Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

THOMAS HARDY the great novelist, has made much of Dorset famous as the ‘Hardy’ country, for he was born in the hamlet of Higher Bockhampton on June 2nd, 1840, and there­after with the exception of five years, lived out his 87 years of life in the county that he loved so much.

Both his parents were Dorset stock and he received his early schooling at Lower Bockhampton, and later at Dorchester. He became a pupil to an ecclesiastical architect and at the age of 22 went to London, where he spent five years studying the profession. His heart was, however, always with his pen and poetry was his great love. His first novel, "The Poor Man and the Lady" was accepted for publication in 1869, but on advice he destroyed the manuscript. Two years later, he published "Under the Greenwood Tree", followed by "Far from the Madding Crowd" and for the next twenty years he wrote fiction. After his first two books, there was an air of gloom and pessimism about his work, which in the opinion of many prevented him becoming the greatest of England’s novelists.

ln 1898, Hardy was firmly established and was able to devote himself to his poetry. It was then that he published his first Wessex Poems. His great achievement was the dramatic epic on the Napoleonic theme, "The Dynasts", which appeared in three parts in 1903, 1906, 1908.

Perhaps his best known novel is "Tess of the D’Urbervilles," a story written round a family of that name, who came over with the Conqueror and stayed for all time in Dorset. Tess, a Dorset dairymaid, was a figure of Hardy’s imagination but so powerful was his writing that to many readers she actually existed.

The picturesque thatched cottage in which Hardy was born in Higher Bockhampton, is some three miles from Dor­chester, including half-a-mile of rough lane. It is now the property of the National Trust and is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays all the year round, but there are no ‘Hardy’ relics of interest to be seen.

In later life Hardy lived at Max Gate, a large house which he designed himself on the eastern outskirts of Dorchester. This is owned by the National Trust, and opened regularly.

Thomas Hardy died at Max Gate in 1928. He is buried in Westminster Abbey in London, though his heart was removed and lies at Stinsford Church near Max Gate.

Outside the cottage in Higher Bockhampton is a rough hewn granite column. 10 feet high, bearing the legend:

"Thomas Hardy, O.M., was born in the adjacent cottage, 2nd June, 1840, and in it he wrote Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd. This monument is erected to his memory by a few American admirers."

The author's study is also faithfully recreated with his original furniture in the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester, and the town's library houses the largest collection of Hardy's writings and associated research material in the world. The Thomas Hardy Society is based in Dorchester.

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