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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, near Dorchester, England. The eldest of four children, he was very bright. He learned to read at an early age and also showed a great interest in music. He was initially taught at home by his mother before he attended the village school. He then went to Dorchester Day School. He was also a performer in the choir of his local church and played the violin at local weddings and dances. At sixteen he was apprenticed to John Hicks, a Dorchester architect. For several years, he practiced architecture in Dorchester. He also simultaneously studied Greek and Latin. It was during this period that he began writing poetry, and his friend Horace Moule, an author and literary reviewer, helped him improve his poetry and introduced him to modern thought.
In 1862, Hardy moved to London and worked as an architect for Arthur Bloomfield. He continued to write poetry, but was unsuccessful in getting it published. After five years in London, ill health sent him back to Dorset, where he again worked for John Hicks and began writing his first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady. He was unable to get it published. In 1871, his first novel, Desperate Remedies, was published, and a year later, Under the Greenwood Tree was published. In 1874, Hardy married Emma Lavinia Clifford. He soon gave up architecture to fully concentrate on writing. Although he and Emma spent several months each year in London, most of the time they lived in the countryside of Dorset, close to his place of birth. In 1883, Hardy built MaxGate, a family home near Dorchester, for Emma and himself, but the couple never had any children. In 1912 Emma died, and two years later Hardy married Florence Emily Dugdale, his secretary.
Even though Hardy continued to create some poetry, he dedicated himself to writing novels from 1874 until 1889. During this time, he concentrated on developing his well-known theme of man's hopeless battle against fate. His best known works were written during this period, with Far From the Maddening Crowd published in 1874, The Return of the Native published in 1878, and The Mayor of Casterbridge published in 1886. During this period, Hardy also gained recognition in literary circles and received several honors. Tess of the D'Urbervilles was begun in 1889 and was first published as a serial. His next novel, Jude the Obscure, was published in 1894 and created public furor because of its sexual content. As a result, Hardy decided to give up writing novels and devoted himself exclusively to poetry and short stories. "Wessex Poems," his first poetic collection, was published in 1898. From 1903 until 1908, he wrote The Dynasts, a three-part epic drama in verse that centers on Napoleon. His final book of poems, Winter Words, was published in 1928, the year of his death. He was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.
Thomas Hardy lived in the late Victorian era, the years during which Queen Victoria ruled over the British Empire. During the Victorian Age, many changes took place in society. Scientifically minded people started questioning the Church; religious tolerance expanded; England changed from an agricultural country to an industrial one; public education became compulsory; slaves were emancipated; women and children received more attention in society; women began to work outside the home; and the supremacy of the aristocratic class lost its hold with common people becoming more important. Victorian values, however, were still deeply rooted in a strong moral code and a deep religious faith.
Hardy's sensitive nature finds it hard to accept the passing of the old age and the rise of the modernism reflected in his times. As a result, much of his writing is marked by pessimism about society and its many idiosyncrasies. There was, however, some social reform that Hardy supported. He believed that marriage laws needed to be changed. He thought that women had a significant place in society and welcomed their working outside the home. He supported religious tolerance. He was also against the social dogma, which compelled people to follow certain norms that have little or no relevance. These views of the author are explicitly expressed in some of his works, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles clearly raises many questions about society, religion, and morals.
Hardy began writing Tess of the D'Urbervilles in the autumn of 1888 while he was at MaxGate. His plan was to publish it as a serial under the title "Too Late Beloved." Upon its completion the following year, two publishers, who objected to its sexual subject, rejected it. As a result, Hardy revised his story, making it less offensive to the average reader of Victorian times and changing its title to Tess of the D'Urbervilles. The book was then published as a serial, beginning in July 1891, in the Graphic in England and in Harper's Bazaar in America. The story was popular with the public and helped Hardy to gain a level of acceptance and fame. Ironically, it was to be one of his last novels, and when it was actually published in book form, the original text was restored.