Thomas Hardy was born in Higher Brockhampton, Dorset, near the town of
Dorchester. His father was a builder, and played violin in the local
church and for local dances. His mother, though she had been brought up in
poverty and had only a basic education, read widely, and encouraged Hardy
to do the same.
He attended the village school in Stinsford for a year (1848, 8), then the
British School in Dorchester, run by a Nonconformist society. After one
year there he moved to a commercial academy run by Isaac Last, where he
was able to study Latin. He left school in 1856 (16), and was articled to
the architect John Hicks in Dorchester. Here he began to teach himself
Greek, with encouragement from the dialect poet and philologist William
Barnes, who had a house next door to Hicks’ office.
At the same time, he met and was befriended by Horace Moule, the son of
the Vicar of Fordington in Dorchester, who had been educated at Cambridge,
and who now helped him with his studies, and encouraged him to write
Witnesses a public execution
Public executions were still carried out in Dorchester, and he witnessed
there the hanging of a woman, an event which haunted him for the rest of
his life, and which he re-enacted in his novel Tess of the
d’Urbevilles forty years later.
In 1862 (22) he moved to London, where he found employment in the office
of the architect Arthur Blomfield. He attended the opera, joined a choir
and put himself through a course on the English poets. He also visited
exhibitions of painting in South Kensington and at the National Gallery,
starting a notebook in which he systematically distinguished the Schools
He wrote, mainly poetry, but failed to get anything published apart from a
small satirical sketch, How I Built Myself a House, which was
published by Chambers’ Journal, and for which he received £3 15s.
A romance with Eliza Nicholls, a lady’s maid, inspired the sonnet
sequence She to Him, but his involvement with her ended in 1867
Dorchester : meets Emma Gifford
He returned to Dorchester in ill health, and began work once again for
Hicks. He switched to writing novels, but his first work, The Poor Man
and the Lady, was rejected by various publishers. On the death of
Hicks in 1869 (29) the business was taken over by G.R.Crickmay,
specialists in church restoration, and it was on one of his assignments
for this firm that he met his future wife Emma Gifford in St Juliot’s,
First novel published
His novel Desperate Remedies was published anonymously by William
Tinsley in 1871 (31) in three volumes, the expense of printing guaranteed
by Hardy. It was favourably reviewed in both the Athenaeum
and the Morning
Post. Encouraged, he offered Tinsley Under the Greenwood Tree
(1872, 32), which also received enthusiastic reviews, and Tinsley asked
him to write a serial for Tinsley’s Magazine. Later the same year Leslie
Stephen, editor of the influential Cornhill
Magazine, requested a serial.
Moule committs suicide
Hardy’s friend Horace Moule committed suicide in 1873 (33).
Marriage and further novels
Other novels followed, and in 1874 (34) he married Emma Gifford and had
his first real commercial success with Far From the Madding Crowd.
The Hardys moved often, living at various times in London, Swanage,
Yeovil, Sturminster Newton, Tooting, Wimbourne Minster, Dorchester and
finally, in 1886 (56), Max Gate, a house near Dorchester designed by Hardy
himself and built by his brother, which remained his home until his
Further novels and tour of Italy
He continued to write novels, and in 1887 (47) made a tour of Italy,
visiting the graves of Shelley
Conflicts with his editors in 1889 (49) forced him to make changes to Tess
of the d’Urbevilles, which was not published until 1891 (51), when
it was well received but also heavily criticised.
Jude the Obscure
In 1895 (55), when he published Jude the Obscure, the level of
criticism was so severe that it contributed to his decision to stop
writing novels altogether. The book also brought into the open a serious
rift in his marriage, as Emma Hardy considered it to be an attack on the
sanctity of marriage.
He turned to poetry once again, and his first collection, Wessex Poems
and Other Verses, was published in 1898 (58). Poems of the Past and
the Present followed in 1901 (61), The Dynasts, a three volume
epic poem, in 1904 (64), 1906 (66) and 1908 (68), and Time’s
Laughingstocks and Other Verses in 1909 (69).
Freedom of the Borough of Dorchester
In 1910 (70) he was awarded the Order of Merit, having previously refused
a knighthood, and he received the freedom of the borough of
Emma Hardy dies and he remarries
Emma Hardy died in 1912 (72), and in 1914 (74) he married Florence
Dugdale, who had been his secretary since 1912 (72) and was just 34 years
He published further volumes of poetry, including Satires of
Circumstance (1914, 74), Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses
(1917, 77), Late Lyrics and Earlier (1922, 82), Human Shows, Far
Phantasies, Songs and Trifles (1925, 85) and Winter Words, in
Various Moods and Metres (1928, 88).
He died in 1928 (88). His heart was removed and buried in Emma Hardy’s
grave in Stinsford Churchyard. His body was cremated and the ashes buried
in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.
Thomas Hardy Biography : Links
Ah! Are You Digging on my Grave?
Snow in the Suburbs
The Darkling Thrush
I Look into My Glass
The Man He Killed
Elizabethan poets :
17th century poets
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Percy Bysshe Shelley
George Gordon, Lord Byron
Alfred Lord Tennyson