Thomas Hardy: Life, Works, and Impact

Early Life

Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton, England. His father, Thomas Hardy Sr., was a local builder, and his mother, Jemima, was a simple lady. He spent his early years surrounded by nature, relishing the pleasures of rural life. The environment he grew up in greatly influenced him. His father passed away in 1892, and his mother died twelve years later.

Education

Thomas received his early education in the rural area, guided by his parents, particularly his mother, who instilled in him a love for literature. Later, he attended Last's Academy for Young Men, where he gained knowledge in French, German, mathematics, and Latin. Unfortunately, his formal education ended at sixteen, and he did not have the opportunity to pursue higher studies. In 1856, he became an apprentice to architect John Hicks. During this time, he aspired to continue his education but was unable to do so. In 1862, inspired by his skills, Hicks sent him to King's College, England, to study architecture. It was also in the same year that he was impressed by the local poet Reverend Barnes and began writing his literary pieces.

Marriage

While working on architectural tasks in Cornwall, Thomas met and fell in love with Emma Gifford. The couple married in 1874. By this time, he had fully developed his writing skills. Sadly, Emma's death in 1912 left him devastated. To cope with his grief, he later married Florence Emily Dugdale, his secretary, who was thirty-nine years his junior. However, this second marriage did not alleviate his mental anguish. Nonetheless, he channeled his depression into his poems, short stories, and a play, dedicated to his first wife, Emma.

Death

Thomas Hardy, a prominent Victorian realist, endured significant hardships after the death of his first wife and was deeply affected by the destruction caused by World War I. In 1927, he fell ill with a chest infection and passed away at Max Gate in 1928. Before his death, he composed a final poem as a tribute to his first wife. His heart was buried beside Emma, while his ashes found their resting place in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey, fulfilling both family and literary wishes.

Key Facts about His Life

  • His literary contributions earned him the Order of Merit in 1910, and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize twelve times.
  • He is remembered as the last of the Great Victorians after his death.

Writing Career

Thomas Hardy's career spanned two distinct phases: first as an apprentice architect and later as a poet and writer. He began writing at the age of seventeen after being inspired by Reverend William Barnes. However, publishers did not initially recognize his early works. In 1865, he published his first prose work, "A Humorous Sketch," which received a favorable reception. He leaned more towards poetry than prose, and in the next three years, he wrote "The Poor Man and The Lady." His friend, George Meredith, advised against publishing the novel, believing it would not be accepted by Victorian society. While he heeded his friend's advice, Hardy remained dedicated to writing. In 1870, he published the novel "Desperate Remedies," followed by "The Return of the Native" in 1874. Between 1878 and 1912, he produced three volumes of short stories, nine more novels, three collections of poems, and "The Dynasts," a dramatic lyric. However, harsh criticism of his last novel, "Jude the Obscure," compelled him to shift his focus to poetry.

His Style

Thomas Hardy's unique ideas left a lasting impact on the world of literature, establishing him as one of the greatest literary figures. His distinct style is evident in his epic dramas and ballads, characterized by meticulous character and event descriptions, which extend to both humans and the natural world. He also employed explicit sexual imagery in his works and embraced a modern style of writing in his novels. His poetry is marked by versatility, musicality, language control, and vitality. Many of his poems incorporate Old English to preserve its relevance amid neologisms. Common themes in his works include death, loss, loneliness, and life.

Notable Works by Thomas Hardy

  • Best Poems: "The Darkling Thrush," "Neutral Tones," "The Convergence of the Twain," "The Man He Killed," "The Voice," and "The Ruined Maid."
  • Best Novels: "The Poor Man and The Lady," "Under the Greenwood Tree," "Jude the Obscure," "Tess of the d'Urbervilles," and "The Return of the Native."

Thomas Hardy's Impact on Future Literature

Thomas Hardy's unique style has left a deep imprint on English and international literature. His distinct approach and expression have inspired many great poets and writers, including D. H. Lawrence, John Cowper Powys, and Edward Driffield. He successfully conveyed his ideas and emotions in his writings, and even today, writers strive to emulate his unique style, considering him a beacon for both prose and poetry.

Famous Quotes

"A strong woman who recklessly throws away her strength, she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away." - (From "Tess of the D'Urbervilles")

"You have never loved me as I love you–never–never! Yours is not a passionate heart–your heart does not burn in a flame! You are, upon the whole, a sort of fay, or sprite– not a woman!" - (From "Jude the Obscure")

"They spoke very little of their mutual feeling; pretty phrases and warm expressions being probably unnecessary between such tried friends." - (From "Far From the Madding Crowd")

"Beauty lay not in the thing, but in what the thing symbolized." - (From "Tess of the D'Urbervilles")

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