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Thomas Hardy was one of the leading novelists at the close of the nineteenth century. A gloomy realism is projected in most of his novels. Hardy lived an isolated life in his native district, Dorsetshire, and the surrounding region, the Wessex of his novels. His work is devoted to provincial life in general and to rural life in particular. His concern is for the bonds which unite women and men with the countryside in which they live. The setting is the land with its woods, fields, heaths, and downs. It is so real that it assumes the position of a character in his novels. The best example is the Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native.
Thomas Hardy was born on June 2nd, 1840 at Higher Bockhampton near Dorchester, England. He was the eldest of four children. His father was a stone mason. As a child, Hardy was plagued by ill health, which obstructed his early school education. His mother initially taught him at home; later he attended the local school. In his early years, Hardy's mother encouraged him to read classical literature, including Dryden's "Virgil". He was also encouraged to play the violin and often performed at local weddings and dances. In 1849, he entered a school in Dorcestshire. At sixteen he was apprenticed to John Hicks, an architect. Although architecture was his profession for several years, he simultaneously studied Greek and Latin. It was during this period that he also began writing poetry. In 1862, he moved to London and worked for Arthur Bloomfield, a well-known architect. Five years later, after his return to Dorset, he wrote his first novel. In 1874 he married Emma Lavinia Clifford. Far from the Madding Crowd was published in the same year of his marriage.
Freedom of the individual is curtailed, sometimes even destroyed by Fate in most of Hardy's fiction. Mysterious and all-powerful forces guide the affairs of his characters, which do not become bitter but accept their fate with calm resignation. The importance of fate is best seen in novels like The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), and The Woodlanders (1887). Hardy's true mastery, however, lies in the creation and wonderful description of the natural surroundings; and the places he creates in his novels exert a deep and constant influence on the characters.