Saturday, December 11, 2010

Life and Works of Thomas Hardy

Hardy's Birth and Parentage
Thomas Hardy was born in 1840, at the village of Upper Bokhampton in the parish of Stinsford near Dorchester, South England. His father was a master mason who employed several hands to help him in his work. He was in comfortable circumstances and his house, contrary to popular belief, was spacious with several rooms and stables. Hardy's mother was an ambitious lady who wanted her husband to leave his native village and move to some larger town in the interest of his business. Baby Thomas was so sickly and frail that, at his birth, he was given up as dead. It was only an accidental slap from his nurse that brought him back to life. It was this puny baby who lived up to the mature age of eighty-eight, and achieved the distinction of being the foremost English novelist of the Victorian era.

His Early Life: Formative Influences
As Hardy was so sickly and weak, his education was late to begin. But these early years of his life were not wasted. His mother, out of her notions of social superiority, did not allow him to mix up with other boys of the village. Moreover, for the good of his health, he was kept out of doors as much as possible. So he got ample opportunities to observe the natural scenery round his native village. His country world was his greatest education. He was a sensitive, observant child and had a powerful memory. The scenes and sights of nature, which he thus observed early in life, were never forgotten. This early familiarity with the moods and phenomena of nature, he used with great advantage later in life, when he took to writing. Nature, in his works, has an almost Wordsworthian stature.
Thomas Hardy, the senior (our novelist's father), was a fiddler in the church of Stinsford. He also taught Tommy to play on the fiddle. There is some evidence to show that the boy played not only in the church, but also at many a country wedding. This .early musical training trained his ears, so that he could distinguish between the minutest sounds of nature. It was of great help to him when he took to writing poetry.
Hardy at School
When he was nine years old, he was sent to the village school of Stinsford, and then to Dorchester. His mother engaged for him a French mistress to give him lessons in French at home. He did not lake much interest in the subjects taught at school and was in no way regarded as a bright student. But he took a keen interest in the study of Latin and Greek. He also studied English poetry and the New Testament. Thus his self-education was far more important than the education he received at school.
The Apprentice-architect: Self-study
Whether it was financial reasons, or because the reports from the school were not favourable, Hardy's education was discontinued at the early age of sixteen years. He was now apprenticed to John Hicks, an ecclesiastical architect of Dorchester. But he did not take much interest in his professional work. Though he was sincere and honest in the discharge of his duties, yet he spent most of his leisure in the study of literature. He read the New Testament again and again and it became a part of his being. His style has a marked Biblical tone. References to the Bible are frequent in his works. It was during this that he acquired a close familiarity with the works of classics, like Aeschiles and Homer. He also studied English poetry and it was the nature-poets who had the strongest appeal for him. There were frequent literary discussions between Hardy and his fellow apprentices. William Barnes, the village poet and scholar, was often approached by them to express his views on controversial issues. Hardy was much impressed by his wisdom and scholarship and he was a profound source of inspiration for him. He freely acknowledged him on several occasions as his guide and mentor. His influence further increased Hardy's love for nature and nature-poetry.
Hardy in London
In 1861, at the age of twenty-one years, Hardy left Dorchester for London. He had now to think more seriously of earning his own living. He became an assistant to Sir Arther Blomfield, a master-architect, busy at the time in the work of church restoration. Many of the old churches of Dorsetshire and other neighbouring countries were in a bad condition and urgently needed restoration. It was Hardy's job now to measure such churches and sketch designs for them. But this work of a professional draughtsman was not at all to his taste. Though perfectly successful in his profession his heart was elsewhere. He still studied literature with great eagerness. He took to writing poetry, and many of his poems of this period were published in later years. In 1863, he wrote an article on Terra-Cotta architecture which won for him a valuable prize, awarded by the Royal Institute of Architecture. It was during this period that he frequently visited the picture-gallery in the London' Museum. He learned painting and acquired sufficient skill in the art to draw some fine sketches to illustrate the first edition of his Wessex Poems. In connection with his professional work, he had often to visit old churches. He felt quite at home in churchyards and would wander there for long hours, musing on the sadness of life. His taste for the ghostly and the grotesque was thus fully gratified. He brooded long on human destiny and finally reached the sad conclusion that, "nothing in nature is made for man."
 Visit to Cornwall: Love at First Sight
It was in connection with the restoration of the church of St. Juliet that Hardy went to Cornwall. At the rectory he was received by a beautiful young lady with flowing nut-brown hair. Her name was Miss Emma Gifford and she was the sister-in-law of the rector. It was a case of love at first sight. Writing many years later about their first meeting, she has told us that she saw a sheet of foolscape paper projecting out of the pocket of "my architect". She had expected it to be some architectural design, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was the manuscript of some poem. What she sawin his shabby appearance to like and love, Hardy could never understand. Hardy proposed soon after and was accepted by the lady. it was a happy period of courtship that he passed there. When he returned from Cornwall, he had magic in his eyes. The happy event is comcmorated in one of his Finest lyrics;
When I came back from Lyonnesse (Cornwall),
With magic in my eyes,
All marked with mute surmise
My radiance rare and fathomless,
When I came back from Lyonnesse,
With magic in my eyes.
Marriage and After
Inspite of their romantic courtship and love, they did not marry in a hurry. It was at the instance of his Emma that Hardy took to writing novels. This was considered necessary for improving his material prospects. It was only when his income had increased and he was in a better position to support a wife and family that they were married. Various reasons made their married life rather unhappy. They never understood each other. For one thing Emma, descended from a family of higher social status, always felt that she had ruined her prospects in life by marrying beneath her. She looked down upon her husband as being the son of a mason. Their tastes were entirely different. While she liked to ride and gallop and enjoy the pleasures of high society he loved a private, retired life, away from the "Urban murk and roar". Moreover, no child was born to them, and this was a lifelong source of sorrow for Hardy. Whatever might have been the differences between them, one thing is certain; Hardy never ceased to love his first wife. He tried his best to make her as comfortable and happy as possible. His love for her finds a passionate expression in the beautiful lyrics of 1912-13, written soon after her death. One who has read them can never say that Hardy regretted his marriage or that it had embittered his life.
Back to Wessex
In 1867, after five years stay in London, Hardy left the city and the profession of an architect for good. Illness was the main cause of his exit from the London stage. The atmosphere of his Bayswater lodging in London was rather gloomy and unhealthy. He fell ill and pined for the freshness of his native Dorsetshire. They shifted first to Waymouth where Hardy regained his natural health and vitality. As his popularity as a novelist, and with it income, increased, he built himself a house at Max Gate. It was a spacious house and commanded a fine view. In after years, it became a place of pilgrimage for all Hardy scholars and enthusiasts. Owing to his retired saintly life, Hardy came to be known popularly as the, "Saint of Max Gale."
Hardy's Second Marriage
The death of his wife in 1922 was a great shock to Hardy. In the declining years of life, when he needed much affectionate care, he was left alone in the world. His domestic life was upset. Many of his pet animals, whom he loved so much, strayed and died. It was to supply the want of a house-keeper that Hardy married his private secretary in 1914. She was only thirty-five while Hardy was seventy-four at the time. But she was a self-sacrificing and self-effacing woman. She served Hardy affectionately and faithfully till the moment of his death.
Old Age and Death
Hardy lived to the ripe old age of Eighty-eight. Thus he had an uncommonly long productive span. He had won reputation and public recognition. Honour after honour was showered upon him. Besides several Doctorates, he got the Order of Merit and the Freedom of the city of Dorchester in 1910. The younger generation of poets and novelists paid him their homage and freely acknowledged him as their guide and teacher.
It was on a fine day of glorious sunset in 1928 that Hardy passed away from the world stage. He had worked till late before retiring the previous night, and the end came suddenly and peacefully. His ashes were buried in the Westminster Abbey and his heart in the church of his native town of Stinsford.
Thomas Hardy was a born poet. Even, his novels are the works of a poet. He himself considered poetry to be his. true vocation in life. He began composing poems long before he had written even a single line of prose. He wrote novels, not because be had a taste for the work, but because it was a profitable business and the only way open for him to make his living. He continued to write poetry alt though the period that he was writing novels, and when, alter Jude the Obscure, he gave up novel writing, he again returned to poetry.
Most of his novels, first appeared as serial stories in different magazines and periodicals, and were then published in separate volumes. The Poor Man and the Lady was his first. It was immature and fragmentary and so remained unpublished. George Meredith who had reviewed the work advised him to put more events, "more of plot", in any future novel that he may write. The result of this advice was Desparate Remedies which was published in 1871. He wrote novels and short stories from 1871 to 1895. After the hostile reception that was awarded to Jude the Obscure (1895), he gave up novel writing and took to poetry. He has also one masterly epic-drama, The Dynasts, in three parts, to his credit. His works arranged in chronological order are as follows:
Novels and Short Stories
1.      Desparate Remedies, 1871.
2.      Under the Greenwood Tree or the Melistock Quire, 872.
3.      A Pair of Blue Eyes, 1873.
4.      Far From the Madding Crowd, 1874.
5.      The Hand of Ethelberta, 1876.
6.      The Return of the Native, 1878.
7.      The Trumpet-Major, 1880.
8.      A  Laodecian, or the Castle of the dc Stanceys, 1881.
9.      Two on a Tower, 1882.
10.    The Mayor of Casterbridge, 1886.
11.    Vie Woodlanders, 1887.
12.    Wessex Tales (a collection of short stories), 1888.
13.    Tess of the D'urbervilles, A Pure Woman, 1891.
14.    The Waiting Supper, etc. (A collection of short stories).
15.    Life's Little Ironies (A collection of short stories), 1894.
16.    Jude the Obscure, 1895.
17.    The Well-Beloved, 1897.
Essays And Articles:
1.      How I Built Myself a House.
2.      The Profitable Reading of Fiction.
3.      Candour in English Fiction.
4.      Why I Don't Write Plays.
Poetry and Drama
1.      Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy : (Published by Macmillan and Co., first in 1932 and then in 1952, being a collection of poems composed by Hardy from the beginning of his career upto the end of his days), containing:
(a)    Wessex Poems and other Verses.
(b)    Poems of the Past and Present.
(c)     Time's Laughing-Stack and Other Verses.
(d)    Satires of Circumstances.
(e)     Moments of Vision.
(f)     Late Lyrics and Earlier.
(g)    Winter-words, etc.
2.      The Dynasts, Part I, 1904.
The Dynasts, Part II, 1906.
The Dynasts, Part HI, 1908.
3.      The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall, 1923.

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