The poet and novelist Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in Dorset, England. His father was a master mason and also a violinist. Thomas himself was especially sensitive to music and was able to tune a violin when he was very young.
Thomas could read before he could walk. He was not very strong and did not begin school until he was 8. But he was such a good student that he started Latin at the age of 12. He spent many of his evenings playing the fiddle at country parties. When he was 16, he left school and became the pupil of an architect. In 1862 he found work in London as an assistant architect, a profession he practiced off and on during much of his life.
Hardy had been writing poems for years before he began his first novel in 1867. That novel was never published, and his second one was not well received. Only with his fifth novel, Far from the Madding Crowd, did Hardy achieve success. The year it was published, 1874, he married Emma Gifford. The couple lived mainly in Dorset, but they spent several months in London each year.
Many of Hardy's novels are set in the fictional county of Wessex, which he based on the county of Dorset, his birthplace. The Return of the Native (1878) and the The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) are perhaps the most famous of these Wessex novels.
Two of Hardy's later novels aroused strong feelings among reader and were much discussed--Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895). Readers objected that the characters in the books did not behave morally. Hardy then gave up novel writing entirely and wrote only poetry. The Dynasts (1904-08) is an epic drama about the Napoleonic Wars. All the rest of his poetry is lyrical. The mood in Hardy's books is usually gloomy, and the main characters often meet an unhappy end.
During World War I, Hardy served his country by visiting the wounded and advising the government on propaganda. On January 11, 1928, he died, content in the belief that he had completed his life's work.
Reviewed by Frederick R. Karl, The New Book of Knowledge®. 2008. Grolier Online. For more information on this online reference, visit Grolier Online .