Thomas Hardy

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Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, and was assumed dead until a nurse said, “Stop a minute,” and noticed he was still alive. A sickly child, he suffered a number of incapacitating ailments throughout his life. During his convalescence from a bout of internal bleeding, he dictated much of his novel A Laodicean, which was serialized in Harper’s in 1881 and 1882, to his second wife, Florence Dugdale Hardy. He died of pleurisy on January 11, 1928.

Hardy’s first and last literary efforts were in poetry, but during his lifetime his novels garnered more attention. Scandalous for their depictions of embattled British classes, sexual and spiritual desire, and the oppression of women, they were deemed by the British press to be “titanically bad,” “like one prolonged scolding from beginning to end,” and “a desperate remedy for an emaciated purse.”

In 1874, Far from the Madding Crowd was published; a novel about a farm owner in rural England and her three suitors, it contains passages on murder, illegitimacy, mass sheep death by cliff jumping, and the relevance of love to marriage. Hardy later attempted to sell serialization rights for his novel The Trumpet-Major (1880) to Blackwood’s by assuring the magazine’s publisher that it was “above all things a cheerful story, without views or opinions.” Tess of the d’Urbervilles was published in 1891, receiving, like most of his work, extreme condemnation and approbation.

Jude the Obscure (1895) was serialized in Harper’s from 1894 to 1895, in a version in which Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead do not consummate their relationship. Two months before the revised novel went to print, Hardy danced for the last time, under a full moon at Larmer Tree, which, according to his de facto autobiography, “left him stiff in the knees for some succeeding days.” When the novel was published the following year, the Bishop of Wakefield tossed his copy into the fire, and Hardy regularly received envelopes containing ashes from other readers. He decided never to write another novel again.

For the rest of his life Hardy focused on his poetry, which would prove foundational to the work of Philip Larkin and The Movement, among others. He produced eleven volumes in the thirty years between the publication of Wessex Poems (1898) and the posthumously published Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres (1928). He wished to be buried in Stinsford, southwest England, where he was born, with the graves of his ancestors and first wife; but Florence Dugdale Hardy attested to a compromise “found between this definite personal wish and the nation’s claim to the ashes of a great poet”: his heart was removed from his body and placed inside a casket in a Stinsford churchyard, while the rest of his body was cremated and buried in Westminster Abbey.

Poetry — From the March 1928 issue

“A gentleman’s second-hand suit”

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Poetry — From the June 1925 issue

Circus-rider to ringmaster (Casterbridge Fair)

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Poetry — From the December 1913 issue

The telegram

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Poetry — From the December 1912 issue

The Abbey mason

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Inventor of the “perpendicular” style of Gothic architecture

Poetry — From the December 1911 issue

Night in a suburb (near Tooting Common)

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Poetry — From the January 1910 issue

The satin shoes

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A quiet tragedy

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Discussed in this essay: Age of Anger: A History of the Present, by Pankaj Mishra. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 416 pages. $27. I am writing from Germany, the world’s last major stronghold of liberal democracy. The United Kingdom fell to Brexit in June; the United States fell, with the election of Donald Trump, in November. We can dispute whatever “the West” was for as much time as humanity has left, but that it collapsed on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, seems to me beyond question. Perhaps Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is the heart still beating faintly within its brain-dead body, but …
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