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Creator / Thomas Hardy

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Portrait by William Strang in 1893.

"Let him to whose ears the low-voiced Best seems stilled by the clash of the First,
Who holds that if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst,
Who feels that delight is a delicate growth cramped by crookedness, custom, and fear,
Get him up and be gone as one shaped awry; he disturbs the order here."
Thomas Hardy, from In Tenebris

Thomas Hardy OM (2 June 1840 11 January 1928) was an English novelist and poet, prominent in the Late Victorian era. He's known for being unusual among his peers for writing exclusively about rural England, and averting Britain Is Only London.

Hardy is known for being a pessimist and a realist. He portrayed the lives of his characters as realistically as possible, with a minimum of judgment. In this respect, he is considered a disciple of George Eliot; his no-drama style and his fairly neutral stance (for his day) on sexual matters can also be compared to Gustave Flaubert. Particularly like Eliot, most of his novels focused on everyday life of ordinary people in rural England; he developed a realistic but completely fictional version of his native West Country as a setting for his novels. However, he had a sense for the poetic in language and description heavily influenced by Romantics, particularly Wordsworth, which can be seen throughout his work.

Hardy is often seen as the Spiritual Antithesis of Dickens. Where Dickens represented an optimistic and classically liberal view of progress, Hardy was a pessimistic satirist, who ruthlessly skewered the mores of rural England, castigated against the mores and values of England, and critically examined religion, class, family and, above all, marriage. Hardy's works are distinguished for their powerful and complex female characters, which while not feminist by today's standards, were an update on the idealized and artificial dichotomy of the time.

After publishing Jude the Obscure in 1895, Hardy retired from novel writing and devoted the rest of his life to writing poetry; his pessimistic but often witty and touching lyric poems were an influence on Philip Larkin among others.

Not to be confused with Tom Hardy.

Works by Thomas Hardy:

Thomas Hardy's work provides examples of:

  • Cliffhanger: Chapter XXI of A Pair of Blue Eyes features a literal cliffhanger ending as Henry Knight is dangling over a seaside cliff, hanging on for dear life as Elfride Swancourt runs to get help before he loses his grip.
  • Downer Ending: Things don't tend to end well in Hardy novels.
  • The Epic: The Dynasts, a Shakespearean poetic drama about The Napoleonic Wars, is in nineteen acts and one hundred and thirty scenes, has a cast of hundreds and a Greek Chorus of disembodied spirits, and runs almost 800 pages. Needless to say, Hardy never intended it to be staged.
  • From Bad to Worse: A common feature. Rarely do things start out as totally peachy-keen. But, by the end of the book, the things the characters were justifiably unhappy about back then look positively minor when compared to how everything winds up.
  • The Lost Lenore: Most of Hardy's poetry is inspired by his first wife, Emma. In a cruel twist of irony, he neglected her for his work while she was alive.
  • Magnum Opus Dissonance:
    • Hardy always wanted to be a poet and believed that poetry had a "supreme place in literature". However, he wrote novels because it was more lucrative, and he wouldn't earn a living if he started as a poet. With the success of Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure (along with the latter's very harsh reception), he returned to writing poetry for the rest of his life. That said, Hardy is better known as a novelist than as a poet.
    • Regarding his career as a novelist, Hardy considered Jude the Obscure his favorite and best novel, but it was harshly received at the time. At least one reviewer called it "Jude the Obscene", and Hardy himself claimed that the Anglican bishop William Walsham How burned his own copy. The harsh reception of the novel was one of the factors that stirred Hardy into writing poetry for the rest of his life (in addition to his preference to being a poet), but subsequent scholars and readers have taken Hardy's side.
  • Missing Episode: The Poor Man and the Lady, Hardy's first novel, was rejected by several publishers. He reused elements in other works and eventually destroyed the manuscript. No copies are believed to survive.
  • Money, Dear Boy: Hardy only wrote novels so that he could earn a living; his real passion was poetry, and the success of Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure (and the latter novel's harsh reception) allowed him to devote himself full-time to the less lucrative career of a poet.
  • No Woman's Land: Hardy's England was a place of wife-selling, bad marriages, sexual assault, poverty, and little to no access to education.
  • Unconventional Formatting: As a poet, he liked to experiment with unusual stanza forms, many of which he invented himself; he wrote hundreds of poems, and it's rare to find two with the same format or rhyme scheme.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Hardy was an adherent of fatalism, which stated that everything was fated and any attempts to avert it would just cause the fate in question to happen more painfully. This tended to lead to a Downer Ending, as noted above.