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Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was born at Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, on June 2 1840, where his father worked as a master mason and builder. From his father, he gained an appreciation of music and from his mother, an appetite for learning and the delights of the countryside about his rural home. As a novelist he is best known for his work set in the semi-fictionalized county of Wessex including Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude the Obscure, but it is often forgotten that Hardy was also an accomplished architect. Our village of Evershot is commonly referred to as Evershed in Hardy's novels. 

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The Architect

At the age of 16, Hardy helped his father with the architectural drawings for a restoration of Woodsford Castle. The owner, architect James Hicks, was impressed by the younger Hardy's work, and took him on as an apprentice. In 1862, aged 22, Hardy moved to London to study and enrolled as a student at King's College. He worked for prominent architect Arthur Blomfield and won prizes from both the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architectural Association.

During this time he began writing, but his poems were rejected by a number of publishers. Poor health forced him to return to Dorset in 1867 and he began to write full time. After the 5th Earl’s marriage in 1872 he embarked on a major expansion of Melbury, including the addition of the Grand Library. Following its completion he set about an expansion of Summer Lodge which had been built as the Dower House for Melbury, by the 2nd Earl, in 1798. This addition of the Drawing Room and Master Suite was done in 1893 and it’s generally believed that following their earlier meetings, The 5th Earl, then resident of Summer Lodge, asked Hardy to design the extension. This new addition is architecturally rather different from the original part of the house and is notable for its high ceilings and particularly for the tall sash windows which allow its rooms to be flooded with natural light.

The Poet and Novelist

Hardy published his first novel, Desperate Remedies, in 1871 to universal disinterest. But the following year Under the Greenwood Tree brought Hardy popular acclaim for the first time. As with most of his fictional works, Greenwood Tree incorporated real places around Dorset into the plot, including the village school of Higher Bockhampton that Hardy had first attended as a child. The success of Greenwood Tree brought Hardy a commission to write a serialized novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes, for Tinsley's Magazine. Once more, Hardy drew upon real life and the novel mirrors his own courtship of Emma. Hardy followed this with Far From the Madding Crowd, set in Puddletown (renamed Weatherby), near his birthplace. This novel finally netted Hardy the success that enabled him to give up his architectural practice and concentrate solely on writing.

The Hardy’s lived in London for a short time, in Yeovil and then in Sturminster Newton (Stourcastle), which Hardy described as "idyllic". It was Sturminster Newton where Hardy penned Return of the Native, one of his most enduring works. Finally, the Hardy’s moved to Dorchester where Thomas designed their new house, Max Gate, into which they moved in 1885. One year later, Hardy published The Mayor of Casterbridge followed in 1887 by The Woodlanders and in 1891 by one of his best works, Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

Tess provoked interest, but his next work, Jude the Obscure (1896), catapulted Hardy into the midst of a storm of controversy. Jude outraged Victorian morality and was seen as an attack upon the institution of marriage. Its publication caused a rift between Thomas and Emma, who feared readers would regard it as describing their own marriage.

Of course, the publicity did no harm to book sales but readers hid the book behind plain brown paper wrappers, and the Bishop of Wakefield burned his copy! Hardy himself was bemused by the reaction his book caused and he turned away from writing fiction with some disgust. For the rest of his life, Hardy focused on poetry, producing several collections, including Wessex Poems (1898).

Emma Hardy died in November 1912 and was buried in Stinsford churchyard. Thomas was stricken with guilt and remorse, but the result was some of his best poetry, expressing his feelings for his wife of 38 years.

All was not gloom however, for in 1914 Hardy remarried, to Florence Dugdale, his secretary since 1912. Thomas Hardy died on January 11, 1928 at his house of Max Gate in Dorchester. He had expressed the wish to be buried beside Emma, but his wishes were only partly regarded; his body was interred in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey, and only his heart was buried in Emma's grave at Stinsford.

1840 - 1928

Thomas Hardy

A Thunderstorm in Town
by Thomas Hardy

She wore a new ‘terra-cotta’ dress,
And we stayed, because of the pelting storm,
Within the hansom’s dry recess,
Though the horse had stopped; yea, motionless
We sat on, snug and warm.

Then the downpour ceased, to my sharp sad pain
And the glass that had screened our forms before
Flew up, and out she sprang to her door:
I should have kissed her if the rain
Had lasted a minute more.

 

 

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