English Literature

Thomas Hardy

English poet and novelist, whose works depict the imaginary county of "Wessex" (Dorset, Somerset, and Wiltshire). Hardy's career as writer spanned over fifty years.

Thomas Hardy's own life wasn't similar to his stories. He was born in Dorset, near Dorchester. His father was a master mason and building contractor. Hardy's mother, whose tastes included Latin poets and French romances, provided for his education. After schooling in Dorchester Hardy was apprenticed to an architect. He worked in an office, which specialized in restoration of churches. In 1874 Hardy married Emma Lavinia Gifford, for whom he wrote after her death, a group of poems known as VETERIS VESTIGIAE FLAMMAE (Vestiges of an Old Flame).

At the age of 22 Hardy moved to London and started to write poems, which idealized rural life. He was an assistant in the architectural firm of Arthur Blomfield, visited art galleries, attended evening classes in French at King's College, enjoyed Shakespeare and opera, and read widely. In 1867 Hardy left London for the family home in Dorset. He entered into a temporary engagement with Tryphena Sparks, a sixteen-year-old relative. Hardy continued his architectural work, but encouraged by Emma Lavinia Gifford, he started to consider literature as his "true vocation".

 His first novel, THE POOR MAN AND THE LADY, was written in 1867, but the book was rejected by many publishers and he destroyed the manuscript. His first book that gained notice, was FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (1874). After its success Hardy was convinced that he could earn his living as an author. He devoted himself entirely to writing and produced a series of novels, among them THE RETURN OF NATIVE (1878), THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE (1886).

TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES (1891) came into conflict with Victorian morality. It explored the dark side of his family connections in Berkshire. In the story the poor villager girl Tess Durbeyfield is seduced by the wealthy Alec D'Uberville. She becomes pregnant but the child dies in infancy. Tess finds work as a dairymaid on a farm and falls in love with Angel Clare, a clergyman's son. They marry but when Tess tells Angel about her past, he deserts her. Tess becomes Alec's mistress. Angel returns from Brazil, repenting his harshness, but finds her living with Alec. Tess kills Alec in desperation, she is arrested and hanged.

Hardy's JUDE THE OBSCURE (1895) aroused even more debate. The story dramatized the conflict between carnal and spiritual life, tracing Jude Fawley's life from his boyhood to his early death. Jude marries Arabella, but they part. He falls in love with his cousin, Sue Bridehead, who marries the decaying schoolmaster, Phillotson, in a masochist fit. Jude and Sue obtain divorces, but their life together deteriorates under the pressure of poverty and social disapproval. The eldest son of Jude and Arabella, a boy nicknamed 'Father Time', kills their children and himself. Broken by the loss, Sue goes back to Phillotson, and Jude returns to Arabella. Soon thereafter Jude dies, and his last words are: "Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul?".

In 1896, disturbed by the public uproar over the unconventional subjects of two of his greatest novels, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, Hardy announced that he would never write fiction again. Hardy's marriage had also suffered from the public outrage - critics on both sides of the Atlantic abused the author as degenerate and called his work itself disgusting.

After giving up the novel, Hardy brought out a first group of Wessex poems, some of which had been composed 30 years before. During the remainder of his life, Hardy continued to publish several collections of poems.

Hardy kept to his marriage with Emma Gifford although it was unhappy and he had - or he imagined he had - affairs with other women passing briefly through his life. Emma Hardy died in 1912 and in 1914 Hardy married his secretary, Florence Emily Dugdale, a woman in her 30's, almost 40 years younger than he. From 1920 through 1927 Hardy worked on his autobiography, which was disguised as the work of Florence Hardy. 

Hardy died in Dorchester, Dorset, on January 11, 1928. His ashes were cremated in Dorchester and buried with impressive ceremonies in the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. According to a literary anecdote his heart was to be buried in Stinsford, his birthplace, and all went according to plan, until a cat belonging to the poet's sister snatched the heart off the kitchen, where it was temporarily kept, and disappeared into the woods with it.

 His novels bravely challenged many of the sexual and religious conventions of the Victorian age, and dared to present a bleak view into human nature. In his poems Hardy depicted rural life without sentimentality - his mood was often stoically hopeless.

QUOTATIONS:

The value of old age depends upon the person who reaches it. To some men of early performance it is useless. To others, who are late to develop, it just enables them to finish the job.

My weakness has always been to prefer the large intention of an unskillful artist to the trivial intention of an accomplished one: in other words, I am more interested in the high ideas of a feeble executant than in the high execution of a feeble thinker.

If all hearts were open and all desires known--as they would be if people showed their souls--how many gapings, sighings, clenched fists, knotted brows, broad grins, and red eyes should we see in the market-place!

Of course poets have morals and manners of their own, and custom is no argument with them.

It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.

A lover without indiscretion is no lover at all. Circumspection and devotion are a contradiction in terms.

Some folk want their luck buttered.

Everybody is so talented nowadays that the only people I care to honour as deserving real distinction are those who remain in obscurity.

A resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible.

Pessimism is, in brief, playing the sure game. You cannot lose at it; you may gain. It is the only view of life in which you can never be disappointed. Having reckoned what to do in the worst possible circumstances, when better arise, as they may, life becomes child's play

 

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate When Frost was spectre-grey, And Winter's dregs made desolate The weakening eye of day. The tangled bine-stems scored the sky Like strings of broken lyres, And all mankind that haunted nigh Had sought their household fires. The land's sharp features seemed to be The Century's corpse outleant, His crypt the cloudy canopy, The wind his death-lament. The ancient pulse of germ and birth Was shrunken hard and dry, And every spirit upon earth Seemed fervourless as I. At once a voice arose among The bleak twigs overhead In a full-hearted evensong Of joy illimited; And age`d thrush, frail, gaunt, and small, In blast-beruffled plume, Had chosen thus to fling his soul Upon the growing gloom. So little cause for carolings Of such ecstatic sound Was written on terrestrial things Afar or nigh around, That I could think there trembled through His happy good-night air Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew And I was unaware. (1900) 

Ah, are you digging on my grave?

"Ah, are you digging on my grave,
My loved one? -- planting rue?"
-- "No: yesterday he went to wed
One of the brightest wealth has bred.
'It cannot hurt her now,' he said,
'That I should not be true.'"

"Then who is digging on my grave,
My nearest dearest kin?"
-- "Ah, no: they sit and think, 'What use!
What good will planting flowers produce?
No tendance of her mound can loose
Her spirit from Death's gin.'"

"But someone digs upon my grave?
My enemy? -- prodding sly?"
-- "Nay: when she heard you had passed the Gate
That shuts on all flesh soon or late,
She thought you no more worth her hate,
And cares not where you lie.

"Then, who is digging on my grave?
Say -- since I have not guessed!"
-- "O it is I, my mistress dear,
Your little dog , who still lives near,
And much I hope my movements here
Have not disturbed your rest?"

"Ah yes! You dig upon my grave...
Why flashed it not to me
That one true heart was left behind!
What feeling do we ever find
To equal among human kind
A dog's fidelity!"

"Mistress, I dug upon your grave
To bury a bone, in case
I should be hungry near this spot
When passing on my daily trot.
I am sorry, but I quite forgot
It was your resting place."

 

Selected works: