Thomas Hardy

Thomas Masterson Hardy (2 June 1840 - 11 January 1928) was a novelist and poet, generally regarded as one of the greatest figures in English literature.

Born near Dorchester, Dorset, Hardy was the son of a stonemason and originally trained as an architect. He draws heavily on this background in his work. His first novel was begun in 1867, but he gave up prose fiction writing after Jude the Obscure (1895), having been heavily criticized for the novel's apparent anti-marriage stance. Other novels include:

  • Tess of the D'Urbervilles (filmed, by Roman Polanski, as Tess),
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge,
  • The Return of the Native,
  • A Pair of Blue Eyes,
  • The Woodlanders,
  • Far From the Madding Crowd

Hardy's stories often take place in the "partly-real, partly-dream" county of Wessex (named after an Anglo-Saxon kingdom which existed in the area), modeled on the real counties of Berkshire, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire. In his stories the fictional placenames are based on real locations. For example the town of Casterbridge is based on the real town of Dorchester. His distinctive achievement is to have captured the cultural atmosphere of rural Wessex in the golden epoch that existed just before the impact of the railways and the industrial revolution was to change the English countryside for ever.

From 1898, Hardy concentrated on poetry, continuing to publish collections right up until 1928. Following the death of his first wife, Emma Gifford, in 1912, after 38 years of marriage, Hardy married Florence Dugdale, and their home at Max Gate in Dorset (that Hardy had designed) became a mecca for other writers, such as Siegfried Sassoon and T. E. Lawrence.

Hardy was active until a few days before his death, entertaining visitors in his usual lively way. His funeral, on 16 January at Westminster Abbey, was a controversial occasion. His family and friends had wished him to be buried at Stinsford, but his executor, Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell, had insisted he should be placed in Poets' Corner. A compromise was reached, whereby his heart was buried at Stinsford and his ashes were interred in the abbey.

In part because of the influence of Philip Larkin, critical response to Hardy's poetry has gradually thawed, becoming increasingly positive.

Hardy's cottage at Brockhampton and his house in Dorchester are owned by the National Trust.

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