Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man


Whitbread Award winner Claire Tomalin's seminal biography of the enigmatic novelist and poet Thomas Hardy.

Today Thomas Hardy is best known for creating the great Wessex landscape as the backdrop to his rural stories, starting with Far from the Madding Crowd, and making them classics. But his true legacy is that of a progressive thinker. When he published Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure late in his career, Hardy explored a very different world than that of his ...

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Thomas Hardy

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Whitbread Award winner Claire Tomalin's seminal biography of the enigmatic novelist and poet Thomas Hardy.

Today Thomas Hardy is best known for creating the great Wessex landscape as the backdrop to his rural stories, starting with Far from the Madding Crowd, and making them classics. But his true legacy is that of a progressive thinker. When he published Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure late in his career, Hardy explored a very different world than that of his rural tales, one in which the plight of lower classes and women take center stage while the higher classes are damned. Ironically, though, Hardy remained cloaked in the arms of this very upper class during the publication of these books, acting at all times in complete convention with the rules of society. Was he using his books to express himself in a way he felt unable to do in the company he kept, or did he know sensationalism would sell? Award-winning author Claire Tomalin expertly reconstructs the life that led Hardy to maintain conventionality and write revolution.

Born in Dorset in 1840, Hardy came of age in rather meager circumstances. At sixteen, he left home for London and slowly worked his way through many rejections to become a published writer. Despite his mother's admonitions to never marry, he wed Emma Lavinia Gifford in 1874 and, even though he fell easily in love, stayed true to her till her death in 1912. He frequently toured London society, but few felt they knew the true Hardy, and it is this very core of self that Tomalin elegantly brings us to know so completely.

Hardy's work consistently challenged sexual and religious conventions in a way that few other books of his time did. Though his personal modesty and kindness allowed some to underestimate him or even to pity him, they did not prevent him from taking on the central themes of human experience-time, memory, loss, love, fear, grief, anger, uncertainty, death. And it was exactly his quiet life, full of the small, personal dramas of family quarrels, rivalries, and at times, despair, that infuses his works with the rich detail that sets them apart as masterpieces. In this engrossing biography, Tomalin skillfully identifies the inner demons and the outer mores that drove Hardy and presents a rich and complex portrait of one of the greatest figures in English literature.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
Though there are objective ways to measure literary accomplishment, they fall far short of the scientific and ultimately are subjective. What matters most about Tomalin's biography is the care with which she traces all of Hardy's writing to its roots in his own life. Her study reminds us that though a knowledge of a writer's life is unnecessary to an appreciation of his or her work, that knowledge can help us understand that work and its sources.
— The Washington Post
Thomas Mallon
… Tomalin comes through, recounting Hardy’s life with the amiable authority of a 19th-century novelist, unafraid of gentle, but firm, pronouncements (“Like most people, he gave different accounts of what he believed at different times”). She has visited each important locale of Hardy’s life, noticing the large and seemingly simple things academic scholars often miss: “Most of his characters are prodigious walkers. Tess and Jude both walk themselves through the crises in their lives, and Jude effectively kills himself by walking in the rain.” This is an observation that helps readers to square the circle of recognitions, to remember Hardy as a writer whose books they would once finish with the sudden need to get up from the chair and out of the house, to walk, alone, filled with the ancient surefire feelings of pity and fear.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Respected British biographer Tomalin (whose Samuel Pepys was 2002's Whitbread Book of the Year) sticks to the substantiated facts of Hardy's life (1840–1928) in her finely honed biography, dismissing the speculative claims of other Hardy scholars as she charts the great British novelist and poet's rise from humble rural origins to bestselling author and literary eminence. Tomalin captures the awkwardness of Hardy's conduct in high society following his literary success, brilliantly highlighting the snobbishly mocking diary entries of upper-class observers. At the heart of Tomalin's narrative is a gripping account of Hardy's long, troubled marriage to Emma Gifford in which Tomalin carefully shows how a heady courtship waned into disappointment and bitterness on both sides. Tomalin damns neither party, evoking Emma's eccentricities and frustrations along with Hardy's infatuations with other women. She also treats, with great sensitivity and insight, Hardy's poetic outpourings after Emma's death, in which he imaginatively returned to an image of her as his beloved muse. "The wounds inflicted by life never quite healed over in Hardy," writes Tomalin, although she avows she cannot completely fathom the underlying cause of his acute sensitivity to humiliation. A feat of distillation and mature judgment, Tomalin's biography artfully presents Hardy in his intimate and social world, offering succinct and insightful readings of his work along the way. Illus., map. (Jan. 15)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Praising Thomas Hardy's poetry, fellow poet Ezra Pound called it the harvest of having written 20 novels first. Given the prominence of Hardy's novels, it is easy to forget that he is also one of the finest modern English poets. In Tomalin's (Jane Austen: A Life) new biography of Hardy, she gives full treatment to the novels but is especially interested in how Hardy's poetry reflects the events of his life and how small incidents and emotions recollected over time come back to inform the moments of his poetry. She is especially impressed with the uncompromising nature of his "Poems 1912-13," the writing of which was stimulated by the sudden death of his first wife. Tomalin's treatment throughout is well informed but popular in focus; she has no political or theoretical ax to grind. Her book joins the recent, more exhaustive, and scholarly Hardy biographies by Paul Turner, Michael Millgate, and Martin Seymour-Smith. Tomalin's fluently written work is highly recommended, especially for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/06; a new selection of Hardy's love poems, selected by Tomalin, is are also published by Penguin.-Ed.]-T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another wonderfully readable life by veteran biographer and journalist Tomalin (Samuel Pepys, 2002, etc.). She always builds a good story, and this slow but touching biography of the mild-mannered provincial architect from Dorchester who created seething novels about inequity and thwarted ambition is no exception. Tomalin begins at the death in 1912 of Hardy's once-beloved first wife Emma, from whom he grew estranged in their last years; evidently he began to compose poetry seriously at this juncture as a way of revisiting their romance and his early life. Born in 1840 to a domestic servant who had to hurry up and get married before his birth, Hardy later became aware that he was an unwanted child whose existence stunted his mother's chances of bettering herself. He served as an apprentice to an architect in Dorchester, then quit to seek his literary fortunes in London, attending reform meetings and making publishing contacts. After marrying wellborn Cornishwoman Emma Gifford, he settled back in Dorset to build his own house and live quietly among the laboring villagers. The humiliating rejection of his early novels rankled, and for many years after he finally got published, it was in serial form for quick money, much like Dickens and Eliot. Far from the Madding Crowd, which delineated the grim rural life that Hardy knew intimately, made his reputation as a socialist, feminist and gorgeous describer of nature. Hardy's worldview grew more pessimistic, "marked by a fierce questioning of accepted ideas about society," and it is evidenced in works including The Return of the Native, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Hardy's bleak rewrite of the Book of Job, Jude theObscure. Tomalin thoughtfully considers these works, and the poignant marriage of Hardy to Em, in a text brimming with insight. A richly introspective biography sure to rekindle interest in Hardy's writing.
From the Publisher
"[An] excellent new biography." —-The New York Times Sunday Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143112877
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/29/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 500,924
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.38 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Claire Tomalin is the author of Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year, the Whitbread Biography Award, and the Samuel Pepys Award, and dubbed "invaluable" by the New York Review of Books.

British actress and narrator Josephine Bailey has won ten AudioFile Earphones Awards and a prestigious Audie Award, and Publishers Weekly named her Best Female Narrator in 2002.

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