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Archived Group Reads 2012 > Tess - Thomas Hardy - Life & Work

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message 1: by SarahC (last edited Feb 29, 2012 08:53AM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1418 comments Here is a quick summary of Thomas Hardy’s life and work. I used the sources indicated below and additionally one of the Penguin Reading Group Guides and Margaret Drabble’s Oxford Companion to Eng Lit. Any mistakes are, I am sure, my own and not theirs.

Hardy was born in Higher Bockhampton, near Dorchester in Dorset on June 2, 1840. He was from a laboring and small farming family. His father Thomas Hardy was a stone mason and farmer, and his mother Jemima Hand Hardy was a former maidservant. His father taught him the violin and his mother actively encouraged young Hardy’s aptitude for learning and challenged his reading with the books she supplied. He began writing poetry at age 18. Thomas Hardy fantasized an Oxford or Cambridge education, but could not afford it. He went to London and worked as an architect apprentice between ages 22 and 27.

After returning home to do architectural work in Dorchester, Hardy began a relationship with cousin (or through a family secret may have been his niece) Tryphena Sparks around 1867, who in turn was involved with his close friend Horace Moule, who committed suicide in 1873. His marriage to Emma Gifford (wedded in 1874) was one of conflict and troubled emotion. After Emma’s death in 1914, Hardy married Florence Dugdale in 1914. Hardy died in 1928 after a complex life of success and controversy, both personal and artistic. In 1921, at age 80, he had received a tribute citation supported by 100 English authors that included the statement, “ …In all that you have written you have shown the spirit of man, nourished by tradition and sustained by pride, persisting through defeat.”

Hardy grouped his novels and short stories into three groups (1) Novels of Character & Environment [example Far From the Madding Crowd] (2) Romances & Fantasies [example A Pair of Blue Eyes] (3) Novels of Ingenuity [example Desperate Remedies]. Hardy categorized Tess of the D’Urbervilles in category 1. [Drabble]

There are strong elements of humour and affection in the characterization of rustic, uneducated people in Hardy’s novels… He captures the rhythm of life and work for those who depend upon the land for their existence. [Jane Rogers, Good Fiction Guide]

Hardy’s novels capture the messages of the late Victorian period as well: they have been described as representing the cross roads of the Victorian and modern eras. They include the intellectual arguments of the day, such as the free will of the individual, the hypocrisy of marriage, the conflict between growing middle class and strict upper class culture, and the rights of women.

Tess, published in 1891, is described by Penguin as Hardy’s most striking and tragic heroine. Tess Durbeyfield is the daughter of a poor villager of Blackmoor Vale, in the fictional Wessex, whose head is turned by learning he is descended from the ancient family of D’Urberville. There are no actual date references in the novel, but it is believed to be set between 1870 and the time of its writing. [correct this if I am wrong]

Hardy began to lose footing in ways with the publication of Tess and then his following novel, Jude the Obscure. The work was considered immoral, pessimistic, and Hardy faced vast criticism over it. Jude the Obscure was published in 1895 and received the strongest negative public commentary of any of the novels, driving Thomas Hardy to abandon fiction writing and turn to poetry. Of course, there are many with perhaps a broader understanding of Hardy who gathered a difference message from Hardy’s fiction. T.H. Huxley wrote of Hardy’s fearless scrutiny of life displayed in Jude the Obscure: “There is no alleviation for the sufferings of mankind, except the veracity of thought and wisdom, and the resolute facing of the world as it is. It is this attempt to render life fully for these characters in the complexity of their psyches that makes this novel a masterpiece today….”


message 2: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1418 comments Join us for our discussion of Tess, beginning tomorrow. Threads will be posted for the novel discussion shortly.


message 3: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1418 comments I will be offline a bit due to our tornado weather continuing today, but will be back soon.


message 4: by Denise (new)

Denise (dulcinea3) | 400 comments Stay safe, Sarah!!!


message 5: by Jamie (new)

Jamie  (jaymers8413) Hope everyone effect by the storms are ok! There were many tornados around where I live.


message 6: by Parikhit (new)

Parikhit | 22 comments I wish for some rain where I stay. Its getting warmer each day. The Indian summer!!


message 7: by Sera (new)

Sera Hope that everyone made out all right as a result of the storm.

I just started reading Tess, and I am looking forward to joining in the discussion.


message 8: by Diane (new)

Diane | 5 comments I just discovered a terrific TV program
called "Literary Landscapes". I missed the
first one on Dickens but last nights was
on Hardy and the narrator lovingly recreated
the atmosphere of Hardy's books as he walked
around the countryside that Hardy immortalized
in his books. I was amazed (being from Australia
the only heath I had encountered was in Hardy's
"Return of the Native") to find that the heath
the host walked through was exactly as described
by Hardy.
Good show - the others in the series include the
Brontes, D.H. Lawrence, George Eliot etc.


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