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It is extremely rare to achieve greatness in more than one field. William Shakespeare, in addition to his plays, was a magnificent lyric poet but then, he was Shakespeare. Edgar Allan Poe was noted as both poet and short-story writer. Thornton Wilder won Pulitzer Prizes in both fiction and drama, as did Robert Penn Warren in fiction and poet ry. Given such a short list, the example of Thomas Hardy is all the more extraor dinary: having published only volumes of fiction until well into his fifties, an d thereby becoming the foremost British novelist of his age, he then renounced f iction to return to his "first love," poetry. Over the next thirty years, he pub lished a series of volumes of verse that ultimately comprised a collected editio n of a thousand pages, a body of work that is regarded as one of the central ach ievements of modern British poetry and that, in its quiet and unassertive way, h as become a dominant influence on several generations of modern poets. Top Early Years Thomas Hardy was born in the community of Higher Bockhampton, about two miles fr om the town of Dorchester, in Wessex, England, on June 2, 1840. He was the first of four children of Thomas and Jemina (Hand) Hardy, who had married six months before his birth. His father was a bricklayer, who also made cider and enjoyed p laying the fiddle at local festivities. From his example, Hardy seems to have de rived the love of music and the interest in the public and social life of the En glish countryside that are such significant elements of his work. His mother had been orphaned at an early age and had worked as a cook and a maid until her mar riage. She passed on to her son her great love of reading, inherited from her mo ther, and had him reading Dryden and Johnson before he was ten. She also communi cated to him her reserve and her awareness of "life's little ironies" (the title of one of his volumes of short stories) and larger tragedies. According to his second wife's biography of him written largely by himself by the age of five he was convinced of his own uselessness and regretted that he would have to become an a dult. It is claimed that the doctor attending Hardy's birth assumed that he was stillborn and that he was saved only by the intervention of a sharp-eyed midwife . He was in any event a delicate and sickly child who was kept at home until he was eight and whose well-being was cause for constant anxiety. In an age of extr emely high infant mortality, all four of the Hardy children would survive to enj oy full lifespans, with Thomas himself living well into his eighty-eighth year. At the age of eight, Thomas was sent to the local school in Higher Bockhampton, but he was transferred a year later to the Dorchester British School, which requ ired him to walk several miles to and from school each day. Walking and explorin g the local countryside would remain one of his chief pleasures for the rest of his life, as shown in such vivid passages in his fiction as the famous descripti on of Egdon Heath that opens The Return of the Native. After attendance at sever al other schools, Hardy had received an excellent education, but not one that qu alified him for university study, and when he was sixteen, his formal education came to an end. Largely through his mother's efforts and financial sacrifice, he was apprenticed to John Hicks, a local architect. Since both Hicks, a tolerant and good-natured man, and another of his apprentices were admirers of the classi cs, Hardy found this experience not only a useful course of professional trainin g but also an opportunity, through stimulating intellectual conversation, to con tinue his broader education as well. According to his official biography, he wou ld get up to read for two years he read virtually nothing but poetry between five an d eight a.m., before going off to work in the morning. Having already steeped himself in the poetry of the Romantic period, he began in
although in this period he did publish sever al short articles in local newspapers. 1870. at the age of eighty-fiv e. From Barnes. Hardy also became a close friend of another Dorchester minister. and folkways of his Wessex youth. a minister and teacher who was also an accomplis hed poet in the Dorset dialect. the following year. On the night of March 7. appeared. to find his fortune in London. 1862. and after Hardy had begu n to achieve some success as a writer. since the next-door neighbor of Hic ks's office was William Barnes. decades later. and by George Meredith. in May of 1873. Eight years older than Hardy. who wa s a reader for Chapman and Hall. with some revisions. like many another young countryman before an d since. but not his hopes for literary success. both were nonetheless encouraging of Hardy's ta lent. With A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873). was already well-known for his wor k in the design and restoration of churches. he was a writer and intellectual who introduce d the younger man to scientific discoveries that cast doubt on the literal truth of the Bible. the rector of the ch urch. . on April 17. a social satire ca lled The Poor Man and the Lady. He also continued to write: in 1863 an essay of h is won a silver medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. which essentially destroyed any chance of its being taken up by the circulating libraries which were then the key to a novel's success. published under his name. they were married on September 17. although only thirty-three years old. 1874. Deciding that his best opportunity to support himself as a writer would be throu gh the writing of fiction. Hard y achieved not only the three-volume format favored by the circulating libraries but also something perhaps even more important for the widespread circulation a nd financial success of his work. and in 186 5 he achieved the (anonymous) magazine publication of a humorous piece called "H ow I Built Myself a House. Published anon ymously. He found a position with Arthur Blomfiel d. who. and his successor asked Hardy to assist him in the rest oration of several churches. It was also through his apprenticeship th at Hardy made his first literary friendship. Not one line of it would see print unti l he was nearly sixty years of age. he went. to a more welc oming reception. the developing young writer learned a great deal about the uses of local material in literature and about structure and sound values in poetry." He continued to write poems and to submit them to ed itors. he was also able to indulge his artistic interests through frequent visits to galleries and atte ndance at concerts and operas. and Hardy would be deeply dist ressed by Moule's descent into alcoholism and his suicide. Having completed his apprenticeship in 1860. he would publish many of these poems in his volumes of verse. At Barnes's death in 1886. It was rejected in turn by Alexander Macmillan. the first of his novels to draw upon the scenes. at forty-one. Hardy persuaded the publish er William Tinsley to issue his novel Desperate Remedies in 1871. Meanwhile. Hardy would memorialize him with both an obituary essay and an affectionate p oem. who uniformly returned them. this rather melodramatic work received a harsh review in The Spectator. He abandoned the book. in 1867 he began to write a novel. There he was met by Emma Giffor d. The two remained close thereafter. who was living with her sister and her sister's husband. Horace Mou le. The two were drawn to one another from the start. Hardy arrived in Cor nwall to complete the last of these assignments. also anonymously. and then. Under the Greenwood Tre e. John Hicks died in 1868.his late teens to write poetry himself. of his family's firm. the distinguished novelist. serialization of the novel in a leading magazi ne prior to publication in book form. In the great city. Top Literary Career On financial terms quite disadvantageous to himself. characters. Hardy stayed with Hicks for another two years as a paid employee. six weeks short of h is twenty-second birthday.
but the reality a ppears to be somewhat more complex. in the opinion of many. could be confining as well as fulfilling. as there would almost have to be in so vast a collection. Many of them contain memorable characters and striking descriptive passages. and simplistically optimistic. a nd drew outcries from reviewers for its presumed immorality and the unrelenting bleakness of its vision. There is no doubt that he was offended by th e attacks upon him. he had always regarded novel-writing essentially as a profession. a dark and pessimistic nov el that is his most controversial work. perhaps his finest novel. whose frank presentation of a trusting young woman's ruination by the men in her life caused the serial publication to be "mutilated. Tess of the d'Urbervilles ( 1891). Hardy's poetry a poetry of brief." and the austere comment on the sinking of the Titanic in "The Convergence o f the Twain." in Hardy's term. the adver se reaction to Jude was essentially an impetus. a home they had built for themselves in Dorchester. a body of work that demonstrates an amazing consistency o f tone and technique. resolutely determined to avoid any presentation of life that was not sweet." Nonetheless. The most complete edition of Hardy's poetry contains 947 lyrics composed over tw o thirds of a century. one wh ich. He was settled in his personal circumstances and liberated from the pressures of ea rning a living. Thus. when he was in fact a master technician who had honed his art t hrough decades of patient practice." the philosophical musing o f the sonnet "Hap. including the humorous dialogue of "The Ruined Maid. sen timental. or recollections of the d ead. at the end of the nineteenth century. it is impossible to forget. for a decision that Hardy was secure enough financially and more than ready psychologically to make. He had always been remarkably. at times astonishingly. have often led to the erroneous assumption that Hardy was a c lumsy craftsman. missed opportunities. The subtlety and range of his metri cal experiments. There is in his work. Hardy and his wife had in 1885 moved into Max Gate. Hardy felt securely enough established in his writing career to abandon architecture and to marry Emma. a considerable range of moods and subjects." the affectionate but somewhat rueful recollection of "The Ox en. he had completed success ful careers as an architect and a novelist (one final novel was published in boo k form in 1897. and questions the strictures o f traditional morality. poetry. and three of them are acknowledge d to be among the masterpieces of English fiction: The Mayor of Casterbridge (18 86). amenable to suggestions from hi s publishers. and could turn his full attention to what had been his first and was still his greatest enthusiasm. coupled with an even more amazing variety of metrical and stanzaic patterns. like any other occupation. After living in various places in England during the first decade of thei r marriage. Painful to read. the first of his novels that can fairly be described as great. but it had already appeared as a serial five years earlier). added to his deliberate plainspokenness and refusal of large rh etorical gestures. As has been observed. there is a distinct sensibility at work in his verse: most typically. his poems seek to capture moments that are seemingly small in e vent but large in their undercurrent of powerful feeling. Calm and quaint-seeming on the surface. It is sometimes claimed that it was Hardy's disgust over the hostile reception o f this novel that led him to abandon fiction once and for all. and it was a strain to have to submit his work to the evaluations of limited and ignorant reviewers and to the shallow and fickle tastes of the re ading public. he published another ten novels. and Jude the Obscure (1896). if not a pretext. through whose tormented protagonist Hard y explores issues of idealism and human weakness. despite his refusal to pander to the market and his use of the novel form for profound and often troubling meditations on the human con dition. str aightforward treatments of isolated facets of experience seems intent upon avoidin . both of which groups seemed.With the success in 1874 of Far from the Madding Crowd. Over the next twe nty-three years. In his mid-fifties. whether of lost loves. it seems as if he is at pains to give e very poem its own individual shape and form. but. which describes in shatteringly tragic terms the rise and ruin of a strong but fatally impulsive man. which is often a sense of loss.
including a cousin. and Hardy quietly accumulated honors and established himself as a grand old man of English letters. and Florence's jealousy of Hardy's feelings for Emma. James Gibson concluded: "Although Hardy has always been be tter-known as a novelist it should not be overlooked that his first wish was to be a poet. and was preparing his final collection of poems for publication when he died on January 11. Hardy married thirty-five-year-old Florence Dugdale. that in later life he more than once pointed out that he had spent more years in writing poetry than in writing novels. when he was seventy-three. as he was fr equently made to understand. Desp ite the disparity in their ages. Writing i n 1972. And a quarte r of a century later. Nothing would hav e pleased him more than to know how widely read his poetry is today.g greatness. who had refused his proposal of marriage because of their blood connection. that he returned to writing poetry as soon as he had an assured inco me from his novels. and the overwhelming power of his presentation of tragic destinies. Donald Davie asserted. to the point where he is esteemed equally highly in both genres. the controversies surrounding his work receded. that Hardy had been th e dominant influence on British poets for the previous fifty years. his social superior. and his philosophical investig ations and agnostic. In February 1914. and that he frequent ly said that it was as a poet that he wished to be remembered. as greatness is commonly measured in poetic terms. As such. three days before her thirty-ninth birthday. 1928. leanings grated upon her conservative rel igious sensibility. their relationship seems to have been overall a happy one. Top Last Years and Legacy In his final decades. Tryphena Spar ks. with considerable justice. and has long b een recognized as one of the very greatest of British novelists. that he took up novel-writing only because he could not earn a living as a poet. Their relationship was further strained by his forming of st rong emotional bonds with several other women. his extraordinary delineation of the subtleties of human personality. 1912. Hardy has few equals in his combination of seriousness and skill. for his detaile d depiction of a now-vanished way of life. if not atheistic. His marriage had for many years been difficult: Emma was. brough t about a surge of powerful feelings in Hardy that led to a number of passionate and regretful poems. it cons titutes a body of work as radical as anything that would be attempted by his mod ernist successors. but whom Hardy continued to love both before and after her death in 1890. so many yea rs after his death. Recent decades have seen the growth of his reputation as a poet." Top . some of which are among his finest. Hardy spent a good portion of his last years dictating (or ghost-writing) large parts of her t wo-volume biography of him. Emma's death on November 27.