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Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was assumed dead on June 2, 1840, until a nurse said, “Stop a minute,” noticing that he had been born alive. A sickly child, he was diagnosed with a number of incapacitating ailments throughout his life, among them internal bleeding—during the convalescence from which he dictated much of the Harper’s Magazine serialization of his novel A Laodicean (1881) to his first wife, Emma Gifford—and pleurisy, from which he died on January 11, 1928.

Around 1910, Harper’s offered Hardy a monthly column in which to share his “reminiscences,” but the writer declined. “I could not appear in a better place,” he said. “But it is absolutely unlikely that I shall ever change my present intention not to produce my reminiscences to the world.” Instead his reminiscences were published only after his death, in a two-volume biography attributed to his second wife, Florence Emily Hardy, though they were likely largely written by Hardy himself. In this text he identified poetry as his first and preferred medium, but his novels were what garnered more attention during his lifetime. Scandalous for their depictions of embattled British classes, sexual and spiritual desire, and the social oppression of women, they were deemed “titanically bad,” “one prolonged scolding from beginning to end,” and “a desperate remedy for an emaciated purse” by the British press.

In 1874 Hardy received significant acclaim for Far from the Madding Crowd, a novel about a farm owner in rural England and her three suitors, with passages on murder, bastardy, and the relevance of love to marriage. Hardy later attempted to sell serialization rights for his novel The Trumpet-Major (1880) to Blackwood’s Magazine by assuring its publisher that it was “above all things a cheerful story, without views or opinions.” In 1981 Tess of the d’Urbervilles was published and received responses similar to those that followed most of his work—in the extremes of condemnation and approbation.

Jude the Obscure (1895) was serialized in Harper’s from 1894 to 1895, with modifications: Jude and Sue Bridehead never sleep together, and therefore do not conceive any children; but they do adopt one. Two months before Jude went on sale, Hardy danced for the last time, under a full moon at Larmer Tree; it “left him stiff in the knees for some succeeding days,” according to his autobiography. The Bishop of Wakefield claimed to have tossed his copy into the fire, and Hardy received at least one envelope containing the ashes of another reader’s copy. He decided to never write a novel again.

For the rest of his life, Hardy focused on writing poetry, which would prove foundational to the work of Philip Larkin and the Movement. He produced eight collections in the thirty years between Wessex Poems (1898) and Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres (1928), the latter published posthumously. Hardy wished to be buried with his first wife, among the graves of his ancestors, in Stinsford, England, where he was born; but Life attests 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, and the rest of his body was cremated and interred in Westminster Abbey.

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December 1900

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