H is for Hardy

Thomas Hardy 001 (2018_05_20 15_18_26 UTC)

Thomas Hardy is one of my favourite authors. He was born in 1840 at Upper Bockhampton near Dorchester. What I love most about Hardy’s books are his lyrical descriptions of nature and the countryside and all his books show his great love and knowledge of the countryside in all its aspects. They also show his almost pagan sense of fate and the struggle between man and an omnipotent and indifferent fate. Hardy was a pessimist – man’s fate is inevitable, affected by chance and coincidence. It cannot be changed, only accepted with dignity. This is illustrated in his poem – Hap, written in 1866:

If but some vengeful god would call to me

From up the sky, and laugh: ‘œThou suffering thing,

Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,

That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!’

Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die,      

Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;

Half-eased, too, that a Powerfuller than I

Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,

And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?

‘”Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,

And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan’¦.

These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown

Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain

The first book by Thomas Hardy that I read was The Trumpet Major – I think it was in the second year at secondary school. I remember very little about it, except that it was set during the Napoleonic Wars and I wasn’t too impressed. Then I read The Mayor of Casterbridge for A level GCE and thought it was wonderful.

Hardy Casterbridge

I still have my copy, with passages underlined and notes at the tops of pages – all in pencil.It’s full title is The Life and Death of the Mayor of Casterbridge: A Story of a Man of Character. It tells the tragic tale of Michael Henchard, a man of violent passions, proud, impulsive with a great need for love. It opens dramatically as he sells his wife and child to a sailor at a fair. By his own hard work over the years he eventually became the rich and respected Mayor of Casterbridge. But then the re-appearance of his wife and her daughter sets off a train of events finally bringing Henchard to ruin and degradation.

Because I enjoyed The Mayor over the years I’ve read more of Hardy’s books, including Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, both dramatic tragedies. In Jude Hardy attacked the Church and the marriage state, which received a mixed reception at the time – the Bishop of Wakefield burned his copy of the book and W H Smith withdrew it from their circulating library, but the public bought 20,000 copies, whether or not due to the scandal it aroused.  These books were considered masterpieces by some and scandalous by others.

Of the two I prefer Jude to Tess and having re-read them both more recently I still feel the same, but now I’m less impatient with the way Hardy presents Tess as a helpless victim than I had been before.  She is an innocent, raped by Angel Clare, the man she loves and Hardy highlights the hypocrisy of the times in condemning the ‘fallen woman’.

In Thomas Hardy, the Time-Torn Man Claire Tomalin writes not only about his life but also how he became a writer, poet and novelist. I began reading this book a few years ago and every now and then think I really must finish it. I stopped, as usual, overtaken by the desire to read other books- including more by Hardy himself.

The Thomas Hardy Society is an excellent source of information on the man and his works.

This is an ABC Wednesday post for the letter H.

9 thoughts on “H is for Hardy”

  1. Great post, I’m a Hardy fan too and used him for my MA diss. I agree with you on Tess and Jude – although I love the beauty of Tess, I love the complexity of Jude more. The first time I read it and got to the deaths of the children… well, it’s not often a book actually shocks me but that did. His poetry is wonderful too, I often re-read it. I don’t think I’ve ever read an author who comes across as being so sensitive to the suffering of other creatures, human or non-human, and perhaps it’s that that causes him to be labelled a pessimist.

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  2. I too love Hardy’s beautiful and detailed descriptions, although the stories are really depressing. I don’t mind going back to them now that I know where he’s going with the story line. I like Barbara’s last sentence (above). It’s a good assessment. I haven’t come across this poem before. I need to sit and think through the last verse again, which I shall do but I must go to bed now. Thanks for visiting my blog.

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  3. I’ve never read any of his books. I seem to be missing out on something – but as it turns out, I was just given a very old edition of Jude the Obscure.

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  4. Funny you should do a post on Thomas Hardy as I’ve been thinking for a while that I’ve never read anything by him and really should. The Mayor of Casterbridge sounds pretty good so perhaps I’ll start with that.

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  5. I haven’t read Hardy for years and I’d love to read the biography you mention but, like you, as I read about an author I want to stop and read that author’s books to “get” his life more readily. I think rereading some of his books should be first for me. I’m also much more patient in my reading now than when I was young and in a hurry for everything.

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  6. I went through a Hardy phase years ago starting with Tess but like you I love the nature and countryside aspects of his books. I loved The Woodlanders, Two on a Tower, A Pair of Blue Eyes, The Laodicean, but Jude the Obscure did get me down a bit at the end, talk about tragic!

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