- Michael Millgate
Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)
Hardy, Thomas (1840–1928), novelist and poet, was born on 2 June 1840 in the Dorset hamlet of Higher Bockhampton, the first of the four children of Thomas Hardy (1811–1892), stonemason and jobbing builder, and his wife, Jemima (1813–1904), daughter of George and Betty Hand of Melbury Osmond, Dorset. At birth—slightly more than six months after his parents' marriage (22 December 1839)—he is said to have been at first given up for dead and saved only by the watchfulness of the midwife.
The family's cottage, built of ‘mudwall’ and thatch by Hardy's great-grandfather at the turn of the century and held on ‘lifehold’ tenure from the nearby Kingston Maurward estate, stood alone on the edge of open heathland. As a sickly child, not confidently expected to survive into adulthood and kept mostly at home, Hardy gained an intimate knowledge of the surrounding countryside, the hard and sometimes violent lives of neighbouring rural families, and the songs, stories, superstitions, seasonal rituals, and day-to-day gossip of a still predominantly oral culture. He had young cousins nearby but depended chiefly on the always sympathetic company of his sister Mary, just a year his junior; his brother, Henry, was born later, in 1851, his second sister, Katharine (Kate), in 1856. Their easy-going father was in only a small and sometimes unprofitable way of business, but their mother, tough-minded and managerial, held the family determinedly together and ingrained in her eldest child habits of prudence, economy, and limited expectation that became lifelong.
Hardy learned to read early and developed a love of church ritual and music. He was taught to play the violin by his father—once a member, like Hardy's uncle and grandfather, of the little group of Stinsford church musicians subsequently memorialized in the novel Under the Greenwood Tree (1872)—and they sometimes performed together at local parties and dances. Hardy may have attended a local dame-school and was certainly ‘taken up’ by Julia Augusta Martin of Kingston Maurward House, but he received no regular schooling until, at the age of eight, he entered the (Anglican) national school just opened in Bockhampton village under Mrs Martin's patronage. In September 1850 his mother—responding in part to Mrs Martin's perceived possessiveness—sent him to the (nonconformist) British School in Dorchester, the county town, some 3 miles off, a distance Hardy walked twice daily for several years, even though he remained weak and slow to develop until well into his teens. Eventually he grew more robust but remained, at around 5 feet 6 inches, rather below the average in height.
At the British School Hardy flourished under the teaching of the headmaster, Isaac Glandfield Last, and in 1853 he followed Last to the latter's newly established 'commercial academy'—Jemima Hardy, ambitious as always for her son's advancement, finding the money for him to take Latin as an additional subject. Later on he attempted to learn Greek without formal teaching and dreamed of eventually attending Cambridge, taking orders, and becoming the incumbent of a rural parish—a position evidently envisaged as offering ample leisure for the writing of poetry. In 1856, however, his parents took the more practical step of apprenticing him to a local ecclesiastical architect named John Hicks. Hardy remained in Hicks's office for six years, and while he learned to regret his participation, then and later, in church ‘restorations’ that involved the destruction of ancient structures and associations, he never despised the excellent professional training Hicks had given him. The period was also marked by sustained private study of Latin and Greek, by fluctuating religious enthusiasms, and by a hesitant emotional development that was perhaps confused by the homosexuality of his much admired friend Horace Moule, the brilliantly literary but disastrously unstable son of the Revd Henry Moule, evangelical vicar of one of the Dorchester churches.
The move to London
In April 1862, two months before his twenty-second birthday, Hardy left Dorchester for London, where he quickly found work as a draughtsman in the busy office of Arthur William Blomfield, a leading Gothic architect of the day. He went to plays, operas, museums, and galleries, and seems thoroughly to have relished the vitality and density of a still ‘Dickensian’ London. He admired Blomfield, liked his colleagues, was elected to the Architectural Association, and won in 1863 the silver medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects for an essay (since vanished) entitled 'On the application of coloured bricks and terra cotta to modern architecture'—a success somewhat marred by the judges' withholding the cash segment of the award. He kept up his private studies, worked at shorthand, French, and art history as possible avenues to a journalistic career, and in 1865 embarked with intensity and ambition on the study and writing of poetry—as witnessed by the exercises contained in his 'Studies, specimens &c.' notebook (1865–8, published 1994) and by the survival (Dorset County Museum) of dictionaries and poetry volumes purchased in the mid-1860s and often bearing the address, 16 Westbourne Park Villas, at which he lived for most of this London period. No poems appeared in print at the time, but he did publish a humorous sketch, 'How I built myself a house', in Chambers's Journal for 18 March 1865.
Hardy's religious faith significantly eroded during his London years—partly, perhaps, in response to the publication in 1859 of Darwin's On the Origin of Species—and by the time ill health brought him back to Higher Bockhampton in the summer of 1867 he had abandoned his old aspirations to a university education and a country ministry. He now wanted to write and, if at all possible, to live by writing. In Dorset, living mostly with his parents, he resumed work as an architect—for Hicks again and then, after Hicks's death, for his successor, the Weymouth architect G. R. Crickmay—but undertook at the same time a long first-person novel called The Poor Man and the Lady. The central story of the socially transgressive love and marriage of an impecunious young architect and the daughter of the nearby ‘great house’ was once described by Hardy himself as 'socialistic, not to say revolutionary' in character (Life and Work, 63), and while the manuscript's readers—remarkably, they included Alexander Macmillan, John Morley, and George Meredith—recognized its narrative strengths, they advised against publication of so outspoken an attack on the attitudes and pretensions of the upper classes. Meredith in particular urged Hardy 'not to “nail his colours to the mast” so definitely in a first book' but to attempt instead 'a novel with a purely artistic purpose' and a more complicated plot (ibid., 62, 64).
The Poor Man and the Lady remained unpublished but not entirely unused, in that Hardy incorporated portions of its manuscript into later works. What did appear, in 1871, was his perhaps somewhat cynical response to Meredith's advice, a ‘sensation’ novel entitled Desperate Remedies and published in three volumes by Tinsley Brothers, partly at the unnamed author's expense. Although the few reviews were extremely mixed, Tinsleys in 1872 brought out, unsubsidized but still anonymously, a second, two-volume novel called Under the Greenwood Tree. The crucial moment in Hardy's career came, however, in July 1872 when Tinsleys commissioned the writing of A Pair of Blue Eyes as a serial for Tinsleys' Magazine, to be followed in 1873 by publication in three volumes with Hardy's name on a title-page for the first time. Because serial writing was the prime source of income for Victorian novelists, Tinsleys' invitation gave Hardy, just turned thirty-two, the confidence to devote himself to literature full-time.
Courtship and marriage
Hardy's early fascination with Horace Moule, whose suicide in September 1873 affected him profoundly, coexisted with the series of youthful infatuations reflected in such poems as 'To Lizbie Browne' and 'To Louisa in the Lane'. While in London between 1862 and 1867 he was involved with, perhaps temporarily engaged to, the religiously-minded Eliza Bright Nicholls, who had formerly lived with her coastguard father at Kimmeridge, on the south Dorset coast. By the late 1860s that relationship—its termination probably reflected in the poem 'Neutral Tones'—had been succeeded by attachments, of uncertain depth and duration, to his young schoolteacher cousin Tryphena Sparks, later remembered in the poem 'Thoughts of Phena', and to Catherine (‘Cassie’) Pole, the daughter of the butler at West Stafford rectory.
Of far greater importance was Hardy's meeting in March 1870 with Emma Lavinia Gifford (1840–1912), daughter of a Plymouth solicitor and sister-in-law of the rector of the lonely and dilapidated Cornish church of St Juliot, which Crickmay had sent Hardy to inspect. Beguiled by the romantic location, entranced by Emma Gifford's social pretensions, literary enthusiasms, and vivid personality—perhaps entrapped to some degree by her eagerness (at twenty-nine) to seize a chance of marriage—Hardy entered into an engagement that distressed both families by its challenge to class barriers and assumptions. Emma Gifford gave her fiancé material assistance during the writing of A Pair of Blue Eyes, which drew heavily on the circumstances of their Cornish courtship, and loyally supported his exchanging the relative security of architecture for the riskier prospects of literature, but Hardy seems nevertheless to have had serious qualms about his engagement during its four-year course. The wedding itself—conducted by the bride's uncle the Revd Edwin Hamilton Gifford (1820–1905), later archdeacon of London, but otherwise witnessed only by Emma's brother and the daughter of Hardy's London landlady—took place in London on 17 September 1874, and after a short honeymoon in Rouen and Paris the couple returned to rent a share of a house in Surbiton in order that Hardy might have ready access to London and its literary market place.
Though Hardy's first three published novels are not generally considered central to his achievement, each is in its way remarkable. Desperate Remedies (1871), though somewhat hectically plotted, treats sensitively and even disturbingly of the physical and sexual threats encountered by its heroine, while the ‘idyllic’ and deeply personal Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) possesses a deceptively simple elegance unmatched by any of Hardy's later fiction. A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) may betray signs of Hardy's having padded some instalments of this first serial, but its romantic setting, the interplay of class and gender issues within its tragicomic plot, and the vitality of its heroine (closely based on Emma Gifford) served to make it a favourite novel of many Victorians, Tennyson and Coventry Patmore among them.
Far from the Madding Crowd, however, was the first of Hardy's major novels, and the one that made him famous. Serialized in the prestigious pages of the Cornhill Magazine between January and December 1874, published in two volumes by Smith, Elder in November 1874, it established precisely the kind of richly specific rural and agricultural setting that was to characterize his most widely admired work. It also introduced, as integral to that setting, the fictional region of Wessex, closely based on the topography of Dorset and the adjacent counties, that became increasingly the central organizing feature of his fiction. And through the often melodramatic, sometimes humorous story of the beautiful but headstrong Bathsheba Everdene and her diverse suitors it enacted an effective variation on the kind of marriage plot Hardy had already invoked in A Pair of Blue Eyes.
The next novel, The Hand of Ethelberta, was also serialized in the Cornhill (July 1875 – May 1876) and published by Smith, Elder (3 vols., 1876), but its settings are more often urban or suburban than rural, its central characters either servants or their middle- and upper-class employers, and its romantic elements subordinated to the central story (perhaps remotely suggested by Hardy's having been waited on at table by Catherine Pole's father) of how, at what cost, and with what ironic implications, a butler's daughter, Ethelberta Petherwin, wins her way to social and financial power as the wife of the wealthy but dissolute Lord Mountclere. Hardy doubtless intended to demonstrate that his professional range extended beyond rural settings, but the novel was poorly received and he was never again invited to write a Cornhill serial.
It was only after some difficulty, indeed, that Hardy placed his next book, The Return of the Native, in the January to December 1878 issues of Belgravia, a magazine best known as an outlet for ‘sensation’ fiction. A renewed preoccupation with regional materials and topography is immediately signalled in the three-volume first edition (Smith, Elder, 1878) by the presence, as frontispiece, of Hardy's own 'Sketch map of the scene of the story', identifiably based on the heathland of his childhood. Also quickly apparent is the ambitiousness of the novel's conception. Its principal characters may ultimately lack grandeur—the reformist Clym Yeobright emerging as an arid idealist, the romantic Eustacia Vye as a woman of very ordinary imagination and desires—but structure, imagery, and allusions persistently evoke both a native primitivism and the conventions of classical theatre. From the very first chapter Egdon Heath, the novel's bleak setting, is powerfully established as (to quote a later Hardy novel) one of
those sequestered spots outside the gates of the world … where, from time to time, dramas of a grandeur and unity truly Sophoclean are enacted in the real, by virtue of the concentrated passions and closely-knit interdependence of the lives therein.The Woodlanders, chap. 1
The Return of the Native, even so, was not enthusiastically reviewed, and Hardy, perhaps in search of more ‘popular’ audiences, next wrote three novels of somewhat lighter weight: The Trumpet-Major (3 vols., 1880), a primarily comic but sometimes poignant Wessex story of sexual rivalry and fraternal loyalty during the period of the Napoleonic wars; A Laodicean (3 vols., 1881), contrastively ‘modern’ in period and theme and drawing extensively on Hardy's experience as an architect; and Two on a Tower (3 vols., 1882), glancing towards contemporary science in juxtaposing a young astronomer's rapt contemplation of the stars with his inattentiveness towards the older woman who loves and assists him. During the novel's serialization in the Atlantic Monthly some readers objected to the spurned heroine's marrying an unsuspecting bishop in order to provide a father for her unborn child, and the magazine's editor complained that he had been promised a family story but supplied instead with a story in the family way.
Return to Dorchester
The Hardys left Surbiton for a more central London lodging in March 1875 and moved again, four months later, to the Dorset seaside resort of Swanage, where The Hand of Ethelberta was written and partly set. In the spring of 1876, following a brief stay in Yeovil and a holiday visit to the Rhine valley and Belgium (including the Waterloo battlefield), they took a house overlooking the River Stour in the little Dorset market town of Sturminster Newton. There Hardy wrote The Return of the Native, responded with eager interest to local events and festivals, and enjoyed with his wife what—despite the continuing childlessness of the marriage—he later called 'Our happiest time' (Life and Work, 122). Their next move, to the London suburb of Tooting in March 1878, was motivated by a renewed sense of Hardy's needs as a professional novelist and by Emma Hardy's dissatisfaction with Sturminster's rural isolation. But while Hardy made good use of his professional opportunities, forming important friendships with editors, illustrators, and fellow writers, his marriage fared less well: it was at 1 Arundel Terrace, Upper Tooting, so he enigmatically remarked, 'that their troubles began' (ibid., 128). It was there also, in the autumn of 1880, that he fell seriously ill, apparently with complications from a bladder infection, just as the serialization of A Laodicean had begun. Bedridden throughout the ensuing winter, Hardy kept up with the printer's schedule only by invoking his wife's assistance as amanuensis.
Hardy's illness, reinforced by his growing sense that city living 'tended to force mechanical and ordinary productions from his pen, concerning ordinary society-life and habits' (Life and Work, 154), prompted a move back to Dorset. In June 1881 the Hardys rented a house in Wimborne, formed new friendships, and took an active part in local life—including a Shakespeare reading group. They spent several weeks in Paris in the autumn of 1882, and in the spring and early summer of 1883 initiated what became for many years a regular pattern of renting accommodation in London for up to two months of the ‘season’, visiting galleries and theatres, hearing music, and meeting and entertaining friends. Though not elected to the Athenaeum until 1891, Hardy was already a familiar figure at the Savile Club, took an active interest in copyright and other issues addressed by the recently founded Society of Authors, and dined occasionally with the Rabelais Club and other such convivial coteries.
That same summer of 1883 the Hardys moved finally to Dorchester itself, so central to the territory Hardy was claiming as a novelist yet rendered problematic by its associations with his humbler upbringing and by the fears—soon realized—of continued hostility between his wife and the family still living at Higher Bockhampton. A house in the town was rented for two years while Hardy's father and brother built a new house, to Hardy's own design, just outside Dorchester, on a plot of open downland purchased from the duchy of Cornwall. Called Max Gate (after a nearby toll-gate long kept by one Henry Mack) and often criticized for the villa-style eclecticism of its architecture, the red-brick building was much enlarged, if little modernized, over the years and became increasingly secluded by the Austrian pines Hardy had planted in December 1883. Though still exposed in June 1885, when the Hardys first moved in, it was a comfortable and compact house that stood solidly in its own grounds and asserted—together with Hardy's early appointment as a local magistrate—a claim to middle-class status that seems at first to have gained only grudging local acceptance.
The move to Dorchester was reflected in Hardy's work by a renewed attentiveness to Wessex scenes and subjects. In The Mayor of Casterbridge—serialized (in a bowdlerized form) in the weekly Graphic between 2 January and 5 May 1886, then published in two volumes by Smith, Elder (1886)—Casterbridge itself is a busy market town modelled on the Dorchester of four decades earlier, economically vibrant as the nodal point of the rich surrounding countryside but riven by internal class-based conflicts. The central opposition, at once commercial and profoundly personal, between Michael Henchard, the rooted traditionalist, and Donald Farfrae, the modernizing newcomer, dramatizes the processes of historical change in the countryside even as it draws on classical and biblical analogies reminiscent of The Return of the Native.
The Woodlanders (serialized in Macmillan's Magazine from May 1886 to April 1887, published in three volumes by Macmillan in March 1887) is set in the part of north-west Dorset in which Hardy's mother's family had lived. Although it lacks the structural assurance of its predecessor, its plot again depends on the intermeshing of emotional and economic issues. The characters live among the trees on which their livelihoods depend, and when Giles Winterbourne suffers financial losses he loses also his promised bride, educated to higher levels of class expectation, and eventually his own life. In the late 1880s Hardy also began to collect the short stories he had long been publishing in magazines. Wessex Tales (2 vols., 1888) comprised just five stories, among them 'The Three Strangers', 'The Withered Arm', and 'The Distracted Preacher'. A Group of Noble Dames followed, somewhat less impressively, in 1891, and in 1894 came Life's Little Ironies, containing such notable stories as 'On the Western Circuit', 'A Tragedy of Two Ambitions', and 'The Fiddler of the Reels'. A somewhat miscellaneous supplementary volume, A Changed Man and other Tales, appeared in 1914 and a scholarly edition of The Excluded and Collaborative Stories in 1992.
The final phase of Hardy's career as a novelist is curiously framed by the short and enigmatically personal fable of sexual and artistic obsession that was serialized as 'The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved' in 1891 and heavily revised for volume publication, as The Well-Beloved, only in 1897. Although published by the same firm—the London-based but American-owned house of Osgood, McIlvaine—as Tess of the d'Urbervilles (3 vols., 1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895, but dated 1896), The Well-Beloved had little in common with them beyond the hostility its sexual frankness aroused in a significant number of its reviewers. With both Tess and Jude, as on a number of earlier occasions, editorial concern at Hardy's handling of sexual matters led to his making to the serializations cuts and adjustments that were for the most part restored in the volumes.
The occasional negative reviews of Tess, though hurtful to Hardy himself, were overwhelmed by the popular response to the novel's deeply imagined portrayal of a heroine moving through hopes and betrayals, surmounted difficulties and deceptive idylls, to a tragic conclusion whose 'justice' the author's passionate advocacy profoundly challenges. Tess is also the most eloquently written of the novels, and the one in which the natural world and the topography itself—the landscapes Tess so doggedly traverses—are most continuously and richly represented. Jude, in contrast, is more sparely written, and its haunted characters, trapped within an intricately disastrous plot, move restlessly from one unfriendly town to another, loving without fulfilment, striving without achievement. By representing Jude Fawley as encountering persistent persecution in his attempts to gain admission to a Christminster (that is, Oxford) college and share with Sue Bridehead a life outside wedlock, Hardy was deliberately attacking the existing educational system and marriage laws. The novel's sexual directness fuelled the hostility of its reception in some quarters, and while Hardy affected to laugh off a bishop's claim to have consigned the book to the flames he could not easily remain indifferent to reviews with headings such as 'Jude the Obscene' and 'Hardy the Degenerate'.
Emma Hardy took personal offence not only at Jude's attack on marriage but also at what she saw as its dark pessimism and irreligiousness. Max Gate provided Hardy himself with a congenial working environment, but it had not proved fortunate for his marriage. As a professional novelist writing to deadlines, peremptory as to his priorities and impatient of interruptions, he was not easy to live with, and he had failed—had perhaps not sufficiently tried—to resolve the antagonism between his wife and the family he now regularly visited. Emma Hardy, temperamentally restless and impulsive, lacking satisfying occupations and sympathetic friends, grew ever more deeply resentful—and publicly critical—of her husband's self-sufficiency and fame. The marriage was kept up to the end as a more or less functioning day-to-day arrangement. The Hardys shared a devotion to the Max Gate cats (subsequently buried in the pets' cemetery there) and a hatred of all forms of cruelty to animals. They continued to go to London together almost every spring and even to share occasional holidays, including an extended Italian trip in 1887. But Emma Hardy led an increasingly separate life, eventually withdrawing into the two attic rooms created at the time of the construction of Hardy's final study. And in London the literary and social worlds which welcomed and lionized her husband increasingly saw—and shunned—her as plain, ill-dressed, and dull.
It was in those same worlds, especially following the publication of Tess, that Hardy received flattering attentions from numerous women handsomer and more stylish than his wife and often better educated. In the late 1880s he was sexually fascinated by the poet Rosamund Tomson (who published as Graham R. Tomson), only to be deterred by a lack of genuine responsiveness on her part and perhaps by the freedom of her lifestyle. She subsequently published a description of him at that time as 'slightly below the middle height, but strongly built, with rugged, aquiline features, pallid complexion, a crisp, closely trimmed brown beard, and mustache short enough to disclose an infrequent smile of remarkable sweetness' (New York Independent, 22 Nov 1894, 2). His 'bright, deep-set eyes' and greying, slightly receding hair were also noted, but not the slightly crooked nose evident in some of the portraits and busts. The beard was evidently shaved off in the early 1890s and, to judge from contemporary photographs, that was by far Hardy's smartest decade, his appearance on social occasions attaining almost to dapperness.
In the mid-1890s Hardy was strongly attracted to another acknowledged beauty, Agnes Grove (later Lady Grove), the daughter of General Pitt-Rivers, but it was only with Florence Henniker, daughter of Richard Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton), that he seems to have fallen seriously in love. At their first meeting in 1893 she struck him immediately as a 'charming, intuitive woman' (Life and Work, 270), and she, for her part, valued his friendship and literary eminence and was happy, as a novelist herself, to collaborate with him in a short story called 'The spectre of the real'. But she never wavered in her loyalty to her husband, a distinguished soldier, or to the religious views that Hardy so deeply deplored. The limits of the relationship are suggested by the poem 'A Thunderstorm in Town' when, trapped together inside a London cab by a sudden downpour, 'I should have kissed her if the rain / Had lasted a minute more'.
By 1900, the year of his sixtieth birthday, Hardy's melancholic temperament found much in his personal life on which to brood. Professionally, however, his position was strong. New United States copyright legislation had enabled him to profit from the American as well as the British popularity of Tess; the notoriety of Jude was further reviving interest in his earlier titles; a first collected edition of his fiction had been brought out by Osgood, McIlvaine in 1895–6; and with the general shift in publishing to a royalty system of remuneration he could expect to benefit indefinitely from future sales of what (with silent nods to Scott and Trollope) he now consistently referred to as 'the Wessex novels'.
Return to poetry
It was Hardy's improved and stabilized economic situation, rather than his anger at reviewers, that chiefly determined the timing of his long contemplated return to poetry. His first collection, Wessex Poems, published in 1898 by Harper & Brothers (successors to Osgood, McIlvaine), brought together newly written poems, poems composed during the novel-writing years, and still others revised from originals drafted in London during the 1860s. Because a similar mix occurs in all of his volumes, individual poems are often hard to date and the volumes themselves elusive of characterization. Wessex Poems, however, uniquely included thirty-one of Hardy's own idiosyncratic drawings. Some reviewers saw the naïvety of the drawings as symptomatic of weaknesses in the poems themselves; others were troubled by the number of ballads in the volume; one marvelled that Hardy 'did not himself burn the verse, lest it should fall into the hands of the indiscreet literary executor, and mar his fame when he was dead' (Saturday Review, 7 Jan 1899, 19). Even the more favourable commentators tended to suggest that Hardy's range as a poet was narrow, his technique clumsy, and his vocabulary often perversely provincial, even dialectal. Hardy had in fact no intention of following the example of William Barnes, the Dorset dialect poet, whom he had known and admired and whose poems he selected and edited a few years later. But he declined to limit his use of distinctively English words, however unfamiliar or ‘unpoetic’, and remained determined to challenge what he saw as the current fashion of subordinating content to form and 'saying nothing with mellifluous preciosity' (Collected Letters, 2.208).
Poems of the Past and the Present, published by Harper in 1901 (but dated 1902), contained fewer ballads than its predecessor but more poems overall, varying in subject from the South African War (such as 'Drummer Hodge' and 'The Souls of the Slain') and the bleakness of the universal scheme of things ('The Subalterns', 'The Lacking Sense') to such intense introspections as ‘In Tenebris’. It also demonstrated—what all the succeeding poetry volumes would amply confirm—the exceptional number of different stanza forms and metres, whether inherited or invented, that Hardy was able to deploy. A third, equally various, collection, Time's Laughingstocks (Macmillan, 1909), reinstated the ballad as a central Hardyan verse form, notably in the shape of 'A Trampwoman's Tragedy', which Hardy himself is said to have considered, 'upon the whole, his most successful poem' (Life and Work, 517). It has been argued that many of the nearly one thousand poems Hardy published are too weak or trivial to have been preserved, that such proliferation was and is damaging to his reputation, and that he is best approached through selections. But for Hardy the extraordinary and the everyday were equally matter for poetry: the technical range of his verse is matched by the exceptional diversity of subjects, moods, and emotions of which it treats, and even little regarded poems are likely to seem indispensable once attentively addressed.
Hardy had long been dissatisfied that Harper & Brothers' absorption of Osgood, McIlvaine should have resulted in his having a New York publisher for his British as well as his American editions, and when his agreements with Harper expired in 1902 he transferred all British rights in his works to the house of Macmillan. Frederick Macmillan was delighted to reissue the 1895–7 collected edition of the novels as a Macmillan imprint and, in due course, to bring out the handsome and extensively revised Wessex Edition of 1912–31 and the signed Mellstock Edition of 1919–20—both containing the verse as well as the prose. He was perhaps less delighted to receive, in September 1903, the manuscript of Part First of The Dynasts, Hardy's long-contemplated epic drama of Britain's struggle with Napoleonic France. The initial reception of the three parts in 1904, 1906, and 1908 was generally lukewarm, but when, early in the First World War, Harley Granville-Barker adapted for the London stage what Hardy had always intended as a ‘closet’ drama, to be read and not performed, The Dynasts achieved a wider, specifically patriotic, resonance that fed into the high reputation it enjoyed between the wars.
It did not, however, share in the late twentieth-century rise in critical estimation of Hardy's poetry that led to his being recognized, uniquely, as both a great nineteenth-century novelist and a great twentieth-century poet. The verse of The Dynasts has come to seem flaccid, its structure ponderous, and the cosmic apparatus of the Spirits perhaps a little absurd. At the same time, it remains highly readable, impressive in its historical scope, and innovative in its visual perspectives, and the Spirits clearly offered Hardy a technique, beyond the scope of the pre-Joycean novel, for giving voice and form to his own shifting and often self-contradictory musings about human experience. It is characteristic of Hardy, whose temperamental pessimism was tempered by belief in what he himself called 'evolutionary meliorism' ('Apology' to Late Lyrics and Earlier), that even the central idea of The Dynasts—that of the universe as controlled by a blind and unconscious Immanent Will—is not rigidly sustained throughout. He always disclaimed possession of a consistent philosophy, and in the preface to Poems of the Past and the Present described his poems as 'a series of feelings and fancies written down in widely differing moods and circumstances'—adding, perhaps with The Dynasts already in mind, 'Unadjusted impressions have their value, and the road to a true philosophy of life seems to lie in humbly recording diverse readings of its phenomena as they are forced upon us by chance and change.'
Years of fame
Completion of The Dynasts in 1908 did much to enhance Hardy's emerging status as a uniquely ‘national’ writer. In 1909 he was appointed to the Order of Merit and succeeded George Meredith as president of the Incorporated Society of Authors, and during his remaining two decades he was unquestionably the most famous living writer in Britain and, indeed, in the Western world. In the years preceding the First World War he was often on his own in London and elsewhere—Emma Hardy now preferring to avoid the annual dislocation of taking a London lodging—and able to pursue his friendship with a young schoolteacher and aspiring writer named Florence Emily Dugdale (1879–1937). They first met, as author and admirer, in 1905, and by the end of 1906 she was visiting the reading room of the British Museum to look up references he needed—or pretended to need—in completing The Dynasts. As time passed, Hardy became emotionally more dependent on her as well as increasingly exploitative of her typing skills, and she sometimes accompanied him to the gatherings, at once intellectual and congenial, hosted in Aldeburgh by his rationalist friend Edward Clodd.
In 1910, after meeting Emma Hardy at a women's literary club in London, Florence Dugdale spent several weeks at Max Gate typing and editing the poems, stories, and religious meditations which Emma was then trying to write, and although the quarrels between husband and wife deterred her from returning to Max Gate she kept up her separate friendships with both. Whether her relationship with Hardy became actively sexual cannot be known: opportunities, clearly, were ample, but Florence Dugdale was thirty-eight years Hardy's junior, her lower middle-class background was rigidly conventional, and when writing privately to Clodd she spoke freely of the comic aspects of 'the Max Gate ménage' (Letters of Emma and Florence Hardy, 66).
In November 1912 Emma Hardy died, aged seventy-two. Her health had for some time been in decline—her death-certificate refers to 'impacted gall-stones'—but the suddenness of her actual departure precluded any last-minute marital reconciliation and left Hardy with only the bitter comments on himself discovered in the private diaries she proved to have been keeping for many years. He soon destroyed the diaries themselves—apart from the pages (published as Some Recollections in 1961) devoted to his wife's early memories—but their contents contributed indelibly to the mood of remorseful retrospection that revived and glorified his early memories of Emma, impelled him to revisit St Juliot with his brother early in 1913, and inspired the astonishing sequence of elegiac love poems ('The Voice', 'I found her out there', 'After a Journey', 'Beeny Cliff', and so on) later published as 'Poems of 1912–13' and widely regarded as his finest work in verse.
Florence Dugdale, supported by Hardy's sisters, took over the running of Max Gate after Emma Hardy's death, although fear of local gossip kept her effectively housebound. The logic of the situation seemed to override the age difference and impel her towards an eventual marriage, but she hesitated over the decision and laid down a number of conditions before finally giving her consent. The wedding itself, an intensely private occasion, took place in Enfield parish church, near the Dugdale home, early in the morning of 10 February 1914, the bride and groom immediately rushing back to Max Gate in order to avoid newspaper reporters and the especially dreaded risk of a civic reception at the Dorchester railway station.
Although she was already well attuned to the rhythms of life at Max Gate, Florence Hardy's altered status brought with it a new and sometimes burdensome sense of responsibility that was soon tested by the emotional and practical pressures of the First World War, by her husband's celebration of his first wife's virtues in the 'Poems of 1912–13', published in Satires of Circumstance in November 1914, and by certain aspects of Hardy's behaviour in old age. Despite his achieved affluence Hardy lost neither his sensitivity to public opinion, however voiced, nor the frugal habits of his childhood. Servants and tradespeople found him mean and hard to please and were delighted, years later, to exaggerate his foibles and failings for the delectation of eager interviewers. Though genial to visitors, he could be temperamental in private; the hypochondria that coexisted with his generally excellent health was the source of frequent alarms and despondencies; and although he himself spent so much of every day working alone in his study, he would object to his wife's going away for even a single night.
Florence Hardy took over ever-increasing amounts of the voluminous Max Gate correspondence, often typing up and signing letters that Hardy had drafted in pencil. During the years 1917–20 she also made, as typist, an indispensable contribution to Hardy's secret generation of the third-person 'Life and work'—published, as always intended, after his death as an official biography authored by Florence Emily Hardy. Hardy necessarily left his life's narrative incomplete, and because his widow made alterations to the first volume, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy (1928), and had to write the conclusion of the second, The Later Years of Thomas Hardy (1930), its status as autobiography is somewhat open to question. That status was speculatively reclaimed by the re-edited The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy (1984), but the destruction of notebooks and other original source materials, before and after Hardy's death, had in any case bequeathed to prospective biographers a record selected, compiled, and angled by the subject himself.
Hardy in his later years depended heavily on the advice and practical assistance of Sydney (later Sir Sydney) Cockerell, the forceful director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, who had originally assisted in the distribution of his manuscripts to various libraries and subsequently facilitated Florence Hardy's publication of limited edition pamphlets of her husband's writings. But for guidance in professional matters Hardy relied on the continuation of his congenial relationship with (now) Sir Frederick Macmillan and with the Macmillan firm, publishers of all his later books. These included the four collections of poetry subsequent to Satires of Circumstance—Moments of Vision (1917), Late Lyrics and Earlier (1922), Human Shows (1925), and the posthumous Winter Words (1928)—as well as an important Selected Poems (1916) and the short verse-drama called The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall (1923), later set to music by Rutland Boughton. Even Winter Words contains important poems evidently written or at least drafted many years earlier, but it remains none the less extraordinary that volumes issued by a poet in his middle and late eighties should show neither a decline in quality nor any significant shift in emotions, attitudes, or beliefs. Long characterized and chastised as a ‘pessimist’, Hardy continued to contest any such categorization—publicly in the important 'Apology' prefixed to Late Lyrics, privately when noting on the page proofs of Human Shows (Dorset County Museum) that only two-fifths of the poems were expressive of 'tragedy, sorrow or grimness' as against three-fifths that dealt with 'reflection, love, or comedy'.
Hardy lost his beloved sister Mary in 1915 and was deeply shaken by the First World War—in which a favourite cousin, Frank George, was killed. He was apprehensive as to the long-term consequences of the Versailles treaty, and in contemplating the troubled social scene of the 1920s he was torn, as always, between an intellectual progressivism and an instinctual conservatism. He rarely ventured outside Dorchester now, but went to Oxford in February 1920 to see an Oxford University Dramatic Society production of The Dynasts and add an honorary degree to those already received from Aberdeen and Cambridge, and made in May 1920 a final visit to London to attend the wedding of Harold Macmillan. At the same time he remained alert to events in Dorchester itself, visiting recent archaeological excavations, making a few speeches on local occasions, and taking a particular interest in the dramatizations of his novels written, produced, and performed by the group of local amateurs who came to call themselves the Hardy Players. In 1923 he gave them the Queen of Cornwall to perform and in 1924 his own stage version of Tess, deeply distressing his wife on the latter occasion by becoming so obviously infatuated with Gertrude Bugler, the young and beautiful Dorset actress who took the part of Tess.
Max Gate was now a place of pilgrimage, and it became a regular afternoon routine for Hardy, after several hours' solitary work in his study, to come downstairs to greet the day's contingent of tea-time visitors—typically ranging from the rich, aristocratic, and powerful to Dorset relatives, acquaintances, and clergymen, old friends such as Cockerell, Edmund Gosse, Sir James Barrie, and the Harley Granville-Barkers, poets such as Walter de la Mare, Siegfried Sassoon, and Edmund Blunden, and those enthusiasts, academics, and tourists who had politely written ahead or simply refused to be turned away by the watchful Max Gate servants or even the ever-threatening presence of Wessex, the unmannerly Max Gate dog. The prince of Wales paid a much publicized call in July 1923: 'My Mother', he reportedly said, 'tells me you have written a book called Tess of the d'Urbervilles. I must try it some time.' A more frequent, and especially valued, visitor was T. E. Lawrence (‘of Arabia’), then serving, incognito, as a private in the tank corps at nearby Bovington camp.
Although Florence Hardy underwent two operations in the 1920s Hardy himself had only occasional colds and mild recurrences of the bladder troubles he had suffered since 1881. He rode his bicycle until he was well into his eighties and Gosse, writing on 25 June 1927, could describe him as being 'in his 88th. year, exactly where he was in his 36th., when I knew him first' (letter to T. J. Wise, BL). But in December 1927 Hardy became suddenly tired and took increasingly to his bed; doctors were called, anxieties voiced, and a summons was sent out to his wife's sister Eva Dugdale, a trained nurse. He was able to contribute a final poem to The Times for publication on Christmas eve but grew progressively weaker as the days passed. On 11 January 1928 he rallied sufficiently to joke a little with his doctor and dictate bitter epitaphs on two bêtes noires of long standing, G. K. Chesterton and George Moore, only to have a sudden heart attack that evening, call out 'Eva, what is this?', and die within a few minutes.
Hardy's family had always assumed that he would be buried at Stinsford, along with his parents, grandparents, first wife, and sister, and Hardy himself had left instructions to the same effect. Cockerell, however, appointed co-literary executor with Florence Hardy and present at Max Gate at the time of Hardy's death, insisted that the instructions were less than absolute and that Hardy, although a well-known agnostic, was too important a national figure to be buried anywhere other than in Westminster Abbey. Barrie, in London, enlisted the support of Stanley Baldwin, the prime minister, and Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, and permission for an abbey interment was quickly obtained from an only mildly reluctant dean. Dorset opinion, however, was outraged at the thought of Hardy's lying anywhere other than in his ‘own’ county, and Florence Hardy, grieving and distressed, was persuaded to accept the suggestion, apparently emanating from the Stinsford vicar, that since only Hardy's ashes were to be placed in the abbey his heart might be removed before cremation and given a separate Stinsford burial. On 16 January 1928, therefore, two events took place simultaneously, the national funeral in the abbey, in the presence of Hardy's widow and sister, and the heart burial at Stinsford, attended by Hardy's brother.
Some public disapproval was prompted by the perceived grotesquerie of the duplicated obsequies and renewed, a month later, when it became known that Hardy's will, probated at the very substantial sum of £95,418 3s. 1d., included no significant bequests, public or personal, outside his own family. Partly because of negative reaction to the will, the appeal for funds for a national memorial attracted only meagre support, and the resulting Eric Kennington statue in Dorchester was, in the event, largely funded by the subject's own bequests to his wife and sister. Disagreement over the form the memorial should take proved to be only the first of many issues over which the two literary executors differed and quarrelled, and Florence Hardy's relationship with Cockerell, which had once seemed so close, collapsed in bitterness and mutual recrimination long before she died of cancer in October 1937. The contents of Max Gate, including the bulk of Hardy's library, were then dispersed at auction. Max Gate itself was also auctioned but purchased by Hardy's sister Kate, who subsequently bequeathed it to the National Trust. And in 1948 the trust acquired, by purchase, the Higher Bockhampton birthplace.
- M. Millgate, Thomas Hardy: a biography (1982)
- F. E. Hardy, The early life of Thomas Hardy, 1840–1891 (1928)
- F. E. Hardy, The later years of Thomas Hardy, 1892–1928 (1930)
- The life and work of Thomas Hardy, ed. M. Millgate (1985)
- The collected letters of Thomas Hardy, ed. R. L. Purdy and M. Millgate, 7 vols. (1978–88)
- b. cert.
- m. certs.
- d. cert.
- R. L. Purdy, Thomas Hardy: a bibliographical study (1968)
- The personal notebooks of Thomas Hardy, ed. R. H. Taylor (1978)
- The literary notebooks of Thomas Hardy, ed. L. Björk, 2 vols. (1985)
- Thomas Hardy's ‘Studies, specimens &c.’ notebook, ed. P. Dalziel and M. Millgate (1994)
- R. Gittings, Young Thomas Hardy (1975)
- S. Gatrell, Hardy the creator: a textual biography (1988)
- P. Beal and others, Index of English literary manuscripts, ed. P. J. Croft and others, [4 vols. in 11 pts] (1980–), vol. 4, pt 2, pp. 3–224
- R. Gittings, The older Hardy (1978)
- The architectural notebook of Thomas Hardy, ed. C. J. P. Beatty (1966)
- The letters of Emma and Florence Hardy, ed. M. Millgate (1996)
- E. L. Hardy, Some recollections, ed. E. Hardy and R. Gittings (1961)
- R. Gittings and J. Manton, The second Mrs. Hardy (1979)
- T. Hands, Thomas Hardy: distracted preacher? (1989)
- K. Wilson, Thomas Hardy on stage (1995)
- M. Millgate, Testamentary acts: Browning, Tennyson, James, Hardy (1992), 110–74
- C. J. P. Beatty, Thomas Hardy: conservation architect (1995)
- E. Gosse, letter to T. J. Wise, 25 June 1927, BL
- Thomas Hardy's public voice: the essays, speeches, and miscellaneous prose, ed. M. Millgate (2002)
- Dorset County Museum, Dorchester, corresp., drawings, books from library, MSS of Under the greenwood tree, The mayor of Casterbridge, The woodlanders, Satires of circumstance, Late lyrics and earlier
- Yale U., Beinecke L., R. L. Purdy collection, corresp., books from library, MS of The hand of Ethelberta
- Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, MS of Wessex poems
- BL, corresp., MSS of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The dynasts
- Bodl. Oxf., corresp., MS of Poems of the past and the present
- Colby College, Waterville, Maine, corresp., books from library
- Dorset County Museum, Dorchester, Lock collection, corresp., family documents
- Eton, corresp., books from library, MSS
- FM Cam., MSS of Jude the obscure, Time's laughingstocks
- Harvard U., Houghton L., corresp., MS of Two on a tower
- L. Cong., corresp., MS of A group of noble dames
- Magd. Cam., MS of Moments of vision
- New York University, Fales Library, corresp., books from library
- NL Scot., corresp.
- NYPL, Berg collection, corresp., drawings, MS of A pair of blue eyes
- Princeton University, New Jersey, corresp., books from library, MSS
- Queen's College, Oxford, MS of Winter words
- Ransom HRC, corresp., drawings, books from library, MSS
- Royal Library, Windsor Castle, MS of The trumpet-major
- U. Cal., Berkeley, Bancroft Library, corresp., MSS
- U. Leeds, Brotherton L., corresp.
- University College, Dublin, MS of The return of the native
- Yale U., Beinecke L., corresp., MSS of Far from the madding crowd, Human shows
- photograph, 1857, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester
- Schnadhorst and Heilbronn, photograph, 1863, Yale U., Beinecke L.
- photograph, 1883, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester
- Barraud, photograph, 1889, NPG; repro. in Men and Women of the Day, 2 (1889)
- W. Strang, etching, 1893, Glasgow Art Gallery
- W. Strang, oils, 1893, NPG [see illus.]
- W. H. Thomson, oils, 1895, Dorchester grammar school
- W. Rothenstein, lithograph, 1897, NPG
- C. Holland, photographs, 1898, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester
- W. Rothenstein, chalk drawing, 1903, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester
- J.-E. Blanche, oils, 1906, Tate collection
- J.-E. Blanche, oils, 1906, Man. City Gall.
- H. von Herkomer, oils, 1906, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester
- B. Stone, photograph, 1908, NPG
- W. Strang, drawings, 1910, Royal Collection
- W. Strang, drawings, 1910, FM Cam.
- W. Strang, drawings, 1910, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester
- A. L. Coburn, photogravure, 1913, NPG; repro. in A. L. Coburn, More men of mark (1922)
- E. O. Hoppé, photograph, 1913–1914, NPG
- O. Edis, autochrome photographs, 1914, NPG
- double portrait, photograph, 1914 (with Florence Hardy), Colby College, Waterville, Maine
- W. Rothenstein, pencil drawings, 1916, Man. City Gall.
- W. Rothenstein, pencil drawings, 1916, Athenaeum, London
- W. H. Thornycroft, bronze head, 1917, NPG
- W. Strang, pencil drawing, 1919, NPG
- W. Strang, engravings, 1919–1920, BM
- W. Strang, engravings, 1919–1920, NPG
- W. Strang, engravings, 1919–1920, NG Scot.
- W. Strang, engravings, 1919–1920, FM Cam.
- W. Strang, engravings, 1919–1920, Glasgow Art Gallery
- W. Strang, engravings, 1919–1920, U. Glas.
- W. Strang, oils, 1920, Glasgow Art Gallery
- W. W. Ouless, oils, 1922, NPG
- T. Spicer-Simson, medallion, 1922, NPG
- R. G. Eves, oils, 1923, NPG
- R. G. Eves, oils, 1923, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester
- R. G. Eves, oils, 1923, U. Texas
- A. John, oils, 1923, FM Cam.
- M. R. Mitchell, bronze bust, 1923, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester
- R. G. Eves, oils, 1924, Tate collection
- R. G. Eves, portrait, 1924, Princeton University, New Jersey
- R. G. Eves, portrait, 1924, Yale U.
- E. Kennington, statue, 1931, Top o' Town, Dorchester
- M. Beerbohm, caricature, Charterhouse School, Surrey
- W. Bellows, photograph (with Edmund Gosse), NPG
- W. & D. Downey, woodburytype, NPG; repro. in W. Downey and D. Downey, The cabinet portrait gallery, 5 (1894)
- R. G. Eves, oils, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery
- R. E. Fuller Maitland, oils, Magd. Cam.
- H. Furniss, pen-and-ink caricatures, NPG
- C. Holland, photographs, NPG
- F. Hollyer, photograph, U. Texas, Gernsheim collection
- London Stereoscopic Co., photograph, NPG
- Russell & Sons, photograph, NPG
- Spy [L. Ward], chromolithograph caricature, NPG; repro. in VF (4 June 1892)
- W. H. Thornycroft, marble head, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester
Wealth at Death
£95,428 3s. 1d.: resworn probate, 1928, CGPLA Eng. & Wales