Thomas Hardy OM
The famous English novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy was born in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset on 2 June 1840. When he died on 11 January 1928 his ashes were placed in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, London but his heart was buried in his beloved Dorset in St Michael’s churchyard, Stinsford Village.
Far from the Madding Crowd
Nowadays Hardy’s works are probably considered old fashioned and mannered but aficionados will love visiting Dorset because so many of the places described by him have barely changed. In Far from the Madding Crowd, the coast at Durdle Door and the cliff top downs at Scratchy Bottom are just as portrayed by Hardy. His fictional town of Castorbridge is Dorchester.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles
At Piddletrenthide can be seen the Dumberfeld family tomb. Hardy knew this tomb very well and changed the name slightly making it d’Urberville in his novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
Thomas Hardy was born and lived his early life at Higher Bockhampton in the depths of a rural England little changed from the 17th and 18th centuries. We now know this cottage as Hardy's Cottage.
His father was a stonemason and local builder, and a member of the lower classes. His mother was well-read and educated and attended to Thomas’s schooling at home. However, when he was eight he was sent to a private school in Bockhampton, not the village church school as was common.
Apprenticed to a Dorchester Architect
Thomas was a bright, intelligent child but his humble family was unable to afford to send him to university so at age 16 he was apprenticed to a local architect in Dorchester where he was engaged in assessing local churches for restoration. This is how he came to know Piddletrenthide so well.
Thomas had an aptitude for architecture and design but his real love was writing. When he was 22 he took himself off to London and enrolled in Kings College to study architecture. He won several prizes from the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architectural Association.
Despite his success he was unhappy in London, acutely aware of class divisions and social inferiority. Imagine the situation, despite his brilliance, his soft Dorset country accent marked him out as socially inferior and not suitable for high society.
After five years in London, with his health deteriorating, he decided to return to Dorset and dedicate his life to writing.
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Married in 1870 to Emma
In 1870 he met his first wife Emma Lavinia Gifford who encouraged him in his writing endeavours. He published several successful novels set in the fictional county of Wessex (a thinly disguised Dorset).
However, two of his best novels were heavily criticised and he decided to give up writing books and concentrate on poetry. During this period he became estranged from his wife. Her death in 1912 appeared to have a morbid and traumatic effect upon Hardy. He occupied himself in re-visiting places of their courtship and writing poems reflecting on her demise.
Married to Florence
Two years later he married his secretary Florence Emily Dugdale, 39 years his junior. She must have been a very patient and understanding woman because Hardy remained preoccupied with his first wife’s death and consumed with remorse which he tried to assuage by writing poetry.
Hardy’s works are strong on social injustice and the hypocrisy of The Church. His lower class characters are doomed by Fate and accept this stoically, his upper class characters are able to escape their Fate by virtue of their social status. He describes rural England accurately without sentiment but with obvious love.
Jude the Obscure
He upset the puritanical Victorian establishment by writing about physical love and passion so much so that the Bishop of Wakefield described Jude the Obscure as ‘disgusting’ and consigned his copy of the book to the fire. Referring to the book Hardy later commented "After these [hostile] verdicts from the press its next misfortune was to be burnt by a bishop - probably in his despair at not being able to burn me".
Despite popular success Thomas decided to give up writing novels and changed to poetry which was much better received. In 1910 he was awarded the Order of Merit for Literature.
Thomas Hardy was not some straight-laced Victorian novelist and poet but a passionate rebel who raged against the injustices of his time.