Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, which makes him a later edition to the Victorian Era. He was lucky enough as a boy to be sent to school, but his family didn't have the money to send him off to university. Instead, he found work as an apprentice to learn a trade. Under a fellow by the name of James Hicks, Hardy became an architect. After a couple of years, Hardy moved to London and enrolled in King's College to learn more about architecture and pursue writing on the side.
It was also during these early years that Hardy began to write. His first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, was finished in 1867, but failed to find a publisher. He was so frustrated by this, that he actually burned large portions of the novel and only a few pieces remain. After encouragement from a friend (George Meredith-another Victorian), Hardy continued to write and published Desperate Remedies and Under the Greenwood Tree anonymously.
Hardy wasn't a big fan of living in the city. After growing up in the country, Hardy wasn't used to seeing such differences in class and social standing. He eventually decided to leave London and focus more on his writing. He spent a number of years traveling the country to complete architectural work in parishes and rural communities (perhaps this inspired the work of Jude in Jude the Obscure?). It was on one of these missions that Hardy met and fell in love with Emma Lavinia Gifford. The two married in 1874, and Hardy's novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes, was inspired by their own love story. This was also Hardy's first novel that was published under his name.
He continued to write novels throughout the rest of the 19th century. It was after the publication of Jude the Obscure in 1895 that Hardy stopped writing fiction to focus on his poetry-something he felt he was better at writing. When it was published, Jude the Obscure shocked and riled up Hardy's audience. People were outraged at the depictions of sex and the relationships between the main characters. It was nicknamed "Jude the Obscene." This view of Hardy's work really bothered him, which led to that turn to poetry.
In 1912, Emma passed away and it wrecked Thomas. He pulled away and began writing more and more poetry, which is what he truly believed he was best at. He did remarry, in 1914, but his first wife really held his heart. Throughout the rest of his life, Hardy continued to write, but never had the same success as he did as a novelist. He passed away on January 11, 1928. There was a little kerfuffle over where he was to be buried, but a compromise was made. His heart was buried by Emma and his ashes are laid to rest in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.
One of the things that sets Hardy apart from some of the other Victorians is that he bridges a couple of movements in literature. While all of his novels were published within the boundaries of the Victorian era, many of his later novels also speak to the Realism movement. He liked to challenge the ideals of the Victorian era-like the issue of marriage in Jude the Obscure. He was also very protective of his writing, and after the reception of his last two novels-Tess of D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure-he swore off of writing fiction. I really wonder what kinds of novels he would have published in his later life-during the era of World War I, etc. We'll never know.
I am still beginning to explore Hardy's novels. I have read two-The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure- and I am in the middle of my third-Far From the Madding Crowd. I also have Tess of D'Urbervilles and The Return of the Native left on my 250 list. I have come to expect a lot from my Hardy novels-depth, description, and tragedy. But I love the way Hardy explores the dark aspects of Victorian life, and I cannot wait to read more from him (and about him).
If you are interested in picking up a Hardy novel, here is a list in order of publication (Hardy also has a lot of poetry-I own a complete collection, but sometimes his poems are published separately):
- The Poor Man and the Lady 1867 (most of the novel is lost)
- Desperate Remedies 1871
- Under the Greenwood Tree 1872
- A Pair of Blue Eyes 1873
- Far From the Madding Crowd 1874
- The Hand of Ethelberta 1876
- The Return of the Native 1878
- The Trumpet-Major 1880
- A Laodicean 1881
- Two on a Tower 1882
- The Mayor of Casterbridge 1886
- The Woodlanders 1887
- Wessex Tales (short stories) 1888
- A Group of Noble Dames (short stories) 1891
- Tess of D'Urbervilles 1891
- Life's Little Ironies (short stories) 1894
- Jude the Obscure 1895