Jemima Hardy gave birth to her first child in a humble Dorset cottage built by her husband and father-in-law, but it appeared the baby boy was dead. He was put aside while the doctor attended to the mother, but suddenly the little scrap of humanity let out a small cry and so the life of Thomas Hardy began.
Thomas was the eldest of four children. A frail child, he was doted on by both parents. An early pleasure was going with his father to play the fiddle at country weddings – at such events, he learned about local traditions and the ways of agricultural people. His mother was a keen reader and soon introduced her boy to stories and books.
Thomas Hardy trained as an architect, and it was in this role that he went to Cornwall to restore a church where he met his first wife, Emma. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of his two marriages – to Emma and then to Florence. There were no children, only pets, and both wives seem to have found him a difficult man to live with.
Hardy’s life was a long one and he grew to be so famous that princes lunched with him. Join me to 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? The story of his funeral is an intriguing one – discover why Hardy’s body rests in two places today.
Going to visit Thomas Hardy’s birthplace and his home Max Gate outside Dorchester are very moving experiences.
“a powerful imagination, a profound and poetic genius, a gentle and humane soul.”
― Virginia Woolf
A great place to start your Thomas Hardy discovery journey is with either my fully illustrated reader’s guide that you can print and keep, Thomas Hardy & Far From The Madding Crowd. Or watch my fully illustrated video talk, Thomas Hardy & Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Both are available for purchase now.
Most of all I love Hardy as a poet, which is where he felt himself that he was at his greatest. He wrote hundreds of poems, in a great variety of forms, but he wrote novels because they brought in the money. Sadly, most of the fabulous love poems he wrote were for Emma and penned after her early death – just one of the many ironies of Hardy’s life.
Hardy’s books are must-reads, he creates unforgettable characters, depicts beautiful landscapes, and composes stories which truly touch your heart. Hardy wanted to show that even people living in isolated parts of the country, could still feel passion, still have wishes that were far from sober, and could lead lives that were anything but bland.
Far From the Madding Crowd, has always been the most beloved of Hardy’s books. It is a brilliant study of passion and landscape, rivalry and stubborn love and captures a rural world that was vanishing even as Hardy wrote about it. It is one of the warmest and sunniest of his novels, though it still contains a good dose of tragedy as well. Rich, evocative, modern and full of psychological insight, first readers were so shocked that Hardy was forced to change parts of it before he could get it published. This is a book that everyone should read at least once in their lives.
Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles is as famous for its heroine as for its tragic plot. The novel traces the difficult life of Tess Durbeyfield, who is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D’Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune. Meeting her cousin Alec and victimization at the hands of men eventually lead to her tragic downfall.
Tess is one of the leading female characters of 19th century literature and she will steal your heart. Through her, Hardy explores the difficult questions of sexuality, social morality and the negative effects of modernisation in that era.
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