Tess of the d'Urbervilles

By Thomas Hardy


Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) has often been described as a self-taught peasant, but this is misguided. He was the son of a builder and master mason who employed a number of men. He had an excellent education and was already earning a living as an architect before he started to write professionally. He moved up a social class but he was not really a member of the working class to which his family had remote connections. He wrote about labourers from a distanced perspective, writing not for them but for educated readers in the city.

Hardy was born in the hamlet of Higher Bockhampton near Dorchester. He attended Dorchester High School until he was sixteen, becoming apprentice to John Hicks, a local architect, from 1856-62. Once he had completed this he went to work at the architectural offices of Arthur Broomfield in London. Hardy was a prize-winning architect by the time he was trying to publish his poetry during the 1860s. However, since the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, Hardy was beginning to question his Christian faith. He was also suffering ill health and this precipitated his move back to Dorchester to work for John Hicks. He regained his health and began writing his first (unpublished) novel The Poor Man and the Lady. When Hicks died in 1869, Hardy was offered a job at the firm's Weymouth office. Here he began writing his first published novel Desperate Remedies (1871), and this year is also when he met his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford. He was able to marry her after the successful publication of Far From the Madding Crowd in 1874.

The couple at first lived in the West Country, but they later moved to London for three years in 1878. They returned to Dorset in 1881 and settled at Max Gate on the outskirts of Dorchester in 1885. They remained here for the rest of their lives, but continued to visit London regularly. The marriage was unhappy, and this is supposedly reflected in Jude the Obscure (1895). They travelled widely and kept occupied.

Jude received mixed reviews and Hardy was disgusted. He renounced novel writing completely for poetry and by the time Emma Hardy died in 1912 Thomas Hardy had become a celebrated and prolific English author. He continued to live at Max Gate and married Florence Emily Dugdale in 1914. With her help he destroyed many of his letters and journals and prepared two misleading volumes on his life: The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840-1891 (1928) and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 1892-1928 (1930). Both were published after the author's death under the name of his wife.