He was a sickly child, hardly expected to survive into adulthood, and so kept mostly at home. As a result he gained a good knowledge of the countryside, of the hard (often violent) lives of rural families, and of the songs, stories, superstitions, rituals, and gossip of a strongly oral culture. All of which would be put to good use in his later writings. His father was a kindly but easy-going man. It was his mother who held the family (4 children) together and ingrained in him habits of prudence and economy.
He learned to read early, to play the violin, and developed a love of church ritual and music. He started at the village school at the age of 8, but (in 1850) was moved to a bigger school in Dorchester some 3 miles away, a distance he walked twice daily through all seasons.
He learned Latin and Greek and thought of going into Holy Orders. But in 1856 his parents apprenticed him to a church architect. Then, (in 1862) he went to work for another architect in London. There he became familiar with the cultural life, but kept up his studying with a view to possibly going into journalism. Ill-health necessitated a return to Dorset (in 1867). It was about this time he started writing — poetry and a first novel.
He married Emma Lavinia Gifford on 17th September 1874 whom he had met whilst carrying out an inspection of the church of St. Juliot in Cornwall. The couple settled in London and Hardy settled down to writing seriously. It was not easy, but his work was accepted. The couple moved back to Dorset, then back again to London but finally (in 1883) settled in Dorchester where they had a house built called Max Gate.
His marriage gradually became increasingly unhappy so that in its later years it was kept up only as a matter of habit, form and propriety. It was ended by Emma's death 1912.
In 1905 Hardy had become friendly with Florence Emily Dugdale who helped him with his writing and the associated research. She was 38 years younger than he was. They were married on 10th February 1914.
In 1909 he had been admitted to the Order of Merit and was now recognised as one of England's greatest novelists and poets. This meant an unending stream of famous people (and not just literary ones) wished to visit him, and the list of those that did is a long and glorious one.
He died on 11th January 1928 at Max Gate, aged 88.
His fame caused some trouble after he died. The 'powers' wanted him buried at Westminster Abbey as befitted such an important figure. His family wanted him to lie in Stinsford church where all the previous members of his family were buried. A compromise was reached. Before cremation his heart was removed, and two burial ceremonies took place. His ashes were interred in Westminster Abbey and his heart in Stinsford churchyard.
Some of his best-known works are:
Max Gate in now a National Trust Property, as is the cottage where Hardy was born.
The Index to
The Mayor of Casterbridge
Main GRoL menu