Thomas Hardy By Jack Spence

Brief Biography

Thomas Hardy was a British writer and poet, born in 1840 in Upper Bockhampton, England. As the oldest of four children, Hardy grew up in an isolated cottage in the English countryside. Despite often being ill as a child and young adult, his early experiences of rural life proved to have a significant influence on his later works. Hardy spent a year at the village school at the age of eight, and then moved on to schools in Dorchester, a nearby town, where he learned much in mathematics and Latin. In 1856, he became the apprentice of John Hicks, a local architect, and in 1862, he moved to London and became a draftsman in the office of Arthur Blomfield, a leading ecclesiastical architect. In 1857, he returned home on account of poor health, and worked for Hicks again, and later G.R. Crickmay, another architect. Despite his early ambitions, lack of funds led to the end of Hardy’s architectural aspirations. Also, declining religious faith made it unable for him to become a priest, another early aspiration of his. He then directed his habits of self-study towards poetry, and later writing novels. In 1867-1868, he wrote his first significant novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, although it was never published. He then wrote Desperate Remedies (1871) and Under the Greenwood Tree (1872). Later, he came out with The Return of the Native (1878) and The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886). He eventually released the novels widely considered to be his best works of fiction, Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895). In 1901, he released a book of poetry, Poems of the Past and the Present. After a long life of significant contributions to literature, Hardy died on January 11, 1928 in Dorchester, England (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Important Themes (Important Ideas)

Throughout his life, Hardy’s many works of literature clearly evoked many of the leading themes and trends of the time period. One of his most significant themes was the ongoing struggle and hardship of the lives working class people of his time period. Both Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895) highlight this as their leading theme, as they focus on working-class fictional figures, Tess Dureyfield and Jude Fawley. The stories dive into the struggle and troubled journeys of their protagonists, and both the themes of struggle and hardship are clear. These ideas are even more significant, as Hardy’s work was literature, leading it to be aimed towards an audience of higher classes, furthermore showing them the hard realities of life in the lower classes. In addition to themes of working class struggle and hardship, Hardy’s works evoked the theme of social change, one of his key ideas. This, shown most clearly in his story Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), can be stretched further and related to liberalism, one of the key ideas of the time period, and one specifically related to social change. In addition to this, many of Hardy’s novels and poems stress the theme of love, more specifically marriage based around love. In other words, they highlighted non-traditional marriage where the two people married each other out of love, not family convenience. Many of his works were loosely based around his own life, in which he married his wife, Emma Gifford, against the wishes of their families. His book Far from the Madding Crown (1874) particularly emphasizes these themes, as it portrays the marital choices of Bathsheba Everdene. Finally, a key theme in Hardy’s works, particularly his poetry, was the significance and trouble of war. One of his books of poems, Poems of the Past and the Present (1901), has an entire section titled “War Poems,” in which he directly focuses on the theme of war at the time period. Generally, Hardy’s main themes/ideas were: the struggle and hardship of the lives of working class people, social change and liberalism, love and non-traditional marital choices, and the significance and trouble of war. These ideas are spread throughout his many novels and poems (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Presentation and Outside Views of the Time Period

Hardy presented his ideas to world through his novels and poems. His books and poetry expressed his most common themes, many of which were significant ideas of the time period, both metaphorically and quite literally. Hardy’s literature, as all literature was at the time period, was generally aimed towards an audience of higher classes, and this played a significant role in his writing, as much of what he wrote about was focused around life of the lower classes, giving his writing and informative role. When Hardy first began to write, his writing and ideas were not widely popular or appreciated, as his first major story, The Poor Man and the Lady (1867-1868), was considered by three London publishers but never published. Hardy was told his ideas and writing were too opinionated and not shaped well enough, and this led him to make adjustments to both, leading his works to be more appealing on a wider scale. Many of his stories around the lives of people in the lower classes were viewed as accurate and insightful, and people were able to make connections, specifically when books were based in agricultural settings, like the one Hardy grew up in. Despite this early appreciation, however, Hardy’s writing was daring and revolutionary for the time period, as he dove into many topics, especially around sex, that were rarely talked about. His stories Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895) are now considered to be his best novels, but in his time, they were not accepted with grace and appreciation. Both quite daring stories, they received some quite negative reviews, and Hardy’s sensitivity to such reactions led him to move more towards poetry with his writing. Generally, in his time, Hardy’s work received many mixed reviews, as his willingness to be daring was not always widely accepted (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Importance of His Ideas

Hardy’s ideas were important in his lifetime, as they evoked the common themes of social change and general hardship. They fell under many of the common ideas of the time period, and they were both new and revolutionary, giving them a general sense of importance. His ideas of social change can be considered and compared to liberalism, which made them on the forefront of social change in the time period. His themes of struggle and hardship were significant, as they gave a perspective to upper class people of the daily challenges of the lower class. They also gave an interesting and significant outlook on war, leading people with relations to war to be able to make connections and people without relations with the ability to learn about the struggle and reality of the situations. In addition to their significance in his lifetime, Hardy’s ideas are quite significant today. His ideas were modern, and many of them shaped how we live our lives today. His ideas about social change led to the more modern social system we have today, especially in the area of marriage. In his lifetime, marriage traditions were shifting from almost only arranged marriages to many marriages out of love and desire, and supported the change, as he married his wife, Emma Gifford, against the wishes of their two families. His support of modern marriage ideas is very important today, as almost all marriages now are out of love and desire as opposed to family convenience. Generally, Hardy’s ideas were important in his lifetime because they were on the forefront of change, and they are important today because they revolved around the beginning of the modern era that we live in (Encyclopedia Britannica).

-By Jack Spence

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